It’s supposed to be one of your best friends in the garden, so piling it on makes sense. If a little works well, why not spread it on thick? You naturally assume that it’s good for everything from the trees to the flower beds. Mulch plays a part in keeping your yard healthy, but it has its limits. Here are four common misconceptions about its importance to your landscape.
1. Mulch isn’t a fertilizer. The most common types of mulch are a mix of organic and inorganic materials. While a reasonable application in the garden discourages weeds, it’s not a substitute for the kind of nutrients your garden needs.
Its consistency makes it prone to packing when repeatedly applied over the course of a growing season, and this leads to fungal problems that can damage your plants. A mulch that’s completely organic is beneficial to your flower beds, but don’t expect it to do the same job as a good fertilizer.
2. Mulch doesn’t keep your plants warm. That blanket of material that you pack around the tree trunks and spread in the garden doesn’t have any insulating value. It does present a hazard to your plants because a thick layer traps moisture and creates a winter home for pests and disease.
The colder months are hard on your flower beds, but a heavy mulch application only increases the chance of root rot. A good rule of green thumb is to never let the mulch touch your plants or the base of trees. They need room to breathe, especially during the winter.
3. Mulch won’t guarantee that your garden retains moisture. Its density works against you when you assume that you’re adding a protective layer to your flower beds. The mulch looks nice and wet after regular watering or a good rain, but it keeps moisture from penetrating deep into the soil.
Your plants will develop new feeder roots that grow up into the wet layer above ground. Without a healthy underground system, flowers and shrubs loose the anchors that give them natural stability. Heavy mulching around trees actually sheds water away from their bases and leaves the soil directly under them dry.
4. Mulch isn’t meant to decorate the yard. Wood mulches have become popular because they come in a variety of colors that brighten up the landscape. However, this material is high in carbon, and it pulls nitrogen out of your soil.
Wood mulch lasts longer than its traditional cousin, but that just gives it more time to steal nutrients from your garden bed. However, this type of mulch is ideal for starving weeds around sidewalks and driveways. Enjoy the color, but use it sparingly unless you want to smother a problem plant.
Do a little groundwork before you decide on the best choices for your landscape. Talk with your nurseryman so you can play matchmaker between the right mulch and your garden. Most importantly, take it easy because a little mulch goes a long way towards beautiful gardens and healthy trees.