To Improve Landscape, Mulching Does Wonders

— Written By Diane Lynch

Article written by Jessica Strickland, Extension Agent-Horticulture

Q: What time of year should I apply mulch to my landscape?

A: Mulching a landscape provides many benefits to keep your plants healthy and your landscape looking good. Mulch can reduce weed growth allowing the home gardener to spend less time bending over pulling weeds. Mulch helps conserve soil moisture, preventing the soil from drying out as rapidly and cutting down on time spent watering plants. Mulching has additional benefits like preventing soil crusting caused by raindrops, cutting down on water runoff and soil erosion, and reducing chances of soil-borne diseases by preventing soil and possible diseases from splashing on the foliage.

Mulch can be applied anytime of the year. Late winter into early spring is a good time for most people because it is easier to spread before plants begin to grow. Some thoughts are that late spring is a better time because an early spring application will delay soil warming and possibly plant growth. Plant growth could be delayed if mulch is applied early but this is often not an issue. Applying mulch early will also provide a barrier to stop many annual weeds before they begin to grow.

For landscape beds, mulch the entire area. For individual plants, such as trees, the mulched area should extend at least 3 to 6 feet out from the base of the plant. The mulch should be pulled 1 to 2 inches away from the base of the plants to prevent bark decay. Avoid heaping the mulch up against the tree trunk. This is an incorrect practice often called volcano mulching. Mulching around trees will not only save the trouble of trying to dunk under tree limbs while mowing but will prevent damaging to tree trunks with lawn mowers and weed trimmers.

A good layer of mulch should be 2 to 4 inch deep. Although mulch is a good thing, you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to mulching. A deep mulch layer can result in the roots growing into the mulch and not growing into the soil. Roots growing into the mulch can dry out quickly and are more prone to cold damage.

There are two main categories of mulches: organic and inorganic. Some examples of organic mulches are pine straw, pine bark nuggets, and shredded bark. Organic mulches will decompose over time, often adding small amounts of nutrients into the soil and improving the soil. Buy mulch that is weed-free to avoid adding more weeds to the landscape. Do not use any mulch that has a smell of vinegar, ammonia, or sulfur. This smell means that the mulch went through anaerobic (low oxygen, high moisture) decomposition and has become very acidic, which can cause a loss of those prized landscape plants.
Inorganic mulches include gravel, crushed rocks, and pebbles. Inorganic mulches will not decompose meaning that they do not require annual replacement. They can cause problems in that they are more difficult to deal with when applied to the landscape or when trying to go back in to plant more plants. Unlike organic mulches, inorganic do not help improve the soil in anyway. Do not use black plastic as mulch because it does not allow air, water, and nutrients to move into the soil.

When used properly, mulches have many advantages in the landscape. By controlling weeds and conserving soil moisture, mulching can save a gardener time and energy along with making a landscape look great.

Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs:
• Save the date for the annual Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Spring Plant Sale! This year’s plant sale will be Saturday, April 26th at the Wayne Center of the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Office (208 W. Chestnut Street, Goldsboro). Doors will open at 9am until noon.

Learn More!
• Visit our website at Click on “Lawn & Garden” on left side of webpage.
• “Like” us on Facebook to receive timely garden tips, ask questions, and learn of upcoming gardening events.

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Jessica Strickland
Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC 27533
Phone: 919-731-1520
Fax: 919-731-1511

Written By

Photo of Diane LynchDiane LynchCounty Extension Support Specialist (919) 731-1520 diane_lynch@ncsu.eduWayne County, North Carolina
Posted on Mar 24, 2014
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