How to Mulch Your Landscape, When Everyone Else is Doing it the Hard Way

Lara with Landgenuity out in the landscape again! This time we are going to talk about mulch. 

Okay so I have a few pointers that I’m going to try and hit on very quickly. The first is, should I even mulch? If you take a look at the landscape beds in this video, you won’t notice much mulch. You don’t have to mulch, really. I know this is against everything you’ve read before, but hear me out. Mulch is extremely useful for suppressing weed growth, preventing erosion, regulating the ground temperature and moisture and for organically enriching the soil. 

However, there are some drawbacks to mulching as well. First of all, it’s a lot of heavy lifting, and if you are set on keeping your beds mulched 3-4” deep, you’ll need to replenish thinning areas every Fall and Spring.

Aside from the hard work, if it is applied wrong, mulch can also be detrimental to the health of your landscape. Here’s what I mean. One of the most commonly used perennials that is actually a biennial is Rudbeckia hirta. A biennial is a plant that has a lifespan of two years. This is their natural life-cycle – live two years, self-seed, regenerate as new seedlings in the third year, and so on. If Rudbeckia hirta is mulched, the seed will not get the soil contact and sunlight it needs to germinate, so instead of behaving like the perennial we want, it dies after the initial plant’s lifespan ends.

This black-eyed Susan isn’t the only perennial that is finicky about mulch. In fact, many perennials dislike having mulch around the base of the plant. It causes crown rot, decline and even death – more commonly than most people realize. This is even a problem around trees and shrubs, so pull that mulch back a few inches from the base of your plants – and no more mulch volcanoes around trees…promise?

 


 

While double-ground hardwood mulch is the best option for our area, reserve it for open ground near your trees and shrubs. If you enjoy perennials in the landscape, plant them close enough to one another so the mature edges of foliage touch and even overlap a little. This will shade the ground between the plants and prevent weed seed germination. If you must mulch your perennials, for instance, before they reach mature size, opt for ground up leaf mulch. It’s lighter and less likely to cause crown rot.

Stay away from cedar mulch unless you like splinters. And avoid cypress mulch as it is less sustainable. And gravel mulch… causes its own set of problems.

Hope this helps get you started in the right direction with mulching your landscape. Leave a comment or send me a note if you have questions or would like to know more! 

A shout-out to Sundown Landscaping for their photo of the ubiquitous volcano mulched tree. https://sundownlandscaping.wordpress.com/