As your garden beds need replenished or revitalized, take the time to think about which type of mulch is right for your landscaping needs. Mulch not only gives your curb appeal a boost, it also has several benefits to improve the health of your plants, including moisture retention, soil temperature control, weed suppression, erosion control, and soil nutrients. Here's how to pick the right mulch for your plants and personal preference.
Gravel, Pebbles or Stone
A non-organic material, stone "mulch" has a decorative appearance with low maintenance as it won't wash away easily and there is little need for yearly replenishment. Because it provides no benefits to the soil beneath and retains heat more than organic material, gravel, pebble or stone is best used in beds that contain succulents or perennials or is used in cold-climate gardens.
Wood or Bark Chips
Wood and bark mulches are best used around trees, shrubs and in garden beds where you won't be doing a lot of cultivating as it becomes a hassle to move wood and bark chips aside to make way for new plants. Wood chips decompose faster than bark chips, enriching the soil at a greater pace. Bark chips decompose slower and require less frequent replenishment. When applying near tree and shrub trunks, avoid placing the mulch directly against the trunk (at least 2 inches away) to reduce the likelihood of the tree developing insect or disease issues.
If you have a remote, unplanted area of your garden where you need to suppress weeds, grass clippings may be your best as it's one of the simplest organic mulches, both convenient and free. Grass clippings enrich the soil beneath with nitrogen, promoting photosynthesis and general plant health, but its use doesn't come without warning. If you've applied fertilizer or pesticides to your lawn, those grass clippings have the potential to contaminate or kill your plants.
They don't call it "black gold" without reason. Compost greatly benefits the soil beneath by constantly leaching nutrients. Buy it from a local nursery or make your own with our DIY compost bin and add a 2 to 4-inch layer over soil around perennials, extending the layer outward approximately 12 inches from plants. While compost does not prevent weeds as well as wood mulches and needs to be replenished on a monthly basis, it improves and repairs the soil of flower beds and helps vegetable gardens thrive.
While its use commonly accompanies another organic mulch type, landscaping fabric is highly effective in preventing weed growth and holding moisture and warmth. You will need to use it in beds that are not replanted often, as you will need to cut openings for each plant and account for its growth. Top your landscape fabric with a 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips, to camouflage the landscape fabric, keeping it from overheating and protecting it from the elements.