What about the mulch?

I spend far too much time talking about mulch.  Mulch is temporary and the least important part of a landscape project.  After all, you can change it any time by covering it with something different.  Ultimately, you shouldn’t see any mulch if the ground is covered with plants. But mulch is highly visible and the first thing you notice when you look at a newly installed project.  So it’s “front of mind” for many people when discussing a new landscape.  Actually, the most important thing is what you are planting and where!  Again, if you’ve got ground covering plants, you don’t need any mulch.  That’s the goal for low maintenance.  But when a bed is newly planted, the plants are spaced for future growth so a covering of organic mulch looks nice, seals in moisture and discourages weeds.  But it’s temporary!  Of course it will fade, wash, blow and decompose.  So in the first couple years one might like to restore that fresh look occasionally.  But piling it up year after year until it washes across the sidewalk or mounds up on the tree trunks is not necessary and even detrimental to plant health.  Some folks seem to be “addicted” to the smell of new mulch.  Don’t be a “mulchaholic”.  You could just fluff up the compacted old mulch to make it appear fresh and promote water percolation into the soil.   Even if you do add mulch each year, it need only be a thin layer for color and certainly should require less to cover the beds as the plants mature and fill in.

But the other extreme is also possible.  Don’t be a “mulchophobe”!  I’ve had people fearful of mulch promoting a fire around their house, or encouraging termites.  Both these fears are certainly possible but highly unlikely.  Often folks see the decay fungus which might naturally grow in any decaying organic material and become concerned that it might affect the plants or the kids!  Not to worry, it’s harmless.  However, I learned about an interesting fungus a couple weeks ago.  Artillery Fungus!  This stuff will shoot you!  It’s actually a decay fungus that appears like clusters of little “guns” that actually shoot their spores up to 15ft and can leave tiny, pinhead size black spots on light colored siding.  I’ve included a picture of this fungus below.  If you ever see it you can simply rake or shovel it out and throw it in the yard.  It won’t grow in the grass.

 There are about as many types of mulch as there are materials to throw on the ground.  When I first came out of college with my landscape degree we got mulch from saw mills as a waste product from debarking trees.  Now there’s a huge industry supplying mulch.  Cedar and pine mulch comes from the south and pacific northwest so it must be shipped across country.  The same is true of pine needle mulch.  The most environmentally sustainable mulch to use in central Ohio is composted hardwood bark.  Hardwood because it grows naturally around here and composted because fresh material will tie up soil fertility in the decomposition process.  Don’t get me started on colored rubber mulch from ground up tires.

I’m often asked for gravel mulch as low maintenance is assumed.  We’ve done this many times but I’m not fond of the “Arizona look” in Ohio.  Take a look at the picture below of weeds in gravel mulch.  The only advantage I see from a maintenance standpoint is the fact that you can spray the weeds without worrying about overspray onto desirable plants.

We do put weed mat under gravel but only to keep the gravel from mixing with the mud below.  Otherwise, weed mat is a waste of money.  It’s normally placed below the mulch layer and the weeds sprout in the mulch above the weed mat.  Weeds also find there way around the edges and the unsightly mat usually starts blowing up and showing as depicted below.  The other problem with weed mat is the fact that it inhibits the growth of beneficial groundcovers and perennials that otherwise would help choke out weeds.

There are many ways to achieve low maintenance through proper design and installation.

Let’s talk about it.  Our advice is free.