The Power of Mulch: How it Works and Why Gardeners Love It
Gardeners understand the power of mulch which simply put, improves plant growth and health. This hard-working product regulates the temperature of soil, retains moisture in the soil, reduces weed growth and provides a finished appearance to a garden’s design.
During the winter, the insulating quality of mulch protects plants from the freezing and thawing cycle which can lead to “frost heaving". Frost heaving occurs when water in soil that is unprotected by mulch expands and contracts leading plants to literally rise up out of the ground, causing damage to plants’ crowns and roots.
In spring, this same insulating quality helps to warm the soil a little earlier allowing for earlier planting than would normally be possible.
·Unprotected soil will often crust over due to lack of water. Mulch provides a protective cover that prevents this crusting. Instead of running off the hard surface, mulched soil absorbs water. It also slows water evaporation from the underlying soil, in some cases, by up to 35 percent.
Mulching also controls weeds by blocking the light that some unwanted species need to germinate. Some weed species can rob up to 25 percent of the moisture that would ordinarily feed nearby plants.
Mulch also prevents soil from splashing onto leaves, reducing the potential for the contamination of plants with fungal and bacterial diseases often found in the soil.
The aesthetic benefits of mulch are well known as are some of its exaggerated excesses. Mulch unifies a garden’s design by creating a neutral backdrop in the garden, allowing the shrubs and flowers to take center stage. Mulch can also help fill patchy areas in the garden, creating a clean and tidy look.
Everyone is familiar with the mulch volcano, where mulch is piled high around the trunk of a tree, in the shape of a volcano. This can cause bark decay and can cause the tree’s roots to grow up into the mulch, rather than down into the soil. Mulch should always be kept several inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs.
Generally speaking, ornamental gardens should have a layer of mulch 2-3 inches deep; not too deep that it will suffocate plants but deep enough to keep weeds from taking root.
Organic mulch, the only type of mulch we recommend, breaks down and improves the soil’s structure and fertility over time. Mulch materials generally include hardwood, pine bark and compost. While each material is beneficial in its own way, each also has drawbacks. Hardwood mulch can “knit together” and impede the growth of plants, pine bark can be blown or washed away, and compost can provide a prime bed for airborne weed seeds.
To overcome the downsides of these traditional mulch materials, Renewed Earth, our mulch supplier located in Otsego, Michigan, created a new mulch, PineLife, which we’ve started using with great results. It’s a proprietary mix of composted pine mulch, fine compost, mycorrhizae, barkfines and a slow release fertilizer designed to improve soil structure, feeds plants and encourage beneficial microorganisms.
This nutrient enhanced, performance based landscape mulch also provides a beautiful backdrop to any landscaped garden. It’s deep brown color and fine texture improves the look of landscaped beds as well as areas around tree and shrub plantings. The before and after pictures of our customer’s beds are a testament to the beauty of PineLife mulch.