Experience has shown us that bark mulch not only makes our gardens look beautiful, but also creates a healthy weed-free environment in which our plants can thrive.
Experts agree that applying mulch in a recommended depth helps keep weeds from taking over our gardens. A layer of mulch approximately 3-inches thick cuts down on the amount of air and sunlight reaching the soil preventing weed seeds from germinating.
Bark Mulch vs. Mulch
A high quality Bark Mulch should be weed free. Whole tree chips may include yard waste that may contain weed seed. The use of any material containing weeds or weed seed should be avoided as it defeats the purpose of mulching. Wood chips take nitrogen from the soil before they can decompose. Bark Mulch does not.
Disadvantages of Wood Mulch
Wood mulch can contain large chunks of wood that can float away from the mulched surface during heavy rain. Large pieces have also been known to attract termites. Wood mulch can lower the pH of your soil. The sawdust content in wood mulch causes it to decompose rapidly and may contain weed seed. If a larger amount of organic matter is present in the wood mulch, the area should be supplemented with fertilizer. While some manufacturers use only indigenous hardwoods, others mix a variety of woods including demolition material, construction debris and waste wood that may include pressure-treated lumber. Also be wary of any wood that may contain termites!
How Often Should I Mulch?
If applied properly, bark mulch will decay in approximately 1-2 years leaving behind a darker, richer, more organic soil. To preserve that fresh “just spread” look, some folks choose to apply a fresh layer of bark mulch at least once a year. It is recommended, however, that you try to keep a 3-inch layer of mulch around your plants and bushes at all times to help keep weeds from germinating and to maintain the natural beauty of your gardens.
To help prevent weed seed from germinating, select a finely ground mulch.
Don’t pile it on too thick. Leaving space between the plant stem and the mulch reduces the risk of smothering your plants. It’s also important to consider the natural heat retention qualities of the various mulches on the market. Since some mulches may be hotter than others, they may need additional time to cool.
Get rid of weeds and grass before adding mulch to your flowerbeds. Either pull the weeds up by hand or apply an herbicide such as Round-Up®.
A 3-inch layer of mulch should block most weeds and help with moisture control.
Mulch can be applied any time of the year, weather permitting. Some people prefer to mulch in the fall in order to allow spring annuals to grow and blossom without being disturbed or accidentally damaged by the wheelbarrow or other garden tools.
Weed barriers such as those made of plastic or tent cloth are, in our opinion, an unnecessary expense. If the product isn’t porous, plant roots can suffocate and rot. And remember that any mulch applied on top of a weed barrier will eventually turn to soil anyway. We recommend mulching with a high quality Bark Mulch every 1-2 years remembering to check periodically for weeds.
Rocks and bricks add color to your garden but do nothing for water retention nor will they protect your plants.
Mulching will help retain approximately 20-percent of soil moisture. It will also aid in aeration and compaction.
To make the work easier, place small piles of mulch throughout the area to be mulched then use a rake to spread the material as evenly as possible. Popular among landscape professionals, this method virtually eliminates the danger of running out of mulch before the job is done.
Alternative Materials Bring Trouble
Leaf Mold In an effort to stay “green”, some homeowners may be tempted to add leaves or other material to the mulch pile. Doing so is never a good idea. Rotting leaves form a crust on top of the mulch preventing water from penetrating into the soil.
Mushrooms may be good in a salad but are an unwelcome guest in a garden. Mushrooms and toadstools are found in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. They range in size from less than an inch to several inches tall. While some are soft and fleshy and apt to disappear almost as quickly as they appear, others can remain in mulch for days, weeks or an entire growing season.
What’s the best way to rid your garden of mushrooms or toadstools? Dig them up! Place the fungi and surrounding mulch into a plastic bag. Then place the bag and all of its contents into the trash.
What is Artillery Fungus?
“Artillery Fungus is a white-rotting, wood-decay fungus that likes to live on moist landscape mulch,” says Dr. Donald P. Davis of Penn State University. It is very common in the U.S., especially in the East.
While some folks would have you believe it is spread by contaminated bark mulch, the truth is studies have shown that Artillery Fungus prefers wood as opposed to bark mulch. Using mulch that has been made from recycled wood increases your chances of bringing the fungus into your yard – especially during wet years!
Dead trees, dead branches, and rotting wood are a breeding ground for the fungus. If the infested material is used for mulch, it may grow rapidly when spread especially during cool moist conditions. Just 1/10” in size, the spores may already be present in your yard without you even being aware of its presence. It is found on infested plant leaves, animal droppings, decaying leaves or grass.
According to Davis, spores can be brought to the home on infested nursery plants by clinging on the undersurface of leaves — if the nursery had a problem with Artillery Fungus.
So what is the best defense against Artillery Fungus?
Know your source: buy quality all-natural bark mulch. Avoid those products that are made from recycled wood. Stay away from those materials containing things like roadside debris, crushed pallets, leaves, grasses, or dead branches.