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  • Writer's pictureKassi K.

What Is Mulch & What is Mulch Used For?

Mulch is perhaps one of the most common elements to use in a landscape, and it may also be one of the most useful! While mulch is often thought of as some form of shredded wood material, mulch can refer to a number of other things too.

What Is Mulch?

Essentially, mulch is any product that is used as a top layer over the soil with the intent of enriching the soil beneath or insulating the soil and the roots of plants. Mulch is often also used to protect the top layer of soil from erosion. It is often used in planting beds, whether that be in gardens, landscapes, flowerbeds, and the like. When considering the purpose of mulch, it is easy to see how mulch can refer to more than just wood products! Mulch can also include things such as grass clippings, decaying leaves, compost, bark chips, straw, and more.

What Is Mulch Used For?

Mulch has many uses in a variety of different situations, all of which are aimed at protecting and enriching the soil and any plants that are planted in the area. Here are a few specific reasons to use mulch in your landscaping.

Mulch Used For

1. Mulch Insulates the Soil

Both during the winter and throughout the summer, mulch plays a huge part in shielding your soil from the elements and regulating the temperature of the soil. It insulates the soil during the winter by keeping snow, ice, and wind out of direct contact with the soil. It also insulates the soil during the summer by keeping the hot sun out of direct contact with the soil. During the summer, a layer of mulch is also extremely effective at reducing the amount of water that evaporates out of the soil, helping your soil retain as much moisture as possible. In turn, moist soil also attracts beneficial insects such as earthworms, which further increase the health of your soil.

2. Mulch Protects the Roots of Plants

Due to its insulating properties, mulch actually helps to protect the roots of your plants from extreme cold and hot temperatures. Many people even cover their more tender perennial plants such as roses with mulch during the winter as this keeps snow and ice from coming into direct contact with your plants and causing any damage. Similarly, mulching the base of plants will help your plants handle the heat of the summer better as the ground won't dry out as fast and the roots will remain cool and moist.

3. Mulch Can Help Enrich the Soil

Mulch often also introduces nutrients into the soil. Especially when using grass clippings, fallen leaves, compost, or straw, these forms of mulch slowly integrate with the soil. As plants get watered, the water also filters through the mulch, pulling nutrients from the mulch into the soil as the water soaks through all the layers. This is particularly useful in gardens and flowerbeds where extra nutrients are needed throughout the growing season.

4. Mulch Protects the Soil from Erosion

Protecting your soil from erosion by wind and water is another main function of mulch. Erosion often happens slowly and over a long period of time, so it is not easy to see or notice the effects of erosion. However, the amount of soil that is carried away by wind and water when it is left exposed is surprising. Putting a top layer of mulch over any exposed soil protects the soil from erosion, which in turn helps to maintain the integrity and fertility of your soil.

5. Mulch Discourages Weed Growth

The use of mulch in landscapes, flowerbeds, and gardens is also very effective in helping to discourage weed growth. Essentially, when any weed seeds land in your mulched areas, the seeds either don't make contact with the soil, making it very difficult for them to grow, or if they do find their way down to the soil beneath, not enough light can penetrate the mulch to encourage the weed to grow. The few weeds you may see pop up will likely be weak and have shallow roots, making them easy to pull.

Different Types of Mulch

Some of the most popular types of mulch include the following:

Different Types of Mulch

1. Wood Chips

Wood chips or bark chips generally consist of different sized chunks of wood or bark. They can range anywhere from small to medium to large nuggets. Wood chips provide a pleasing aesthetic for your landscaping.

2. Shredded Wood

Shredded mulch tends to be more stringy and almost hairy. It functions the same as wood chips with the main difference between the two simply being their appearance. Shredded mulch is most often seen incorporated into a home's landscaping.

3. Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are self-explanatory. It is simply what is left over when you mow your lawn. If you have a lawn mower with a bag that collects the clippings, simply take these clippings and spread them in your garden or wherever you see fit.

4. Decaying Leaves

Also very self-explanatory, fallen leaves are great to spread in your garden or flower beds. As they decompose, they will add organic material and nutrients to the soil and also act as a protective top layer.

5. Compost

You can buy compost or make it yourself, and it generally consists of organic kitchen scraps such as banana peels, eggshells, egg cartons, coffee grounds, and the like. Compost should never include biological materials such as dairy or meat. If you want more information on creating your own compost, check out this blog!

6. Straw

Straw is another kind of mulch that is great for use in gardens and flowerbeds. It can be found at most garden centers or hardware stores and functions very similarly to grass clippings or decaying leaves, protecting the soil and adding nutrients as it decomposes.

How To Use Mulch for Your Landscape Design

Mulch can be used in a number of ways in your landscape. Mulching around the base of trees, shrubs, or perennial plants is perhaps the most common way to see mulch used in landscape designs. It is also not uncommon to see entire areas of a landscape covered in mulch. This is an easy, low-maintenance option for any yard or landscape! Large flower gardens or areas decorated with perennial plants are also common places to see mulch used, as a layer of mulch provides the finishing touch and provides a huge benefit to the plants planted there. In general, it is best to apply a layer of mulch that is 2-4 inches thick so that the mulch stays in place, looks good, and protects/insulates the soil as it is supposed to. Be careful not to over-mulch around the base of plants, as poor circulation and excess moisture can lead to pests, disease, or rot. If you have any questions about mulching, types of mulch, or how to mulch your landscaping, let us know! We are happy to help answer any questions you may have, and our Garden Center is stocked full of different types of mulch for you to add to your landscaping!


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