The Different Kinds Of Organic Mulch You Need To Know About
Need to know about different kinds of organic mulch? Check out our thorough list of organic mulch options that you can find in your own backyard!
A good mulch makes a good garden. The best kinds of mulch are organic, which means they are carbon-based and decompose. This decomposition is good for your soil. But what kinds of organic mulch are out there? There may be quite a few that you don’t know about.
If you’re looking to get creative with organic mulches in your garden beds this year, read on to find out some of the different kinds of organic mulch you need to know about.
The Purpose Of Mulch
Before we get into the specific kinds of organic mulch, let’s talk about why we mulch at all. What’s the big deal? You might have seen someone mulching around the trees in the front yard or the front flower beds and thought it was just for show. Yes, some mulches (particularly store-bought ones) make your garden look great.
But there’s so much more to mulching than meets the eye. When you mulch, you are making life easy for both you and your plants.
Benefits of Mulching
When you mulch, you provide a top layer of structure that helps prevent the good topsoil from eroding in the rain. This keeps your nutrient-rich soil intact for your plants.
Furthermore, heavy rains tend to press down and compact the soil around your plants. Having an extra layer on top softens the blow of rain, so to speak, so your soil can stay aerated and your roots don’t get choked.
A layer of mulch helps by conserving moisture. The more moisture that can be held in, the fewer times you’ll have to water your plants.
This extra layer also helps moderate the temperature of the soil. Effective mulch will protect your plants from strong heat or intense cold.
Laying down a good mulch will prevent weeds from growing, especially if you choose the right kind (some mulches may have hidden seeds in them, so look out).
What’s more, mulch keeps your vegetables clean by preventing mud splashes in the rain. Also, when you work on mulch instead of dirt, you stay cleaner! On top of all this, most mulches make your work look more appealing and tidy. Mulching is the right thing to do!
Compost vs. Mulch
There’s one distinction that should be made in this discussion. Mulch is sometimes confused with compost and vice versa. This is not correct.
As we just saw, mulch serves as a protective layer for your garden beds. Mulch does not need to be able to decompose to be mulch. There are “inorganic” mulches like rocks, seashells, and plastics, and they don’t biodegrade. Mulch, then, is not the same thing as compost.
Composts are an intended blend of organic materials that are given time to break down in optimal spaces where decomposers (like worms) are abundant. Once these materials are broken down, they can be mixed in with topsoil to enrich it with fresh nutrients. Compost, then, is not a protective layer like mulch, but a source of added nutrients for your soil.
Different Kinds Of Organic Mulch
Now that we’ve grasped the importance of organic mulch for your garden, let’s get into the different kinds you can use.
Bark mulch is usually chopped bark from various trees. It’s lighter and smaller than wood chips, usually because bark is a lot thinner and softer than wood. This is the most common type of mulch you see used in residential areas. You can buy a 3-cubic-foot bag from most department or hardware stores.
The bark should be layered about three to four inches thick. It can last for a few years, which is great, but it does erode faster than some heavier forms of mulch like wood chips. On top of that, bark mulch is probably the best to look at, with its even, consistent color. Some bark mulch has special color dyes, so make sure these dyes aren’t toxic for your plants before you use it.
Wood chips are a mix of chopped woods usually derived from excess lumber yard material. These are distinct from bark mulch because they include harder wood, not just the bark or skin of the tree.
Wood chips break down much more slowly than bark, which can be more cost-effective. Some people have fallen branches or trees chipped and use this for their mulch. Pieces of wood chip mulch can be anywhere from one to five inches in length. Wood chips have a good chemical diversity, so as they decompose they enrich the soil well.
A great organic option you can get free is your grass clippings. Once you mow and collect them, you want to let them “cool” before you place them in your garden beds, because excess heat from grass could roast your plants.
If your grass was long, be sure to chop the grass clippings in your mower or chipper so the grass doesn’t mat together too much and keep water out of your plant’s root systems. The grass will decompose pretty quickly, but there’s plenty to go around throughout the spring and summer!
Another abundant source of organic mulch you can find at home for free is your big pile of leaves. Leaves are natural mulch: in the woods, it’s leaves that provide that soft, springy layer of topsoil.
When you go to use your leaves as mulch, be sure to chop them into smaller pieces with a mower. Large, unchopped leaves can mat together too tightly and prevent water from getting to your plant’s roots. Leaves can be added either during spring and summer or even during the fall after the first frost.
Newspapers are a great way to start a new bed. Several sheets of newspaper can be spread out to kill all the grass or weeds in a particular patch. All the same, newspapers are an eyesore, so you may want to weigh them down with a little bit of some other type of organic mulch like grass clippings.
When using newspapers as mulch, keep in mind that a lot of old newspapers were printed using toxic inks, and they were also bleached. You don’t want to put these toxins into your soil! Most 21st-century newspapers use cleaner, safer methods, so you don’t have to worry. If you’re not sure, give the newspaper a call and find out their printing methods.
Straw makes a great mulch that decomposes fast but provides an excellent protective layer. Also, it can be bought cheaply by the bale which can cover a lot of ground. Keep in mind that some straw may be mixed in with some hay, which might carry some weed seeds with it. When possible, get pure straw to avoid planting any weed seeds as you mulch.
For a long time, it was considered a risk to use pine needles (also known as pine straw) on your garden as mulch. This is because pine needles are acidic, and putting too much acidity into your soil can make your soil’s pH imbalanced. (That said, some plants, like rhododendrons and blueberries, love acidity.)
But in a pinch, some pine needle mulch can come in handy, as it is usually something pine tree owners have to rake up anyway, just like leaves. Aside from a soft tread under your feet, pine needles are sweet-smelling, too.
Perhaps the only kind of organic mulch you may not have heard of, cocoa hulls are actually a pretty common mulch to use.
When cocoa beans are roasted, their shells (or hulls) separate from the bean and are usually discarded. The process of roasting helps neutralize the shell so no weeds will grow from them. The dark cocoa color makes laying cocoa hulls a very fine option for ground cover in your garden, not to mention that nice sweet smell of cocoa!
One thing to keep in mind when using cocoa hulls is your dogs. Dogs typically should not ingest cocoa, as it has some substances that don’t sit well with them. If you have dogs, it’s best to avoid using cocoa hulls for your mulch--or in the least, keep your dogs away from these areas.
The importance of mulching your gardens and flower beds can’t be overstated: without it, you will work harder and risk losing some of your plants, so make sure you mulch. Organic mulches are good not only as protective barriers and for an appealing look, but also as soil-enrichers as they breakdown and become a part of the topsoil base.
Informing yourself on the different kinds of organic mulch you need to know about will help you in your gardening journey--so good luck, and have fun!