(ARA) -- As temperatures reach 60 degrees, one of the manly rites of spring, designed to impress the neighbors, is a fresh layer of mulch. But, did you know that it can also help prevent erosion and discourage weeds in the garden? Mulch is an invaluable ingredient to a successful growing season -- so much more than shredded bark sprinkled around the base of an ornamental tree each spring. Get the facts on mulch to impress all the neighbors and have a great looking landscape to boot.
What is mulch?
Just like the leaf layer found on a forest floor, mulch is a covering that can benefit plants and soil. Consider the many different mulch types. Some contain leaves and bark that decompose, breaking down over time, while others are pebbles or shredded tires. The available varieties of materials are diverse and nearly limitless. The varieties of mulch that break down are beneficial to the nutritional make-up, or tilth, of soil. Ingredients commonly used for beneficial mulching materials are: bark or wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, straw or hay, newspaper, pine needles, cocoa shells and compost.
Where does it come from?
From recycling last week's newspapers or collecting grass clippings after mowing, to composting garden and kitchen waste, inexpensive mulch materials are readily available all around. The lumber and arborist industries often sell chipped wood products inexpensively. These wood chips tend to break down slowly and are sometimes used on garden paths and walkways. Many gardeners prefer the look of the woodchip or bark mulches that are available through local garden centers. Read the labels to determine the contents or sourcing of mulches before purchasing. Whether these mulches are sold by the bag or by the truckload, these tend to be partially composted and add a great, finished appearance to the garden while breaking down over time to add organic matter to the soil.
Why do I need it?
* A mulch layer can moderate the soil temperature reducing the effects of extreme heat or cold.
* Soil condition may be improved by the decomposing matter from mulch that provides plants with added nutrition.
* Mulching a garden creates the ideal environment for earthworms and beneficial organisms.
* If heavy rains or soil erosion is an issue, mulch can help reduce these effects.
* Weeds will find it more difficult to grow in a mulched area, as the mulch helps to block weed growth and access to the sun.
When should I use mulch?
Mulch can be applied anytime, but it is best to spread it out early in the growing season, before weeds have had a chance to get established. Remove any existing weeds, and spread a two to three inch layer around landscaping plants, in the vegetable garden or along walkways. If recent rains have made the garden too muddy, mulch is also a great way to create a dry path through the muck and keep your feet from sliding around.