Mulch Matters

By April 20, 2020Uncategorized

Once spring clean-ups are completed, one of the first things that occur on landscapes across the Lakes Region is the application of mulch. Red, black, brown, organic, inorganic, there’s a surprisingly wide variety of choices in mulch, and not all choices are right for every application. Here’s some must-knows about why mulch matters.

Mulch, in general, provides many benefits. Mulch is an excellent method of controlling weeds and containing moisture around trees, shrubs, and plant beds. It can add a finished look to a landscape and may provide color or accentuate points of interest. In some instances, mulch may also provide a protective barrier against fire dangers in high-risk areas.

Organic vs Inorganic

Organic mulch in New Hampshire is typically comprised primarily of wood, while other mulches contain grasses, straw, leaves, or other plant material. These mulches are typically dyed to provide a universal appearance, with the most common colors being red, black, or brown.

The primary benefit of organic mulch is that it will decompose into the ground providing nutrients, or if removed it is biodegradable.  In some instances can also be a disadvantage. Organic mulches need to be refreshed every year to maintain their appearance and benefits.

Inorganic mulch is relatively uncommon in our area. It is typically made of shredded or particle rubber, plastic, or textiles and may even be comprised of stone or other aggregates. It can come in a wide variety of colors and is installed similarly to organic mulch.

A benefit of inorganic mulch is its durability. Because it does not easily decompose, it may last several years without significant changes to its appearance, though it does require annual maintenance and some refreshing. It may begin to fade over time, and this may result in an unkempt appearance. In addition, as it begins to eventually degrade, inorganic mulch may introduce chemicals and unwanted particulates into the soil or water through runoff.

We typically stick to the installation of organic mulch in his area. Inorganic mulch can be significantly more expensive than organic mulch, and we’ve found our clients prefer the look and feel of organic mulch. This paired with the environmental considerations and plant life benefits provided by organic mulch make it the most popular choice.

What color to choose

We think every color of mulch looks great, but we also know not every color looks great everywhere. When choosing a mulch color, it’s important to consider the colors it will be adjacent to or complimenting.

Black Mulch works best in areas with a lot of green space and subdued colors. It’s ideal for mulching around evergreens, gray-colored homes, and in areas where there will not be a lot of flowering plants.

Brown Mulch is an excellent contrast to homes constructed of red bricks or have red brick contrast. Brown mulch does well with muted colored flowering plants or if you’re looking for a more natural appearance.

Red mulch works well as a complement to bold colors. It creates an eye-catching contrast against most lawns or green areas and if a great choice for areas that will have bright flower blooms or where you’d like to draw attention.

Stone mulches like pea gravel, river rocks, or bluestone add a variety of texture and color as well. When using stone pay close attention to the existing stonework on your property, and the color of your home. As stone tends to be a more permanent solution, we recommend utilizing samples of the stone to see how they look on site before ordering your stone delivery. For example, while a reddish stone may match a brick home, a bluestone may have a better complimentary appearance.

Installing Mulch

The installation of mulch may appear to be a straight forward and simple process, and in many cases it is, but we see some common mistakes all of the time.

To achieve the desired benefits of weed control and moisture retention, mulch needs to be 3-4 inches deep. While a nice appearance can be achieved with less mulch, the benefits will be short-lived. When purchasing mulch, determine the area that needs to be mulched in square feet, and multiply that by 0.3. This will give you a good approximation of how much cubic feet of mulch you need to purchase. Note: 1 cubic yard will typically cover 100 square feet t an acceptable depth.

Before installing mulch, remove all weeds or plant life that you do not want to continue to grow through the mulched area. At this point, many choose to install a weed barrier to further discourage weed growth. This is also the time to create or reestablish the edge of the mulched area. This can be accomplished with a shovel or manual edger. Create a crisp edge 2-3 inches deep and remove all plant material as previously mentioned. Do not reintroduce the used soil or organic matter into the area to be mulched as this can encourage weed growth.

Do not mulch too deep in areas around trees and plants. The base of trees and shrubs, in particular, need to have access to air. Piling mulch around the base and creating a “mulch volcano” will suffocate the plant. Instead, clear space around the base of the trunk allowing for 3-4 inches of exposed area completely around the circumference, creating a “mulch donut” which will allow the plant to breathe.

Keep organic mulch hydrated on dry summer days, especially if it’s old mulch. As mulch ages it will lose moisture in the event it has not rained or received moisture for a long time. As mulch becomes drier a reduction in its effectiveness in retaining moisture for our plants and discourage weed growth occurs, it is more likely you be blown out of place by the wind, or worse it becomes increasingly flammable. The best way to prevent these occurrences is to refresh your mulch annually or to water your existing mulch periodically during dry spells.

Mulch Isn’t Magic

While mulch is a valuable and appealing part of a good landscapers repertoire there are limits to what mulch can do and how it should be used.

Organic mulch should not be used in an area with drainage concerns. The most common type of mulch used is wood. Wood is easily washed away and it breaks down in water easily. Mulches made of rubber or plastic may be carried into waterways if used in drainage areas, polluting them. Peastone and other rock type mulch works well for drainage bust should be used in conjunction with a stone designed for the purpose in conjunction with a drainage program.

While mulch does an excellent job of discouraging weeds, it’s likely the occasional weed will poke its way through your mulched areas. This is normal and common. Weeding by hand, similarly to how a garden is weeded is the most effective and preferred way to manage weeds in a mulched area.

Finally, as mentioned in this blog, mulch does require maintenance. While mulch is durable, and low maintenance, all mulches need a rework or refresh annually. This is a common DIY project for many property owners, but most quality landscapers also provide a mulching service. Landscapers are often a better option for property owners who utilize a landscaper for total property care, the scope of work is particularly large, or they prefer to spend their time enjoying their property as opposed to working on it.

As always Belknap Landscape is available to provide a wide variety of landscape services, mulching included to property owners throughout the Lakes Region.

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