Tips for choosing mulch, where to use it and how much to put down

If the smell of fresh mulch is in the air, it must be early spring in Greater Columbus. As soon the snow melts and the first warm sunny day appears, gardeners head for their local garden center where they find pallets of bagged mulches and two-story high piles of bulk mulches ready to be loaded and taken home to be spread on flower and landscape beds as well as around trees and shrubs throughout the home landscape.

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There are several benefits to applying mulch around trees, shrubs, annual and perennial flowers, and even vegetable gardens, with weed suppression likely being the primary objective for many gardeners. In addition to weed control, mulches help to retain soil moisture, moderate soil temperatures, prevent soil erosion and provide organic matter to the soil.

Mike Hogan

Gardeners have many options when selecting mulches to use in the garden and the home landscape. Organic mulches decompose over time and add organic matter to the soil as they decompose. These types of mulches may need to be refreshed each year. Synthetic mulches may not need to be refreshed each year but they do not add organic matter to the soil. Synthetic mulches may compact the soil and reduce microbial and earthworm activity required for healthy soil biology.

Let’s take a look at the variety of mulches available to gardeners.

Piling mulch in “volcanoes” around trees and shrubs can slowly kill them.

Organic mulches

Shredded bark, bark chips, pine needles, compost, rice hulls, various nutshells, shredded leaves, straw, hay and cardboard are all organic mulches. Biodegradable plastic sheeting is also available but it may take up to three years for this plastic sheeting to completely decompose and during that time, the remaining pieces of sheeting may be visible in the garden.

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