How & Why to Use Mulch in the Garden

Mulch slows erosion of the topsoil and replenishes soil nutrients.

When used properly, mulch can help your trees, shrubs, and garden plants weather the summer's heat. Learn how to choose and apply mulch, and how it can help your garden thrive. 

The Benefits of Mulch for Your Garden 
You may be drawn to mulch because it helps your garden look tidy. But there are many benefits to using mulch in the landscape. Mulch slows erosion of topsoil and replenishes the soil nutrients. In cold weather, mulch helps the soil stay warmer. During high heat, mulch prevents water from evaporating so that plants look their best. 

Mulch prevents weeds from growing, reducing the amount of work you will need to do to keep your garden attractive. Yet mulch can also inhibit plant growth if you pile too much on. As a general rule, apply no more than 2 inches of a fine mulch, like cocoa husks. If you have a coarser mulch, apply 3-4 inches instead. Smaller mulches are able to work nutrients into the soil more quickly, so you need to apply less of them. 

Mulch helps prevent weeds from growing.
Choosing the Right Mulch
There are many types of much to choose from.  Choose the mulch that works best for you.  Some mulch options include: 

Shredded wood - Wood mulch naturally fertilizes the soil, breaks down over time, and uses natural materials. Available in a range of colors and raw materials, shredded wood mulch is a basic choice. 

Pine straw - Loose pine needles, called pine straw, can also be used as a garden mulch. Like wood, pine straw breaks down over time and incorporates natural organic materials. Pine needles are naturally acidic, so this mulch is a good choice for acid-loving plants like blueberries. 

Shredded leaves - You can save money and conserve resources by using raked, shredded leaves as a natural mulch. Run over the leaves with a lawnmower to shred, then add more leaves as the material breaks down organically. 

Shredded rubber - When you want a protective, soft coating on the ground but do not want it to degrade over time, shredded rubber is a good choice. This material does not add nutrients to the soil. Try a shredded rubber mulch for playgrounds, patios, walking paths, and other areas.

Crushed stone - Crushed stone offers the same benefits as wood mulch, but does not break down over time. This material is naturally alkaline, so avoid using crushed stone around acid-loving plants. 

Cocoa shell - This mulch is safe to use, as long as you do not have dogs. Theobromine, a component of chocolate, is present in cocoa shell mulch. This mulch darkens over time, smells naturally sweet, repels pests, and looks nice in garden beds. 

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