Which Mulch Is Right for You?
Mulch is the secret weapon of gardening ninjas. After completing a new landscaping project or clearing weeds out of a garden, laying mulch over the soil has buckets of benefits: it suppresses weeds, diminishes evaporation, and delivers a tidy, cohesive look to the landscape. Many mulches also improve soil structure and fertility.
You’ve got so many mulches to choose from. Here’s our breakdown of the pros and cons of a variety of mulches. Consider your site and your garden’s needs, and then spread some mulch love!
- PROS: Free! Shred them with a power mower or a weed eater, or let them dry to a crumbly state. Alternatively, pile them and let them decompose for a year or so before use.
- CONS: If they’re damp and not shredded, they’ll mat and rot. If they’re really light and dry, they’re prone to blowing away. Some leaves (for example black walnut) deliver toxins and have adverse effects on some plants.
- PROS: Free! Adds nitrogen to the soil.
- CONS: Must be dried before application to prevent matting and rot. Break down quickly. Don’t use clippings from a chemically treated lawn, especially on vegetables.
- PROS: Free! Good weed suppression; stay in place well; good on slopes; slow to break down; increase acidity, which benefits some plants (blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas, and some types of conifers).
- CONS: Prickly to work with; soil acidification
- PROS: Attractive color, good coverage, lasts longer than leaves or grass clippings.
- CONS: Prone to weed seeds, which can cause more problems than it solves.
- PROS: Dark color sets plants off beautifully; enriches soil quickly; inexpensive, especially if you make your own.
- CONS: Breaks down quickly; very short-term weed suppressant.
- PROS: Inexpensive; widely available; breaks down relatively slowly; stays put on slopes; sometimes a sustainable use of wood industry byproducts.
- CONS: Can deplete nitrogen content from soil as it decomposes.
- PROS: Often free from local arborists or utility companies.
- CONS: May be acidic; may contain species toxic to plants (such as black walnut) or toxic to humans (such as poison ivy). Fresh chips can deplete nitrogen.
PINE BARK NUGGETS
- PROS: Long-lasting (bigger nuggets last longer); good weed suppression; attractive.
- CONS: Prone to tumbling down slopes or washing away in heavy rain.
- PROS: Smell like chocolate! Fine texture, attractive color. Not prone to fading.
- CONS: Easily blown by wind; toxic to pets; may develop mold in hot humid climates. Expensive.
ROCK AND GRAVEL
- PROS: Long lasting, don’t break down.
- CONS: Long lasting. Don’t improve soil; hard to remove or plant in.