The ins and outs of mulching

04/22/2014 5:47 PM

04/22/2014 5:47 PM

It’s that time of year when your car, minivan or SUV becomes a transport vehicle. No, I don’t mean for the kids, grandkids or errands, but as a full-on assault vehicle for transporting home load after load of mulch for the landscape. Spring is an excellent time to freshen up the all-important mulch layer in the landscape.

Mulch is akin to a properly frosted cake. It finishes off the landscape and adds beauty. Unfortunately, in some cases, also left in the mulching wake is a problem for those landscapes mulch is aimed at protecting. The concept of mulching is really pretty simple — cover the soil and the plants benefit from cooler soil temps, more even moisture, less weeds and a finished look. Improperly done and the plants suffer.

A proper layer of mulch should be between 2 to 3 inches deep. A deeper layer can inhibit oxygen and air exchange in the soil, damaging roots. Deep layers of mulch can also compost, generating heat and a potentially sour mulch condition that can burn the plants.

Mulching around trees and shrubs tends to be a challenge for some. Think donuts, or for the more health conscious, whole grain bagels, when applying mulch. Mulch should be kept away from the trunks of trees. Volcano mulching, or piling mulch around the trunk of trees, will lead to decay of the bark layer and shorten the life of the plant. Apply the mulch out and around the trunk a couple of inches. And, applying a mound of mulch 6 to 8 inches deep is just bad maintenance, no matter how you look at it.

Mulch should not cover, and should be kept away from the base of annuals and perennials in the flower garden. Mulch piled over the crowns or too close can lead to rot and decay. So after spreading the mulch over the flower garden or landscape just take a few minutes to rake the layer away from the base of all plants.

One last point, which is often a soapbox issue for me, is mulch color.

I realize this is a personal preference but do we really need mulches that are an unnatural shade of black, brown or, heaven forbid, orange? Mulch should be natural in appearance so as to blend into the soil. Mulch serves many functions in the landscape; however, providing color is not one of them. Color in a landscape should come from plants and other hardscape features. To me, spicing up the landscape with brightly dyed mulch is just plain ugly. But in driving around I see that some of you obviously don’t agree with me.

So join me in the coming weeks as I, like you, start the seemingly endless process of hauling mulch to and fro. Oh, I can already feel my aching back and legs. But mulching is one of the most important chores to be done in the garden. Happy mulching!

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