Ask a Garden Maintenance Pro: How to Use Mulch in Your Garden

Save on weeding and watering by adding mulch to your garden maintenance plan. Here’s how to use the most common organic and inorganic mulches.

There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulch is organic biomass that decomposes over time, while inorganic mulches are natural or man-made materials that don’t easily break down. Only organic mulch improves the structure or nutrient content of the soil as they deteriorate.

Mulch is an aesthetic ground cover applied to newly planted areas and as needed annually to replace composted or worn areas as part of ongoing garden maintenance. Mulch improves the look of your garden by providing a uniform surface colour and finished appearance.

What mulch isn’t:

  • A growing medium for plants.
  • Sole ground cover, replacing other vegetation.

What mulch is great at:

  • Creating uniform soil temperature, insulating soil from extreme cold and heat.
  • Weed control – mulch stops weed growth
  • Maintaining soil moisture by reducing evaporation, meaning less watering! In fact, a 5 cm layer of mulch can cut watering down by 70% and weeding by 90%.
  • Reducing soil erosion.

Organic

Wood Chips

Bark mulch is raw 2.5-cm bark chips and comes in several colours, while composted bark has decomposed to where it is uniform in texture and a dark brown colour.

It’s important to pay attention to how deep you apply your layer of mulch: too thin and you won’t get any of the beneficial protective qualities, too thick and you risk rot and mold. The recommended settled depth of bark mulch is 10 cm around larger plants and 5 cm for smaller plants.

This type of mulch looks great in flower beds, shrub borders, and garden pathways and looks very natural in a woodland or shade garden. Bear in mind bark mulch isn’t a good option for vegetable and annual flower beds, as bark mulch shouldn’t be incorporated into the soil and these beds experience a lot of soil turn.

Shredded leaves

Mulching leaf litter is a fantastic way to recycle debris and make your own free mulch. Let the leaves dry and then use the mulch setting on your mower to shred them. Spread the leaf mulch 7.5 to 10 cm deep around trees and shrubs, and 5 to 7.5 cm thick in perennial beds. You can insulate your rose bushes in November, but remember to rake back the mulch before they begin growing in the spring.

Grass Clippings

Short grass clippings can be left on your lawn as natural fertilizer, while clippings longer than 2.5 cm make for a nitrogen-rich vegetable garden mulch that breaks down quickly, increasing porosity and reducing evaporation.

When using fresh clippings as mulch, lay down a layer only 6 mm thick to prevent mold and fungus growth. Dried clippings can go on thicker. For best results, try mixing a 2:1 ratio of dried leaf litter with dried grass clippings.

Compost

Compost is a mixture of decomposing organic matter, often kitchen scraps and yard waste. Gardeners prize it, nicknaming it “black gold” because it’s so rich in nutrients and helps replenish lost nitrogen and carbon. Add a 5 to 10 cm layer of compost around all your plants. You’ll have to add additional layers every month during the fall and summer to replace compost that’s absorbed into the soil.

Inorganic

Rock

Rock and pebble mulches tend to heat up in the sun – making the soil hot and dry – and reflect sunlight back at plants, causing them to dry out. Consider using rock mulch for a drought-resistant garden or as weed control in open areas.

Landscape Fabric

Landscape fabric, also called weed barrier, is a burlap-like geotextile with a minimum 5-year lifespan that reduces weed infiltration while also allowing water, fertilizer, and oxygen to reach the plants’ roots. It’s simple to use and preferable to plastic sheeting. First, clear your garden of weeds, lay the fabric, and cut X-shaped slits to fit around plants. Lastly, lay a 2.5 to 8 cm layer of mulch (usually bark mulch) over the landscape fabric to retain moisture, prevent sun degradation and improve aesthetics.

With so many types of mulch available, all with different applications, knowing which one to use can vastly simplify your yearly garden maintenance. Still looking for some help? We offer comprehensive mulch services, delivering and installing the mulch of your choice. Request a quote here or contact us at 855-366-2891 or info@maggio.ca.

Garden beds mulch_CTA