Isn’t Mulch Just Mulch?
In the March 2010 issue of the Triangle Gardener, I wrote a general overview about inorganic and organic mulch, called “Mulch Basics”. This article highlights different applications for those organic mulches, helping you decide which is right for you.
Every day clients call looking for mulch. When I or my team poses the question, “What type are you interested in?”, the response is frequently “well, I don’t know – just mulch.” It’s much like my attitude towards shoes – I don’t care what kind of shoes I get, I just want something brown. The fact is, I should care what kind of shoes I get. A well-fitting shoe designed for my intended activity simply makes for good feeling feet. If you’ve ever found yourself hiking in loafers, you know what I mean. The same could be said for mulch, as certain types of mulch are much better suited for certain types of applications (and most types are available in brown!).
Why are you mulching?
It is important to understand the client’s intended application for the mulch. A few examples are:
- To help build soil content through introducing a layer of organics
- To give the area a fresh look with a vibrant color
- To control eroding areas or slopes
- To provide a comfortable clean area to relax or play
- To prevent weed growth for a low maintenance
Organics v. Durability
The first question I ask, “is this a newly formed plant bed or an existing one that needs refreshing”. If they respond with “a new plant bed”, I will suggest the first application consist of a highly organic product that will breakdown easily to begin enhancing the soil structure. Pine Bark orare the two that we suggest for first time application with for plant beds with woody type plants. If their response is “an existing area”, then we discuss how often they have mulched (frequency) the area in the past, the normal depth (inches) per application, and the last mulch used (hardwood, cedar, pine, etc.). From there we evaluate whether more organic matter is necessary, and if it is not, then we can begin to discuss personal preference.
Color & Aesthetics
If color longevity is a chief priority , try using a color enhanced mulch. Ultra violent rays bleach the color from natural mulch quickly, withcolor lasting only six months and pine park a little longer at nine months. Of course, some discretion should be given to the amount of direct sunlight the area receives. As a remedy for this problem, I suggest looking at a mulch that has been color enhanced such as our or dyed triple hardwood for a product that offers a year or more of color.
Ouris the best product for color longevity. It is a recycled product made from wood pallets that are hand selected and passed through a grinder. The grinder has two large magnets that remove any significant metal that may be present. The designer mulch is derived from the same material as the certified playground fiber, so it can not contain pallets that were previously chemically treated or used to ship chemicals. The pallet material is extremely dry and porous and thus absorbs the dye deep within the particle producing a vibrant end product. It is dyed through a process called ion-oxidation, which research has proved to be the best method for coloring. I have customers that purchase a small load of “Designer” mulch every second year simply to refresh their last application as the previous installation had held up so well with color and deterioration.
Erosion is a serious problem that slowly changes the contour of a landscape, clogs sewer and drain pipes, and pollutes our waterways with silt. If my client needs a material to stop the loss of soil on a slope, I will guide them towards a mulch with a stringy, binding content. Hardwood bark is my favorite for erosion control as it can hold a tremendous amount of moisture to help weigh it down while its stringy fibers help lock it in place.
If there is a direct water flow channeling through a specific area, I will then suggest looking at inorganic mulch such as rock or decorative gravels. I have yet to find a river or creek bed lined with mulch. However hardwood mulch is used in retention ponds as a filter media to trap and collect silt.
What if you have a small area the family dog enjoys, but his playfulness and activity has turned it into a mud pit?
Cedar mulch would do an excellent job because of its hardiness and odor. Cedar is very slow to break down, and is often used in areas where there is a lot of activity or traffic such as a foot path. The scent of cedar has also proved to be a natural insect repellent, so “Fluffy” can enjoy a dry, pest-free area to relax and play.
Planning & Maintenance
Finding time to continually maintain plant beds and natural ares is hard to do. You could introduce a pre-emergent to help suppress weed growth. This comes in a granular form and should be applied before you mulch. However a good coating of mulch can also work wonders on alleviating potential weed problem. A thick layer of mulch will help to suppress weeds, but if one or two do pop up, it will be easy to remove due to the looseness of the new mulch column. Also, the designer mulches or cedar mulch do not breakdown into organic matter as quickly, so they do not provide the organic base that can promote potential seed growth.
Make sure that any mulch you chose has gone through a “cooking” or “curing” process to alleviate any weed seed. I do not suggest using stumps, or land clearing debris that has been processed into mulch, as it often contains a certain soil content that can transmit weed seed. Also, try and make a trip around your yard twice a week to catch those few that do pop up.
It’s not just “Mulch”
Mulch is just not “mulch”, and as you see, certain types are better suited than others for specific applications, or issues. Don’t just buy your mulch as I buy my shoes, find one that fits you!
For a comparison guide look for the “Mulch Rubric” in the details of our mulch products on our website. It’s an easy way to choose what’s best for you.
Mulch Comparison Guide (beta)Which mulch is right for you? We have prepared the guide below to help you compare mulches according to the characteristics that are important to you.
If you still have questions, any member of our staff will gladly help you find the product that is perfect for you, so contact Atlantic Mulch today.
|Mulches||Durability||Color Longevity||Erosion Control||Nutritional Value|
|Triple Shredded Hardwood Bark Mulch||Fair||6 months||Excellent||Best|
|Pine Bark Mini-Nuggets||Better||9 months||Poor||Excellent|
|Designer Mulches||Best||18 months||Fair||Good|
|Certified Playground Mulch||Best||8 months||Fair||Poor|
|Cedar Mulch||Best||6 months||Fair||Poor|
About the Author
Brent Booker, also known the “Indiana Jones of Mulching”, is the proud father of two blower trucks and crews in Raleigh (and the proud owner of two beautiful children). He can be contacted at: brent at atlantic-mulch.com.
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