Mulch in the garden provides you with benefits you may not always see.

In addition to deterring weeds, conserving moisture and making your garden look pretty, mulch decomposes to improve your soil and provides a habitat for beneficial micro-organisms and earthworms.

Mulch also helps prevent soil compaction, soil erosion and pollution runoff.

You can mulch any time of the year. If you mulch in spring, fall can be a time to replenish mulch to help stabilize roots during freezing and thawing times in winter.

Mulches can be organic or inorganic.

Organic types include tree bark, wood chips, recycled wood and paper, grass clippings, pine needles, straw, leaf litter, newsprint and animal manure. Check with composting facilities in your area to see if yard debris and leaves are recycled into mulch you can purchase for your yard.

Designer mulches created from pallet or hardwood material and dyed brown, red, black, chestnut, walnut and golden are available in bulk and bagged from commercial mulching sites and garden centers if you want staying power in your color choice.

If you use grass clippings, spread them immediately to avoid heating and rotting.

If you use newsprint, apply four to six sheets together, anchored with grass clippings or wood mulch to prevent blowing away.

If you use fallen leaves, use a mulching mower to turn them into a finer material that decomposes quicker; cover them with a light layer of heavier wood mulch to keep the leaves in place. A light layer of mulched leaves is also beneficial for your lawn, and will not smother the grass.

Inorganic kinds include crushed stone, gravel, plastic sheeting, landscape fabric and recycled tire chips. Beware of some of these because they can harbor too much heat and moisture around plants, and can be difficult to keep clean.


Apply mulch 2 to 4 inches deep; deeper mulch benefits sandy soils that dry out quickly while moist soils need a lighter layer.

Remove old mulch before applying new to avoid a "sinking feeling" for your plants. Too much mulch suffocates plant roots. Work old, aged mulch into new gardens to improve soil.

Keep mulch 3 to 6 inches away from building foundations and away from the base of tree and shrub trunks. Rodents nesting in mulch may chew on bark; mulch too close to your home's foundation could cause the soil to stay too moist.

Acidic mulch like pine bark and pine needles is ideal around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and gardenias.

Hardwood mulches are also beneficial in vegetable gardens. Use them to camouflage soaker hoses that you leave laying on the ground for convenience.

Instead of annually adding mulch to your garden, use a small rake to "fluff" up existing mulch for a fresh look.






(c) 2010, Daily Press, Kathy Van Mullekom(Newport News, Va.).