Types of Mulch
by Mackenzie Kupfer
Mulch, mulch, mulch. It seems to be all the rage in gardening lately but I think there is a lot of confusion as to what mulch is and how to use it. Mulch is anything that is applied to the ground (not planted) as a cover. A few of the main reasons for doing this are to help create a barrier to keep weeds at bay and moisture locked into the soil. In some cases, mulch is used to improve the visual quality of an area or to improve the fertility of the soil.
There are quite a few different types of mulch, some more permanent than others. The type of mulch you use is dependent on your reasons for using it and where you intend to place it. Mulch can be used for both flower and vegetable gardens, but the different types have different effects on how various plants grow.
Compost as mulch
Using compost as mulch is ideal in many cases if you have the compost to spare. It adds extra nutrients to the soil and helps control weeds. Avoid using compost as mulch if it's not completely decomposed. Otherwise you will attract garden pests and you will have to find a pest control solution to help remedy the problem.
Pebble mulch is also known as gravel and is most useful on driveways on pathways. If you intend to use pebble mulch, make sure it is well contained. They tend to take flight easily when they come into contact with a lawn-mower or weed-whacker which can result in damage or injury. Plus they dull lawn mower blades by causing nicks and dings.
Rock mulch is most often used in perennial beds. The large rocks absorb more heat from the sun than small rocks do and allow for a lot of drainage. The extra heat absorbed allows for longer growing seasons in some cases.
Straw mulch is not the best option but it will work if that's what you have available to you. There are a couple of problems with straw mulch, the most notable of which is that is attracts rodents and creates a home for them even through the winter months. Straw also doesn't decompose well which requires you to remove old straw and reapply throughout the season. It is also extremely light-weight which means you have to apply thick layers in order for it to do its job.
Newspaper and cardboard
Newspaper and cardboard definitely are not the most attractive of mulches to use, but they do work really well for suffocating weeds. They also decompose well and add a little extra organic matter to your soil helping with fertility. If the sight of newspaper in your garden bothers you, you can always add another type of mulch on top such as wood chips or pebbles.
Grass clippings are great to use as mulch. Watch out for grass that has been treated with fertilizers or pesticides, as you don't want to inadvertently add chemicals to your vegetable garden.
Wood chips work well to improve the appearance of an area. They also help to insulate plants but aren't that great at keeping weeds down because of how lightweight they can be.
Mulch is meant to stay on top of the soil regardless of what type it is so avoid getting lazy at the end of the season and start digging it into your soil. Take the time and effort to clear the ground of the mulch you used and throw it in the compost pile if it is compostable. The only exception to this is compost mulch. Feel free to work that into your soil for some added nutrients.
Mackenzie Kupfer has been a lover of all things green since the age of six when she began gardening with her Nana. She is currently an online publisher for Avant Garden Decor which provides flower gardening supplies. In her free time, Mackenzie enjoys attending garden shows, yoga, and trying out new recipes.