Mulch Ado About Nothing

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Recycled mulch for your garden
Creative Commons License photo credit: Anna and Andy

Adding mulch to your garden beds and lawn will help you reduce the amount of water you use, and help plants survive the hotter months. Even during other times of the year, or if you get plenty of precipitation, conserving resources and energy is a good practice. With good soil, your garden will grow and flourish. With a bit of know-how, you can save time, money and incorporate reduce, reuse and recycle into your gardening and mulch repertoire.

Typical mulch material includes grass clippings, shredded bark or bark chips, rocks, black forest compost, soil pep, coconut fiber, shredded redwood bark (gorilla hair), newspaper, weed cloth, rubber, and plastic sheeting.

A layer of mulch helps:

  • Control weeds
  • Slow evaporation from the soil surface
  • Plants retain moisture in root zones
  • Protect plant roots from heat, cold, and drought
  • Keep soil cooler
  • Prevent erosion from wind, rain, sprinklers
  • Add a decorative touch to your garden

Grass clippings are easy to recycle directly from your lawn, making them one of the easiest ways to mulch. When clippings break down into the soil, they add helpful nutrients to your grass while helping control weeds. Use a mulching lawn mower to allow clippings to stay on your lawn and retain moisture. Even without a mulching mower, clippings can be raked or bagged and placed around your edible landscaping. Check out our article on grasscycling that explains more details and has a cool video.

Bark chip mulch is a good way to reuse wood products, but it needs to be replaced every one to two years depending on the size of the chips. Look around to find a locally recycled product. Consider if your pets will be digging around the mulched area, and how windy it is near your garden as it might blow around.

Gorilla hair sounds funny but what is really means is shredded redwood bark and it is better for windy areas and hillsides or slopes. Try and find recycled shredded redwood when possible, and keep in mind it will decompose over time. Particularly in a drier climate, water may get trapped in the gorilla hair instead of percolating into the ground. You can remove the plants when you water, or stick to hillsides instead of moisture-loving flower beds.

Mulch fines, such as aspen or conifer bark fines are found locally, and often are a recycled product. Mulch fines are primarily a decorative product used to top dress reground mulch, and sometimes dairy farmers use it as a bedding for cows.

Stones make arguably the most durable mulch, and you don’t have to worry about them blowing away. Stones do however absorb heat, so be mindful of the temperatures your plants need to thrive. Some dogs have a habit of chewing on stones if they’re bored or need more stimulation. Keep good supervision around your stone/rock mulch and choose larger stones or provide rubber chew toys to keep your dog occupied and entertained.

There is also recycled rubber mulch available, that won’t decompose and it’s heavier so it won’t blow away. Rubber mulch varies in color and is made from recycled scrap tires.

Tip: Dyed mulch can be tricky, particularly with recycled wood mulches. If you like the color, find out what was used to make the mulch that color. Typical mulch colorings are red, brown and black. Colorant products used on mulch should be formulated to be non-toxic to animals and plants, but other times the dyed color of wood mulches masks the fact that it is treated lumber using chemicals.

Make sure about the dyes used by looking closely at the label. Mulches dyed using clay or vegetable-based paints are healthier for the surrounding landscape. Otherwise, just stick to the gray color that a mulch will fade to naturally in the sun.

Remember to buy recycled, locally-produced mulch products when you can, and that your local microclimate and preferences will determine the best mulch for you.

Mulch love,


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