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Weekly Gardening Guide: Choosing the right Mulch

May 8, 2015

Mulch ado about nothing! – no wait… that makes mulch sound unimportant.
Mulch ado about EVERYTHING!

This is the time of year to get that mulch down on your gardens!  Everyone loves the look and smell of fresh mulch on your gardens, but did you know it’s also a crucial ingredient to healthy plants! 

Mulch wears many hats in your garden. Along with looking great, it blocks weeds from germinating, it helps keep the soil cool by absorbing the sun’s heat, and most importantly (especially for new plants) it helps retain soil moisture. Also, if and when you do have weeds stealing nutrients and moisture from your trees and shrubs, plucking them out of a mulched garden is MUCH easier than pulling them from bare soil!

The choice of mulch may seem like a personal preference, but there are certain mulches that are better for different situations. For example, natural undyed hardwood mulch is perfect for placing beneath tomato plants which can help drastically reduce disease – some diseases splash up onto the fruit from the soil when it rains, mulching helps eliminate that by absorbing the splash!

Other mulches in the softwood family, namely pine, can help add acid to the soil for acid loving plants such as blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas. This is usually found as “pine bark nuggets” but pine straw is also common.

Coloured mulches are another wonderful option for ornamental gardens. Black seems to be especially popular right now which has sparked several customers to ask if black mulch will heat up the soil too much – the short answer is, no! Black mulch will actually absorb sunlight, which prevents the sunlight from reflecting off the ground and scorching the underside of nearby leaves. Yes, it is true that black will get hotter than a lighter colour, but as long as your layer of mulch is thick enough, this is not likely to heat up the soil.

Natural, undyed mulches are preferred in vegetable gardens.

Remember, mulch serves a purpose – its not just for appearance, so don’t be skimpy! The thicker you make your mulch layer, the more effective it will be. We recommend 2-3” of loose mulch but be sure keep it away from the trunks of any woody trees or shrubs by about 1” to allow air flow around the bark at the base (you would remember this if you were paying attention last week!).

One downside of mulch is that it can make it a bit more difficult to check your plants for moisture. Though the mulch may look dry, that doesn’t mean the roots are. Proper moisture management is key to the survival of any plant. We still recommend using your finger, a garden trowel or any other device to probe the soil near the rootzone and determine if your plants need a drink. For most established plants, if its cool and moist 4-6” down, leave it for another day or so. Too much moisture can be worse than too little! No blind watering!

Hey look at that, I kept it under 500 words, that’s a record! If you have any questions about mulching, watering or anything else we’ve discussed here don’t hesitate to call or email! (Whoops, just kidding, 525 words!)

- Bryan

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