Mulch, which one to buy?

Mulch serves many purposes in our landscape when applied two to four inches thick. In vegetable and flower gardens, and around trees, mulch helps hold in moisture and block weed growth. Mulch can provide a soft path or create a patio setting. In kids’ play areas, mulch can help cushion a fall. 

Organic mulch--leaf mold
Types and of mulch

1.   Organic mulch such as wood products or leaf mold is environmentally friendly. Mulch made from wood is the most popular. Freshly applied mulch emits a woody aroma and is soft to walk on though that condition will change as the mulch compresses from foot traffic or age (decay). Wood mulch is available in different styles like chips, nuggets and straw (i.e., needles). 
2.   Rubber mulch, made from recycled tires, is soft, adding a safety value to the surface on which it is applied.
3.   Plastic mulch, usually used around vegetables and flowers to control weeds and retain moisture, can be considered an impact on the environment because it is not easily disposed of.
4.   Stone can also be as mulch. 

Uses for mulch

Protect plants in cold winter areas. Most types of wood mulch can help protect perennials and rose bushes against cold winter blasts. Pine straw (left) is particularly good for this task and is inexpensive. Pine straw, which is dried pine needles, is typically sold bailed or in a box.

Shady areas. Cypress mulch is slow to decompose making it a good choice around small plants. Cypress, however, comes from endangered forests of southern U.S. states. See *footnote about cypress.

Elegant entryway. Choose wood chips (left) to landscape in front of the house. Wood chips give the appearance of being part of the landscape design versus a means to control weeds. A more cost effective approach for landscaping is bark mulch.

Tree areas. For areas of your landscape where there are many trees, bark mulch is suitable. Pine nuggets or pine straw is option beneath evergreen trees.

Decorative/semi-permanent. Pebbles, rocks or gravel can be used in the landscape as mulch or to create walkways. Care should be taken in choosing this type of material because of its “permanency.” Landscape areas covered with stone of any type is difficult to remove, something a potential buyer of your home may not like.

Playground and walkway areas. Rubber mulch (left) lasts a long time and because it is soft, it provides a cushioning affect around playgrounds. Rubber mulch is available in different colors. Create pathways that also offer a cushiony step with pine straw or bark mulch. This natural approach for a walking way can be used instead of pavers or stepping stones.

Word of caution

Builders who have cleared areas of trees may offer low-priced or even free mulch. Usually shredded, you probably will not be able to tell what type of tree or other vegetation is included—poison ivy, for example, could have been clinging to the tree that was chopped into mulch. If you know where the trees came from, then getting this type of recycled environment is a cost effective means to add mulch to your landscape.

Footnote:  Cypress is a slow growing tree that is difficult to grow from seed. The cypress forests in U.S. southern states are endangered because of the harvesting of cypress for mulch. For more information about the fate of cypress forests, click here.