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Friday, September 30th, 2022

What Is Mulch & How To Use It Today

How Has Covid-19 Inspired People To Go Green Indoors

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Does the smell of wet earth, freshly watered plants, and the desire to be surrounded by greenery appeal to you?

Although gardening may appear complicated, we assure you that with the right ingredients and lots of patience, you too can have a beautiful garden. However, it’s essential to discuss certain aspects of mulch, vital for flower beds and vegetables.

You may have often used the substance without knowing what it does or noticing the available varieties. As a result, a working knowledge about mulch and its various types will help you take better care of your leafy friends.

In our guide, we’ve also highlighted how it differs from compost, the conditions you can use it in, and most significantly, why you need it. So, let’s not waste time – grab your shovel, bring out the cart…

…and let’s get our hands dirty!

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Everything to Know About Mulch 

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What Is Mulch? 

The primary question we need to answer before delving into the intricacies is – what is mulch? It’s a type of substance you use with the soil to help in your landscaping needs. Furthermore, it provides the platform for your vegetables and flowers to blossom and is an integral part of the garden.

While certain types of mulch are better at water retention, some other varieties may improve your soil or control weed. To make the correct decision, you need to have a clear idea of your purpose and then get to work. Moreover, there is a type of mulch for every need and, therefore, you don’t need to worry.

Why Should You Use Mulch? 

In modern-day gardening, using mulch is no longer a choice but a necessity. Mulch provides the first layer of protection to the soil and keeps weeds and termites from harming the plants. It has excellent water retention properties and maintains the earth at an optimum temperature that proves to be the most suitable for plantation. Moreover, you have much to choose from depending upon the goal you’ve in mind.

For instance, you can use glass mulch for decorative purposes, while organic mulch enriches the soil with nutrients as it disintegrates with time. You’ll develop a better understanding once we discuss the types, so let’s start without further ado.

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Types Of Mulch

  1. Rubber Mulch

Rubber Mulch is highly useful, given its environment-friendly properties. It mainly comes in handy should you wish to follow the golden principles of – reduce, recycle, and reuse. In that regard, you can use it for growing plants, but for the best results, we suggest you use it as a material for outdoor flooring.

The main ingredient of the mulch is the rubber available from tires after it has been reduced to scraps. You can also use buffings, in which case you would have to scrape the rubber from semi-truck tires provided it hasn’t been retreaded. Irrespective of your choice, the not so organic substance does have its use in organic purposes.

One of the benefits is that rubber is much better at insulating the soil from heat than wood mulches. Moreover, because of the non-porous property of rubber, the earth doesn’t lose valuable moisture, and the mulch allows water to reach the deeper layers. Likewise, it slows down the growth of weeds to keep your garden in prime condition.

But that’s not all, and there are advantages outside gardening as well. For instance, rubber mulch is highly recommended as a material for the construction of children’s playgrounds. By employing rubber mulch instead of wood mulch, the area becomes safer given the elastic nature of rubber, which wood lacks. Children can, therefore, run about and play without being restricted by injuries.

Meanwhile, given the high lifespan of the material, you will get a reliable output for years to come.

  1. Bark Mulch

Our next recommendation for you is bark mulch, which is derived from the bark of trees. It’s an entirely natural ingredient, and professionals carefully choose the bark from conifers like pine and fir, which have several excellent characteristics. Firstly, it’s pleasing to the eye, and what better way to take care of your property than to use an ingredient supplied by mother nature herself.

You can use the bark chips to provide a striking contrast, but essentially it helps the garden to flower, thanks to the exceptional growing properties. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about the soil losing moisture due to its fantastic retentive qualities, which keeps the garden in prime condition.

You’ll love the fact that as the bark disintegrates with age, it nourishes the soil with nutrients to provide much-needed longevity. But there are certain aspects where it doesn’t fare well, and one of these is the delicate nature of the substance. While it’s more comfortable for you to work with, it can be moved around by wind and rain, which could be an inconvenience.

Similarly, it’s too fragile, and you may find that the bark is starting to splinter. To counter the problem, you can try to get bark mulch in a shredded format if you don’t feel like working with chips. It may retain its properties better, such as ensuring more moisture retention, while the small size helps it degenerate faster for soil improvement.

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  1. Hardwood Mulch

If you’re looking for an affordable option, then you can’t go wrong with hardwood mulch. The reason it’s a money-saving option is that it’s mostly made up of material that has been thrown away. In that regard, old wooden objects or the leftover stuff after you’ve trimmed a tree work like a charm.

Besides, it’s readily available, and a polite word with your neighbor may present the opportunity to get some for free. All you need is to look for hardwood material that’s been shredded into mulch, and you can use it for your garden or landscaping jobs. It’s ideal for use with plants that don’t require much acid to maintain their condition.

You can scatter hardwood chips around the plant and leave it alone while it slowly disintegrates into an alkaline form. Furthermore, you can complement the mulch with fertilizer to increase the amount of acid for other plants. But it would be best if you were careful about the level of acid since it can harm the plant in too much quantity.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind when choosing hardwood mulch. With time, you’ll see a noticeable change in the material, and once it turns grey, you’ll have to rake and turn it. It means you’ll have to start thinking about alternatives and stock up on a fresh pile of mulch since it will last for two years at most.

People are reluctant to use hardwood because it offers the perfect breeding spot for termites. So, having a hardwood garden that borders your home isn’t advisable, and you might have to consider other options.

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  1. Hemlock Mulch

One of our top recommendations for you is hemlock mulch, but there’s no need to be worried as we aren’t talking about the poisonous substance. For those wondering, the toxic version of hemlock is a kind of bush having distinctly big leaves and a purple stem.

We are interested in the mulch that comes from hemlock trees, and the common misconception has led to unwarranted criticism of the material. You’ll notice that it’s a type of hardwood mulch and includes most of the same characteristics and disadvantages.

However, certain benefits, such as the presence of various tannins present in the trees, help keep your plantation safe. It stops bugs and insects from digging into the soil and harming your plants.

Moreover, we enjoyed its aesthetic properties, and hemlock mulch acts as a pretty material to use in your garden. We should also mention that it doesn’t have a long lifespan and suggest you stock up on the material if you notice signs of deterioration.

  1. Leaf Mulch

We often find ourselves looking for the perfect material when it’s actually in front of our eyes all along. If you’re vigilant enough, you can make suitable mulch from fallen leaves that are scattered all over your lawn. As a result, many people prefer using leaf mulch since it’s highly affordable and readily available in large quantities.

It doesn’t involve a lot of hard work and most significantly delivers a fantastic performance. So, what are the steps you need to follow after you’ve made up your mind to use leaf mulch? For starters, get a rake to gather all the leaves once they have descended from the trees.

After you’ve covered all possible areas and gathered as much as necessary, you’ll have to shred the leaves to turn them into mulch. To get the best results, you can use a shredder, a leaf blower with vacuuming function, or a mulching lawnmower based on your convenience.

It would help if you shredded the leaves since it offers a smooth passage for air and water to keep the soil healthy. Likewise, it ensures your plants will bloom, and you’ll have a flourishing garden in no time.

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t use a thick layer of leaf mulch, which may have harmful side effects. The thickness could prevent air water from reaching the soil, and the mulch will fail to serve its purpose. Moreover, if water does manage to seep in, it certainly won’t have an escape route, leading to rot and fungus growth.

It would be best to start with a thin layer of leaf mulch and observe the results. If you’re happy, you can use the remaining leaves to make compost and further enhance the quality of your garden.

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  1. Glass Mulch

Sometimes the least likely substances can also be used as mulch, and we bet you had never thought of glass for your gardening needs. The primary objective of glass mulch is for decorative purposes for which the glass is recycled and tumbled down to remove sharp edges.  

You can place it in most areas, but it looks best when used in combination with rocks and pebbles to create a stunning appearance. Even if you don’t, it’s not a worry since the many types of glass and the mixing of colors provide a distinctive look compared to other mulch.

The downside to choosing it is that you can’t be afraid to loosen the purse strings. It’s one of the costlier options, and in comparison, organic mulch will seem like a bargain. Moreover, the most crucial thing to consider is that you need to have plants that can thrive in rocky or hard soli.

We suggest you add a layer of cloth between the mulch and soil to prevent the glass from sinking too far in. But rest assured, you won’t face any challenges if used with the right plants, thanks to the fantastic water penetration properties which nourish the soil.

  1. Lava Rock Mulch

If you’re looking for an alternative to using rubber mulch, you can’t go wrong with lava rock mulch. It’s also known as pumice mulch, and the primary advantage of using it is that it allows for uninterrupted water flow. Furthermore, the material doesn’t absorb the water, and all of it goes into the soil to provide the most suitable conditions for flowering.

Another attractive attribute is that it ensures the ground stays warm, much like rubber, but the principle involved is different. While rubber is an insulator of heat, lava rock mulch spends much of the day absorbing heat, which it then uses to keep the plants warm at night.

Besides, it helps to retain moisture, and, in that case, you can add a layer of cloth beneath it to protect your plants from weed. What we liked most about it is the robust nature, although it’s considerably lightweight, and you can quickly move it to your favored spot.

However, be wary of dropping it in your yard where you might use a lawnmower since it doesn’t yield easily and could damage your machine. It would help to keep an eye out on whether there’s too much mulch between the rocks. Such a scenario could prevent air and water from reaching the soil, which may prove detrimental to your plants.

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  1. Red Mulch

Red mulch is quite common, and even if you haven’t used it yourself, you may have seen it in someone’s yard. For those who are still confused, it’s the bright red material that’s scattered around the yard, and it’s derived from different substances. So, it provides a lot of variety, which is sure to please most buyers.

In some cases, certain types of bark mulch could’ve got a reddish appearance, having been harvested from red bark trees. However, the stuff that’s used explicitly as red mulch has been dyed for the purpose. It is obtained from the same place as hardwood mulch and is gathered from leftover substances found on construction sites.

The downside is that since the materials come from construction sites and certain unusual substances are used as dyes, it’s not suitable for growing plants. We recommend you use red mulch for other purposes but abstain from applying it to the soil. It tends to leak toxic chemicals deep into the ground, which hampers growth and causes irreversible damage.

  1. Enviro Mulch

As the name suggests, enviro mulch is an eco-friendly alternative and is exceptionally convenient to use. It has similar properties to bark, hardwood, and wood mulch, but it has an added advantage, which is why it’s a favorite among gardeners. Enviro mulch is predominantly made up of recycled materials that include everything from old wood, paper, cardboard, and most things derived from trees.

Moreover, it’s dyed like some of the other products, and therefore you get a lot of variety. You can use it for decorative purposes, while biodegradable materials ensure the soil is healthy to provide suitable growing conditions.

The most significant aspect is that the positives of enviro mulch far outweigh the negatives like using recyclable materials, which cleans up the surroundings. Besides, it goes back into the soil with time, and since it’s readily available, it proves to be an affordable option.

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Types of Dyes 

We’ve covered the types of mulches you can use, and during our analysis, you’re likely to have picked up that certain products are dyed. Due to the availability of a range of colors, you can get mulch comprising red, black, green, and blue, which adds to the aesthetic beauty. But you might be wondering whether dyed mulch is suitable for your plants?

So, to assist you a bit more, we’ve decided to discuss why mulch is dyed and the types of dyeing it’s subjected to. You’ll get to realize whether dyeing is necessary or if ultimately organic products are the way to go. Let’s find out.

  1. Vegetable Based Dye 

Vegetable-based dyes are derived from various plants to provide the color, much like in earlier times. People mostly use it for gardening, and since it’s an eco-friendly product, you won’t have to worry about your plants’ health. Moreover, not only does it look good, but it offers the perfect solution to leaching issues.

Even if the material used to make the dye tends to leach, there’s no need to be concerned, as it’s beneficial for the plants.

  1. Iron-Oxide Based Dye 

One of the most common colors used for dyeing is red, and, in that regard, iron-oxide is the predominant material. The characteristic red color is made by combining iron and oxygen, leading to an iron-oxide formation that’s used for dyeing. Iron-oxide is nothing more than rust, which is why the mulch has a similar hue.

Over time as the material disintegrates, it percolates into the soil and proves beneficial for the plants. It provides access to more iron, and if you’ve plants that need more metal, you can’t go wrong with iron-oxide.

  1. Carbon Based Dye 

For mulch that has been dyed black, the critical component used is a carbon-based dye. The color for the material is obtained by incomplete combustion of several items, which gives rise to a compound called carbon black. You might wonder if it’s suitable for plant growth, and barring one component; the answer is no.

The only product that does stand out is vegetable oil since it doesn’t have any harmful effects on the soil. As a result, carbon black is obtained as a by-product of it and allows you to use it specifically for plants that grow food.

With time, it starts to break down and thereby releases carbon into the soil, which has much the same effect as charcoal. Additionally, in certain situations, black carbon acts as an effective medium for coloring food packets and trays.

Dye It Yourself 

If none of the above products appeal to you, then you can take a chance by dyeing the mulch yourself. While it may seem like a lot of work, we assure you that dyeing mulch is not that difficult while being cost-effective. 

You need to watch out for the quality of the mulch and check to see if it’s starting to fade. If yes, it’s time to add color and revive the mulch to its former condition. 

To do so, you need to have a clear plan of how to go about things, and the best place to start is with the dye. You’ll have to keep in mind the types of plants you’ve to choose the most suitable color. Furthermore, we recommend picking a dye similar to the one you had to attain a consistent shade.

Keep An Eye On The Weather 

Not only will it make your garden look better but also help to rejuvenate the mulch. Meanwhile, one of the most important things to take into consideration is the unpredictable weather.

Don’t dye in wet weather as it will render your work ineffective and if there’s a rain forecast, wait for a couple of days. The ideal weather for dyeing is to have clear skies and bright sun for a minimum of six hours, which will help the dye set. So, once you spray it onto the mulch, it needs to dry, and any moisture will prove detrimental in that regard.

Take Proper Protection 

It would best if you didn’t dye on the sidewalk or driveway since the hue is designed to last a long time. Don’t rush but instead take your time because you can’t remove the color from the surface if you miss your mark. For that, we suggest you pick a spot which isn’t used frequently and won’t matter if it gets a little color.

Moreover, you should use a tarp and cover any objects nearby, which you might hit for added protection. It’s essential to ensure that the area is adequately sealed and mix the dye to get a consistent coloration. Proceed to add it to the sprayer and check that the nozzle is fine.

Finally, maintain a distance of six feet, spray it onto the mulch and keep going until you cover all the chips or shreds. Try to stick to a uniform distance because swaying forwards and backward could affect the intensity of the color.

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Common Problems 

Now, you may be experiencing specific problems in your backyard, and for that, it’s vital to know the types of mulch that work best. Consequently, we’ve highlighted the most common problems below to discuss which variety will eliminate the issue and the reason behind the excellent performance.

  1. Weed

Weeds are a recurring problem in most gardens, and if you’re not vigilant, it could damage your crops and leave your yard barren. Getting rid of weed requires effort, but it isn’t impossible and what you need is teamwork. No, we’re not talking about asking for help but using a layer of materials to complement each other that will solve the issue.

For starters, you can lay down layers of cardboard, fabric, and newspaper to stop the sunlight from reaching the soil. It will help to cut off the primary source of light for weed and keep your garden fresh. But for more safety, we suggest you pick up a stock of organic mulch such as hardwood or bark mulch, which works well with moisture.

Moreover, organic mulch forms the perfect habitat for little insects and microorganisms which feast on the weed. The insects move about and reach every nook and cranny to dig out the weed from the mulch or soil.

  1. Bug Invasion 

It’s crucial to note that if you plan on using wood mulch, ensure that it isn’t in contact or close to the walls of your house. The main problem with wood is that it attracts all types of bugs, who will find your home to be a comfy place.

Furthermore, of all the insects that turn up, you need to be particularly careful regarding termites, which can eat through the wood in no time. To bypass the problem, you can opt for organic or non-wood types of mulch like leaf or enviro. You may also try out lava rock mulch, which provides a striking contrast with the color of your home.

Not only can you enhance the beauty of your home, but the curb also looks appealing while there won’t be any need to worry about termites.

Deep Mulch Gardening 

We thought it’s important to talk about deep mulch gardening, without which the guide would be incomplete. First and foremost, it’s also known as sheet mulching and is an incredibly efficient method whereby you don’t need much maintenance. After adding the mulch, you can let it be and watch as it nourishes the soil for several years.

All you need is to pick an area in your garden where you wish to grow flowers or vegetables. Next, add all organic substances, mainly those derived from trees, such as paper, cardboard, straw, or leaves, and pile it up on the designated spot. Keep going until you form a pile close to a foot tall that will pump the soil with nutrients.

As a result, it’s an efficient way to rejuvenate the soil, particularly in an area that formerly compacted and was unsuitable for growth. With time, the ground becomes softer, and as leaching begins, the nutrients from the top of the pile seep underground.

You can use most types of mulch for the purpose but try to add elements that are easier to breakdown. In that way, the soil will replenish faster, and you can get to work with your plantation sooner. The most challenging part of this method is to gather the components as the pile has to be a foot high.

But rest assured that you will see fantastic results if you put in the time and effort. Meanwhile, rather than waiting for the pile to be high enough to start work, you can simultaneously soften up the ground with your gardening tools. Therefore, as soon as you have the necessary elements, you can pile it up and get to work.

Differentiating Between Compost and Mulch 

Another area we must cover before signing off is the difference between mulch and compost. These are two of the essential components you need for gardening, and while they may appear similar, there are some striking contrasts. You must know how the two materials are unique to get a better idea of your gardening needs.

Straight off the bat, compost provides the perfect environment for bacteria, and you’ll find the tiny critters crawling around in large numbers. The ideal conditions for the bacteria are created as soon as the components start to decompose under controlled temperatures.

It will please you to know that compost doesn’t require much effort to make, and people have been known to add grass, manure, or garbage before allowing it to disintegrate in a large pile. Moreover, compost functions similar to mulch, as both materials are combined with the soil to enrich it with essential nutrients.

Compost allows the plants to flourish, and you may even spread it across the surface of the soil for noticeable results. But there’s a slight difference given that the primary purpose of mulch isn’t to replenish the earth as much it is to protect it. Consequently, mulch isn’t mixed but added to the visible surface of the soil and helps to maintain the temperature.

It keeps the plants safe from weeds and retains water, which proves vital to their survival. One of the most critical factors for using mulch is its decorative properties, which compost lacks unless you like having bacteria adorn your garden. It’s available in several excellent colors, which serves to enhance the overall look of your lawn.

What to Do?

Meanwhile, compost helps store the nutrients in the soil while mulch releases the nutrients only after it starts to decompose. If you’re looking for a quick solution to enrich the ground, then you need to use compost because mulch takes longer to disintegrate. Besides, only organic mulch like enviro, hardwood, and bark serves to provide nutrients, so you need to be careful about which material you choose.

What you can do is use both compost and mulch to have the ideal gardening experience. Rather than trying to use one material to serve multiple purposes, you should focus on the strengths of each of these products. First, apply the compost to enrich the soil before adding mulch to the top layer to protect the surface.

The compost will add nutrients, and with time, the mulch will also assist in that regard. Also, based on the advantage of both materials, you’ll get a potent combination to provide the best flowering conditions. The garden will be well protected from weeds and will continue to germinate consistently.

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Final Words

We’ve reached the end of our guide, and hopefully, you’ve got a better understanding of mulch.

It’s essential to consider your budget, the surrounding environment, and the prevailing weather conditions before deciding on the kind of mulch you need. But rest assured that mulch is exceptionally user-friendly, and the numerous options will surely please you. 

That’s all for now. See you soon and bye!

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Anna Vaughn

Anna Vaughn

Anna Vaughn | Art Contributor

Anna is a highly motivated self-taught painter and design aficionado that loves pouring her passion into words here on Homesthetics; in her free time she runs The Little Painters, a small local painting workshop for children that invites the little ones to explore painting through simple and creative means in a safe, loving and extremely colorful environment.

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