Mulching over the tops of new or existing beds in your landscape is one of the best investments you can make for the health of your garden. Find out more about what mulch is and why, when, and how to mulch your garden beds.
What Is Mulch?
Mulch is both a noun and a verb! The term “mulch” (noun) refers to any material layered over blank soil, which can include bark, compost, wood chips, straw, and even pea gravel or cardboard. “Mulching” (verb) refers to the act of layering material over blank soil and around plants in the garden, i.e. “Spring is a great time to mulch your garden beds!”.
The Best Types of Mulch
Compost – Compost is created when organic matter like lawn clippings, leaves, and food waste decompose under high temperatures. Properly made compost will be free of weed seeds and rich in nutrients. Using compost as mulch adds organic matter to soils and injects diverse beneficial microorganisms back into your soil.
Bark – Bark is a great choice when mulching beds to achieve a clean, consistent look. In the Pacific Northwest, common bark mulches include Dark Aged Fir, Fresh Fir, and Dark Aged Hemlock Bark. Fresh Fir Bark is typically the least expensive choice, while Dark Aged Hemlock Bark is rarer, but prized for its lack of sliver-causing splinters.
Leaves – Free mulch is available every Autumn when deciduous trees shed their leaves! Fallen leaves can be used to help insulate perennials during dormancy and to help prevent soil loss from landscape beds during heavy rains. Leaves also help add organic matter back to soils as they decompose. In Spring, any leaves or leaf skeletons that remain can be cleaned out of beds and added to the compost pile or recycled in the yard debris bin.
Manure – Manure from chickens, rabbits, cows, and even worms are all great sources of nitrogen, a nutrient that is critical to the development of green tissues in plants. Manure can be very strong for some plants and should be used more sparingly than other types of mulch. Manure makes a great addition to vegetable beds each Spring!
Why Is Mulching Important?
Mulch plays an important role in boosting the quality of the soil and plants in the garden and is a foundation of sustainable gardening. Not only does it help conserve water in the summer months, it also makes garden beds look clean and finished.
1. Mulch improves soil quality – Mulches made from organic matter help add nutrients, microorganisms like beneficial fungi and bacteria, and organic content back into soils. All mulch helps prevent soil loss and erosion from heavy rains.
2. Mulch improves plant health – Nutrients cycle back into the soil when old plant material decays. Consistently mulching soils means that nutrients will be added back into the soil, even in the tidiest of landscapes where dead plant parts are removed. Mulch also helps provide protection and insulation around tender plant stems, which is especially helpful in early Spring.
3. Mulch improves water conservation – Mulch helps cap the soil, providing a blanket over bare, exposed earth. While it won’t impact the rate at which irrigation water enters the soil around plants, it will help to slow the rate of water loss by minimizing the amount of surface-level evaporation.
4. Mulch reduces landscape maintenance – Mulch helps keep weed seeds that may have fallen in the past from germinating because it blocks out the light. Mulch also helps prevent new weed seeds from germinating on soil by providing a physical barrier.
5. Mulch improves the garden’s aesthetic – A freshly mulched landscape bed looks clean and cohesive. The uniform color of the mulch, no matter what you choose to use, will contrast beautifully with the green leaves and colorful blooms in any garden.
When Is the Best Time to Mulch?
There is no bad time to mulch! Mulch should be applied whenever you have the time or means to do it. As a general rule, mulch applied in Spring will do more to aid in water conservation and plant health, and mulch applied in Fall will help prevent soil erosion and improve the quality of the soil.
How Should I Apply Mulch?
Do-It-Yourself with Bagged Mulch
This is a great approach for smaller landscapes or specific beds that need extra attention. You can purchase a wide range of mulches at all of our Garden Center locations.
Compost looks clean and has a great balance of nutrients, microbes, and organic matter:
Bark is uniform in appearance and long-lasting:
Manures are teeming with beneficial microbes and add a lot of nutrient bang for your buck:
Lean on the Experts with Blown Mulch
This is the best option for larger landscapes with over 1200 square feet of garden and landscape beds. For years, our Landscaping division has partnered with the highest quality mulch provider in the Pacific Northwest to provide our Maintenance and Construction clients with expertly applied mulch. We are excited to begin offering this service to our Garden Center clients, new for Spring 2023! Request a quote for blown-in mulch today by filling out the form below:
Request Blown-In Mulching Service
Service not applicable for landscape beds under 1200 square feet.