Q&A About Your Northern Maryland Mulch
Have questions about using mulch in and around your beds? As you think about and schedule mulching for your beds, here are some of the most frequently asked questions answered!
1) What’s the number one reason to mulch?
In my view the number one reason to mulch is moisture retention in your garden beds. Moisture retention is good for trees, shrubs, and perennial plants, but it has other benefits as well. When you plant brilliantly colored annual flowers in your garden you don’t want to be chipping away at soil that is as hard as concrete. Mulched beds are always easier to plant in than beds that are left bare, and the plants in them always do better. Mulch protects roots and retains vital moisture, especially in the hot summer months. Some might say that weed prevention is the number one reason to mulch. Strictly speaking, mulch doesn’t prevent weeds from growing, but it does make them easier to pull out, because weeds are easier to remove from loose, moist soil, than from hard compacted soil.
2) How does mulch benefit soil quality?
Mulch benefits soil quality in a few ways. As mentioned above, mulch help beds retain moisture, but more than that, mulch regulates the effect of hard rainfall and prevents soil erosion. There’s no use talking about soil health if your topsoil washes away in the first summer downpour. A layer of mulch will act like a shield, slowing down aggressive rain and creating a percolating effect for rainfall into your soil.
Healthy soil needs to be moist but well drained. There are two extremes you want to avoid with soil moisture: dry and dusty and soggy and sloppy. Will mulch keep the soil too moist? Saturated soil is a symptom of insufficient drainage, not a risk of using mulch. Mulch keep those first few inches of soil depth moist – mulch will not add to the risk of saturated soil where there is no previously existing drainage problem. Also, hardwood mulch will break down and become new soil. Obviously this does not apply to stone mulches or rubber mulches, which will NEVER break down, but in this part of the country, where shredded hardwood mulches are the standard, the fact that hardwood mulch breaks down over time is actually a feature and not a drawback. Old mulch becomes part of the organic material in your soil.
3) Which Mulch Lasts Longest?
Shredded hardwood mulch can last for 2 or three seasons, but will definitely look worse for the wear after that much time. This is usually a moot point because mulch should be refreshed every season, even if it just a top coating and a fresh edge. Actually the longest lasting type of mulch is stone, but if we limit the discussion to wood-based mulches than the longest lasting type of mulch is bark mulch. Bark mulch is more resistant to break-down, especially mulch made from large chunks of pine-bark. On the negative side, bark mulch is lightweight and doesn’t stay in place as well as shredded hardwood mulches, especially in down-pouring summer rain.
4) Does Mulch Attract Termites?
Mulch does not attract termites, but termites are always living in the ground around us, looking for wood. They are attracted to moist conditions, not small pieces of mulch. Pieces of mulch are not large enough for termites to live in, so your mulch is not going to be any termite’s permanent home. The simplest preventive step you can take is to keep from piling mulch in deep lumpy mounds up against your house, especially above the exposed foundation. By code, there should be at least eight inches of exposed foundation all around your house and termites have no interest in stone, concrete, and cinder blocks. Landscape pros know to keep mulch a little bit thinner up against the side of your house. In summary, it’s your home that should be inspected for termites every now and then, not your mulch.
5) What Is the Purpose of Mulching Around Trees?
The main reason for mulching around trees is to protect them from getting nicked and damaged by lawnmowers and weed-trimmers. Some people like the way it looks and incidentally, so do I, but mulch is not necessary to protect an established tree’s roots. Freshly planted trees are a different story. New trees are “mulched in” to make the early-stage watering much easier. The water doesn’t run off and erode the soil around your fresh planting. Another benefit? If you mulch around your trees, it’s a whole lot easier to plant shade loving annuals under them!
If you have any more questions about mulch – give us a call! At Chesapeake Landscapes, we’d be happy to assess your property and provide you with recommendations on where to place mulch. Not only that – we’ll do it for you!