Wood chips as mulch

Contents

8 Types of Wood Mulch

Cedar and cypress mulch are only two of the many kinds of wood mulch available to homeowners. Mulch is the term used to describe the material used as ground cover or water-retaining material around shrubs, trees, and landscaping. Cedar and cypress mulches are considered the “cream of the crop” when it comes to wood mulches, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

1. Cedar Mulch

Cedar oil is a natural insect repellent. That same fragrant aroma that keeps moths and pests out of your cedar chest or closet works to keep pests away from your plants when you mulch with cedar. In areas where termites are a problem, it is worth paying the higher cost for cedar mulch. However, this type of mulch does have its downsides. It decomposes very slowly, adding only trace amounts of nutrients back to your soil. On the other hand, this does mean that cedar mulch is quite long lasting.

TIP: Rachel Klein, our gardening expert, mentions that cedar mulch can have its downsides. “Cedar mulch may also discourage beneficial types of insects from taking up residence in your garden, such as worms and ladybugs.”

2. Cypress Mulch

Cypress mulch, like cedar, is a natural insect repellent. It’s a good pest repellent, but it’s more expensive than other mulches perhaps due to its attractive blonde color. In addition, the process of harvesting cypress trees can cause untold environmental damage.

3. Straw or Hay

Straw isn’t the same as hay. When it comes to mulches, straw is preferred over hay, because it has fewer weeds and seeds. Straw is the preferred winter mulch because of its insulating qualities. Straw mulch is ideal for veggie gardens and can be turned under the soil as it begins to decompose, adding tons of beneficial nutrients. Straw is typically sold in compressed bales that are cheap, lightweight, and easy to work with.

4. Pine Needles

Pine needles make a great mulch for acid-loving plants, like azaleas. Advantages to pine needles include a boost to the soil for acid-loving plants, and the fragrance of pine around your house and yard. The texture of pine needle mulch used to mulch an entire bed is very eye-catching and unique. Pine needles are also typically inexpensive unless they are not native to your area and you need to have them shipped in. Pine needles come in bales that are light and easy to work with.

5. Bark

Bark mulch is probably the most attractive mulch, according to the experts. The even color of the bark and the naturalness of the color make it more appealing than a dyed wood chip. Bark mulch, especially if you are mulching your own, can be less expensive and easily available. Advantages are plentiful, but a major one is that bark allows water and air to move into the soil more freely.

TIP: Rachel also suggests that you can buy bark mulch as chips or as shredded bark. “The big bark chips look more attractive and will last longer but the shredded bark decomposes faster, adding more beneficial nutrients to your garden soil.”

6. Wood Chips

Wood chips are the roughest kind of mulch you can get. Most homeowners use chips from their own yard clearing efforts. Wood chips are usually free or inexpensive. However, they don’t last as long, look as good, and may have pest infestations from the limbs used.

TIP: Rachel points out: “Many gardeners caution to use composted wood chips and never fresh (chips) since fresh wood chips may raise the acidity of the soil and carry disease.”

7. Colored Mulch

Colored mulch gives a cleaner, more uniform look to extensive mulching. Colored mulch comes in red and black and some specialty colors. It’s more expensive than non-colored mulch and the dyes fade in the sun, or fade unevenly, eventually ruining the appearance. The dye is environmentally safe and non-toxic, but can transfer to your hands when you spread the mulch.

There has been recent debate about the types of woods used for colored mulch. Some studies have shown that colored mulch is actually made from treated hardwood gathered from demolished buildings, decks, or other construction projects. Dying this wood covers its imperfections. Treated hardwood has a great potential for leaking chemicals into your garden. If you intend to buy colored mulch, you may want to spend the extra money to buy it from a reputable and safe source.

8. Non-colored mulch

Non-colored mulch is made from pine peelings that are merely wood shavings. Many homeowners who do a lot of woodworking, or have done recent home construction, may use shavings as a mulch as well. Pine shavings make a great mulch for vegetable gardens.

Why use mulch?

Common types of mulch colors: mulch vs bark

Wood chips and bark are the most common types of mulch colors, but you can even use stones to good effect.

In most cases, a mulch backyard greatly simplifies your gardening chores. Mulch includes a variety of materials that you use to cover the bare soil in your gardens. Most often you think of it as organic materials such as wood chips, cedar bark mulch, and compost, but it also includes materials like stone and gravel. Adding a layer of mulch pays off by:

  • Reducing water loss from the soil. It slows evaporation and improves water absorption when it rains or you turn on the sprinkler.
  • Slowing weed growth.
  • Improving soil quality. Organic types enrich the soil as they decompose.
  • Protecting plant roots from hot and cold temperature extremes and sudden fluctuations.
  • Adding color and texture as part of your overall garden design.

Whether you’re an ardent gardener or a casual one, you’ll have less watering, weeding, fertilizing and general maintenance.

What type of mulch should I use?

Organic mulch

Use organic mulches when possible, because they decompose and improve the soil as they break down.

Stone mulch

Stone mulch is your best choice on slopes and around downspouts because it won’t wash away.

You’ll find a variety of mulches at your local nursery. But no one type of mulch does it all. Learn the pros and cons of flower bed mulch here.

  • Use an aged organic mulch (partially decomposed wood products) to improve the soil and encourage all-around plant growth. It will continue to decompose and add nutrients to the soil. It’s often sold in bulk. You may have to bag it yourself. Haul it home in a pickup or have it delivered.
  • Use fresh organic mulch (wood chips and bark) where you want to control weeds and improve appearance, but where soil improvement isn’t needed, such as around trees and shrubs. While organic, it hasn’t begun to decompose and will last longer than aged mulch. It’ll also enrich the soil as it decomposes.
  • Use stone to stabilize garden areas vulnerable to washout, for example, on hills and around downspouts. Or use it to improve the appearance of your garden.

Which mulch keeps its color the longest?

Organic mulch colored red

Organic mulch colored with vegetable dyes (like this red bark mulch) adds contrast and interest to gardens. It’ll need replenishing every two to three years.

Gold dye

Mulch with gold organic dye

Black dye

Black mulch landscaping.

No dye

Mulch without dye

Different Colors of Mulch

Most natural organic mulches will turn gray in about a year, depending on the amount of sunlight that hits them. However, if you want more color to accent the colors of your plants and flowers, buy custom-colored organic mulches (photos). They’re processed with vegetable dyes in several colors. Expect the color to last for two to three years. Bright colors like red bark mulch might run a bit during a hard rain, but the color should wash off nearby walks. Colored mulches also tend to have finer textures, a characteristic that helps them mat together and stay in place on slopes. Ask for colored mulch at your local nursery.

Stone mulches also come in a variety of colors, depending on the rock types available. The colors won’t fade, but lighter-colored rock may need periodic cleaning to keep it looking fresh.

Will mulch work everywhere?

Nope. Organic mulches spread over damp, low areas may retain too much moisture for plants. Sometimes they’ll encourage an overpopulation of slugs and other pests that’ll eat or harm certain plants. And rock mulches can get extremely hot and bake shallow plant roots. It’s always helpful to talk to a local nursery expert about local problems and your specific yard conditions when selecting mulch. And ask for recommendations.

Which organic mulch will last the longest?

Chunky mulches: mulch vs bark

Bark mulches consisting of large pieces will last longer than smaller bark and shredded-wood mulches.

In general, pick a type with larger chunks, because it’ll decompose more slowly. And choose bark-type mulches (such as pine bark nuggets) before shredded wood types (such as cedar bark mulch, cypress and hardwood). Keep in mind that mulch reduces maintenance but doesn’t eliminate it. Organic mulches have to be replenished periodically, usually every two to three years.

Will mulch stop weeds?

Apply Mulch

Pull all weeds before mulching and add at least a 4-in. layer to keep weed seeds from germinating.

Mulch won’t stop weeds completely. Applied deep enough, it will prevent many weed seeds already in the soil from germinating and growing. But it won’t stop weeds that have already rooted. Tough weeds like dandelions will push right through if you don’t dig them out first. And more weed seeds will blow in and take root in the mulch (in both organic and stone). All mulch-covered gardens require maintenance, though less than if you don’t use mulch.

How thick should I apply organic mulch?

Ideal mulch depth

Spread about 4 in. of mulch to slow weed growth and retain moisture. However, clear a 6-in. area around woody stems to prevent rot.

A layer of mulch 3 to 4 in. deep will keep most weed seeds in the soil from sprouting and increase moisture retention. However, more isn’t always better. Limit the depth to 5 to 6 in., especially around shallow-rooted plants. And pull back mulch from the base of plants so it doesn’t cause rot.

If you want to use organic mulch on slopes, apply a shredded type about 6 in. deep. It’ll mat together and stay in place better than a thinner layer.

Note: Cocoa bean mulch is popular in some areas because of its deep brown color and chocolate odor. But it’s a bit tricky to use effectively. Apply it no more than 1 in. thick, because thicker layers tend to retain too much water and become moldy. You may also have to replenish it more often because it blows away easily when dry. Also be aware that dogs can get sick if they eat or chew on this mulch.

Where to Buy Mulch and Getting it Home

You can easily calculate how much mulch you need by multiplying the length and width of the garden bed (in feet) and dividing the result by 3. This will give you the volume you need in cubic feet (cu. ft.) to cover a bed 4 in. deep. The volume of mulch in a bag will be printed on the label. You’ll be surprised by how many bags you’ll need. A medium-size SUV can hold about a cubic yard (27 cu. ft.), or about 14 bags. When spread 4 in. deep, that much covers a bit more than a 7 x 11-ft. rectangle. A big garden takes a lot! Consider delivery or bulk (dumped, not bagged) for large areas.

Should I use landscape fabric under mulch?

Use fabric under stone

Place a porous landscape fabric under stone to separate it from the soil and slow weed growth. Don’t use fabric under organic mulches.

Use fabric only under stones and gravel. It’ll keep the rocks from sinking into the soil and make removal much easier if you want to change it later. The fabric will also slow down weeds that have rooted in the soil. Choose a fabric that allows water and air to pass through. Avoid using impermeable plastic, especially if you have trees, shrubs or other plants nearby.

Unfortunately, landscape fabric also makes weeding extremely difficult; you can’t get a shovel down through the rock and fabric. And it’s tough to pull weeds that root into the fabric.

Don’t use fabric under organic mulches. It’s better to let them decompose and mix into the soil.

How do I keep my stone mulch clean?

Cleaning stone mulch

Stone mulch is difficult to keep clean. Use a leaf vacuum to suck up most of the debris.

You’ll have to pull weeds occasionally, but the main problems are leaves and other debris from trees and shrubs that clutter the appearance. The easiest way to remove debris is to suck it up or blow it away with a leaf vacuum. Stone placed directly under a tree is virtually impossible to keep clean. Better to choose organic mulch, because the tree debris will blend in.

Types Of Bark Mulch: Tips For Using Wood Mulch In Gardens

As long as there have been trees growing in the forest, there has been mulch on the ground beneath the trees. Cultivated gardens benefit from mulch as much as natural forests, and chipped wood makes an excellent mulch. Find out about the many benefits of wood mulch in this article.

Are Wood Chips Good Mulch?

Using wood mulch benefits the environment because waste wood goes into the garden instead of a landfill. Wood mulch is economical, readily available, and it’s easy to apply and remove. It isn’t blown around by winds like lightweight mulches. When it no longer looks its best, you can compost it or work it directly into the soil.

A 1990 study that rated 15 organic mulches found that wood chips came in tops in three important categories:

  • Moisture retention – Covering the soil with 2 inches of wood mulch slows moisture evaporation from the soil.
  • Temperature moderation – Wood chips block the sun and help keep the soil cool.
  • Weed control – Weeds have difficulty emerging from beneath a cover of wood chips.

Chipped Wood or Bark Mulch

Wood chips contain wood and bark bits in a wide range of sizes. The diversity of size benefits the soil by allowing water to infiltrate and preventing compaction. It also decomposes at different rates, creating a diverse environment for soil organisms.

Wood bark is another type of mulch that performs well in the garden. Cedar, pine, spruce and hemlock are different types of bark mulch that vary in color and appearance. They all make effective mulches, and it’s fine to choose based on aesthetics. Another factor to consider is the longevity of the mulch. Pine will break down quickly while cedar may take years.

You can use either chipped wood or bark mulch with confidence, knowing that you are helping your garden and the environment. There are, however, a few precautions you should take.

  • Keep wood mulch away from the trunks of trees to prevent rot.
  • If you are concerned about termites, use cedar mulch or keep other wood mulches at least 6 inches from the foundation.
  • Let your mulch age if you aren’t sure of your source. This allows time for any sprays that were used on the tree or diseases it may have had to break down.

5 ways to use bark chippings in the garden

One of our most popular products besides lawn turf is ornamental chipped bark. It’s a recycled waste product from the timber industry. There are no added chemicals or complicated instructions it’s just a good honest product.

Here are some of the ways you could use bark in your garden

For paths and seating areas

I won’t lie. Bark does rot down over time, but it takes a long while. Until it does, it makes a lovely surface for walking on. It won’t get muddy or slippery and it looks rather attractive. Plus, it’s a lot less expensive than paving or stone setts AND you don’t need to be an expert to lay it.

No reason why woodchips can’t be used alongside other materials. I just love this idea. Having an edging to a bark path keeps the woodchips where you want them to be.

Simply cover the area with a weed suppressant membrane – that will save you a lot of work over time. Then put a nice thick layer of bark over the top of it.

I have used bark around my raised vegetable beds. I have a habit of redesigning my garden whenever I get bored. Hard surfaces would make it impossible for me to dig up and recreate an area.

Maintenance for bark chip is minimal. You might want to rake it over from time to time just to freshen it up. Other than that, just enjoy that natural woodland look.

As a garden mulch

Mulching is an age old gardeners’ trick that saves a lot of time and backache. There are two main benefits to mulching aside from looking attractive.

Firstly, a thick layer of bark mulch helps retain moisture in the soil. In a dry summer it’s invaluable, especially if there are hosepipe bans in place.

Secondly, only very determined weeds will grow through a properly applied mulch.

Beside the prospect of no weeding for a very long while, I love the way that this mulch really makes the foliage and flower colours “pop”.

Over time, woodchips and bark compost down into the soil. This adds soil nutrients and improves the structure. Don’t worry though, we’re talking years rather than weeks or months

At Stewarts Turf we offer 3 types of mulch.

Eco-Earth is the cheapest. It’s not bark, it’s recycled green waste but is rather good for mulching around bedding plants and vegetables. It will need topping up every year but while it’s there, it looks fabulous.

Decorative Fines Bark is a superior product with a fine appearance and rich dark colour.

Ornamental bark is lower in price and personally, I’d say it offers the best value for money. It normally needs topping up every 3-4 years (sometimes longer) and in my experience, it works hard the whole time.

Flooring for your childrens’ outdoor play areas

A scuffed muddy surface underneath play equipment is just so ugly. It makes the whole area look unloved and uninviting. Worse than that, mud gets smeared all over clothes and brought into the house.

Bark makes a cheap and effective surface for play areas. Put down a nice thick layer and it will cushion all of those falls. I can’t promise no bumps or grazes but hey – what is childhood for? For tinies, bark is great to play in with a bucket and spade or toy tractors. And when everyone has grown out of the swing set, sweep up the bark and use it to mulch your borders. You can’t do that with rubber matting!

Pet play surfaces

Most pets need lots of space for exercise. Even rabbits and guinea pigs need a daily run around to keep them happy and healthy. Just like childrens’ play areas, pet play spaces can very quickly turn to mush.

I’ve found that for my chicken pen a nice layer of bark is the perfect surface for them to mess about on. They love scratching about looking for woodlice and other delicious snacks. The bark is not expensive, it’s not toxic and it’s everso easy just to rake it over to freshen it up. Bunnies and guinea pigs can dig in it, dogs can entertain themselves without ruining the lawn.

Container gardening

What’s the biggest challenge for container gardeners? Yup. Watering. If you are growing plants in pots, you can save yourself a bit of work in summer by mulching the top of the containers with bark. It looks neat, keeps weeds at bay and conserves water. If you are good at making things, you could assemble a leaky pipe watering system and then hide it with bark mulch. Claber have invented a watering system with a timer so you can still do the watering while you’re not at home. Fabulous!

Find out more about the bark products available from Stewarts Turf Online

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Garden design advice – FREE downloadable leaflet

You have spent hours creating a beautiful yard. You have cleared the area where you envision blooming flowers, lush green shrubs, and perhaps even your grandmothers’ forget-me-nots. You painstakingly chose the appropriate locations for each of your new additions, place them with care, and begin the perfect regimen of fertilizer, water, and sunshine.

And then, the weeds begin.

These garden bullies seek to overtake your garden and sap nutrients from your beloved plantlife. As prolific pests, they have found those sun-drenched spots, and you know that simply pulling them out will begin a new, almost daily routine. However, utilizing weed-killing spray may have harsh repercussions for the rest of your plants.

What is the solution?

How can you naturally and effectively keep the weeds at bay?

Bark mulch is your answer for weed suppression.

Two Reasons Why You Should Use Bark Mulch as Weed Suppression Tool

Bark mulch is the best choice for use as a weed suppressant as it inhibits weeds in two critical ways. First, by applying a thick layer covering the soil, bark mulch deprives the weed seeds in the soil, and their resulting seedlings, of the sunlight desperately needed to germinate and thrive. This prevents current weed seeds from growing.

Second, in applying a thick layer covering the soil, bark mulch inhibits weed growth in another way. Bare soil, especially nutrient-rich topsoils, offer a sort of haven for weed seeds to land and settle in. Bark mulch acts as an inhospitable barrier, stopping weed seeds in their tracks and preventing them from coming into contact with the nutrient-rich soil in the first place.

In these two ways, bark mulch can stop any potential growth of weeds; in fact, the use of bark mulch can reduce weed growth by as much as 90 percent. The plants surrounded by bark mulch are then free to thrive without the needless competition for soil nutrients.

The Other Benefits of Using Mulch

While using bark mulch for weed suppression could be reason enough, there are plenty of other great benefits to be had when you apply mulch in your landscapes:

  • Helps retain soil moisture. Maintaining a consistent amount of moisture in the soil around your plants is a key factor in keeping them healthy and thriving. Mulch helps prevent moisture from evaporating too quickly, thus allowing plants to be healthy for longer, especially in the heat of summer.
  • Feeds the soil. Organic mulches, such as bark mulches, break down gradually over time to add extra nutrients and organic matter to your soil. These types of organic matter are further broken down by worms and other microbes to enrich the soil and promote the healthier growth of your plant life.
  • Prevents heaving. In the autumn and winter months, bark mulch can also be helpful in preventing a phenomenon referred to as “heaving”. When the water in the soil freezes at night and then thaws during the day, this cycle can actually cause plants to pop out of the soil (known as “heaving”), which can, of course, be the end of your plant’s life.

With all these amazing benefits, bark mulch is your ultimate option for weed suppression. Help your plants grow without competition, in rich and moist soil year-round with one of our premium mulch options.

What Type of Mulch Should You Use?

Mulch is the term used for a variety of organic products which are applied to your garden as decorative ground cover, as a soil improvement, and to conserve water usage. Bark mulch is one of the most popular mulches available, and comes in bark chips of varying shapes and sizes. Besides bark mulch, wood mulch also comes in a number of other varieties that feed the soil as they decompose, improve the looks of your garden, and help retain soil moisture all at the same time.

Which Type of Wood Mulch Is Best for Me?

With a wide range of wood based mulch to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which type to lay down over your garden beds. Here’s a list of the most common types, and why, or why not, you should choose these mulches for your landscaping needs.

  • Bark Mulch is one of the most popular mulches around, because it looks so great once you put it down. It is also an excellent choice when it comes to water conservation, since it provides a solid barrier against moisture evaporation. The one downside of this mulch is its size. Most bark mulch comes in large chips, which decompose slowly. If you can find bark that’s been shredded, go that route. Shredded bark will not only trap moisture in your flower beds better than large chips, but since it decomposes quicker, it more readily adds nutrients to the soil as well.
  • Cedar Mulch is the cream of the crop. Because cedar mulch has natural oils in the wood that repel insects, it’s the perfect choice for wood mulch, especially in areas where termites are common. Cedar mulch is going to be a little more costly initially, but it’s well worth the extra expense when you consider its pest repellant properties.
  • Colored Mulch is another popular mulch alternative. It’s usually composed of wood chips or shredded wood that has been died a reddish color. If you are particular about the appearance of your landscaping, colored mulch is the way to go. It can’t be rivaled when it comes to appearance. Of course, good looks come at a price. If you choose colored mulch for your gardens, make sure your budget can accommodate the extra costs.
  • Natural Colored Mulch refers to wood based mulch that is not colored for aesthetic appeal. Many homeowners choose to go this route, since naturally colored wood chips are usually cheaper than dyed alternatives. They provide the same benefits when it comes to moisture retention, week reduction, and composting properties, but they don’t carry the extra price tag that goes hand in hand with dyed varieties.
  • Pine Peelings, or other wood shavings, are basically the cast of material of more intricate milling processes. They are then collected and sold in bulk as wood mulch. This variety of mulch won’t turn as many heads as bark mulch or cedar mulch, but it serves its purpose. If you’re on a tight budget, but still looking for wood mulch for your gardens, look for pine or other wood peelings at a local lumber yard or wood supplier.

Bark Mulch Warning

Whether you choose bark mulch, or another variety, it’s important that you take into consideration the prevalence of wood boring pests in your area before you purchase. Termites, for example, prefer to munch on dead wood, and wood based mulch is a favorite feeding ground. If you live in an area where termites are commonplace, it’s probably a good idea to talk to a pest control contractor or landscaping contractor before making your purchase. It can be the difference between a maintenance free landscape, and one that causes scores of headaches and larger problems down the road. If termites are not a problem in your area, wood mulch is about the best investment you can make when it comes to landscaping. You’ll be getting one of the best looking, and performing, mulches on the market.

How To Choose And Apply Mulch to Your Flower Beds

Knowing how to choose and apply mulch to flower beds is a good habit to get into to preserve the look and health of your landscape and flower beds. But what is mulch? Mulch simply is any material used to cover the soil surface.

Mulching your landscape is inexpensive and is one of the easiest jobs you can do as a homeowner. Mulch helps to moderate soil temperature and retain soil moisture which is good for the health of your plants. Adding a layer of mulch to your flower beds also improves the appearance of your beds and suppresses weed growth. Additionally organic mulches provide nutrients to your plants as they breakdown. Before you start it helps to understand the different types of mulch available, as well as how much mulch to use and when to apply it.

What is Mulch?

Choosing Your Mulch, Organic or Inorganic

Organic and Inorganic. They both have their advantages and best places to be used. Organic mulch consists of shredded wood products which can vary in quality and consistency and comes in a variety of colors. You can also use pine needles, leaf compost and grass clipping for mulch as well. They all have unique characteristics to be aware of, pine needles tend to acidify your soil as they decompose so it is well suited for acidic soils and around plants that prefer acidic soils. Leaf compost adds nutrients to the soil that are readily available to the plants but it tends to blow around if you live in a windy location. Grass clippings are cheap and readily available but they can burn your plants as it decomposes and cause nitrogen deficiency in your plants.

Organic mulches breakdown over time releasing nutrients and enriching the soil. Normally you will need to apply organic mulches every year to maintain the look and benefits they provide to your flower beds.

Inorganic mulch consists of stone products and recycled rubber products. There are many different types of stone to choose from and many people prefer inorganic mulch for this reason alone. They also choose these to reduce problems with insects in and around the flower beds. If you choose to use inorganic mulch be aware that they will radiate heat from the sun and can cause scorching on the lower parts of your plants. There are a couple of ways to address this problem, one is to choose plants that are adapted to this or two, lay organic mulch around the base of the plant and use inorganic mulch in the areas of the flower beds where there are no plants.

Inorganic mulches are more costly initially but do not need to be replenished every year.

How much mulch do you need

All mulches need to be applied 2-4 inches thick. Mulch tends to settle over time as it decomposes so apply an inch more than you want to end up with as a final thickness. Keep in mind that if the mulch is too thin you won’t receive the benefits from using mulch such as retaining moisture and suppressing weed growth.

To determine how many cubic yards of mulch to buy, you’ll need to take a rough measurement of your flower beds in square feet. Multiply the rough size of your flower beds by how deep you want to lay your mulch. Divide this by 324 to find how many cubic yards you need to purchase. For example, if your beds measure 10 foot by 32 foot which equals 320 square feet and you want to put down a 3-inch layer of mulch, you need 3 cubic yards of mulch (320 x 3 = 960 and 960 / 324 = 3).

Bagged mulches are sold based on cubic feet. If you purchase bagged mulch to determine the number of bags you will need to do the following. Convert the depth you intend to apply your mulch from inches to feet by simply dividing by 12, the number of inches in a foot. Now multiply the depth by the area which will give you the cubic feet you need. Then simply divide the cubic feet by the size of the bag you are using. For example, let’s assume we are mulching the same area as we used above. 1o foot by 32 foot to a depth of 3 inches using 2 cubic foot sized bags (3/12 = 0.25) x (10 x 32) =80 cubic feet / 2 cubic foot sized bags = 40 bags needed.

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When and how to apply mulch

The best time to apply mulch is early spring before your perennials have gotten too much growth on them. This makes it easier and faster to put down the mulch and limits the damage to plants. However you can apply mulch at anytime during the year and many people in cold climate prefer to apply mulch in late fall to protect plants from winter damage such a winter burn and frost heaving.

For tools all you will need are garden gloves to protect your hands, a garden rake to spread the mulch evenly, especially in large open areas and either a scoop shovel or pitchfork for loading your wheelbarrow. Use the wheelbarrow to transport the mulch around your yard whether you are using bulk or bagged.

Spread the mulch evenly either by hand or with your garden rake. Be careful when working around plants, do not step on them and try not to damage the plants with the rake. When applying mulch next to trees, shrubs and woody perennials keep organic mulch 2-3 inches from the base of the plant. To help keep insects out of buildings stay 6 inches away from their foundations.

Controlling weeds in mulch

To help with weed control you have several options available to you. Apply a pre-emergent weed control product like Preen twice a year works well. You can also lay a layer of newspaper 4-6 sheets thick under the mulch or use landscape fabric. The newspaper will decompose and provide some additional nutrients but becomes ineffective in suppressing weeds after a couple of years and landscape fabric can keep organic debris in the mulch and provide an environment for weeds to grow after a few years plus it can make adding or transplanting additional plants troublesome.

Landscaping Questions? Here is a quick reference of information that is very helpful…

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  • Basics of Fertilizing your Lawn

Wood Mulch! What is it Good For? (Actually, Some Things….)

Q. We lost some trees to storm damage and I want to keep the leftover wood chips for mulching walkways in the back yard and between the raised beds in our garden. These areas are far away from the house, but your repeated warnings about wood mulches have made me cautious. What do you think?

—Muriel in Montgomery County, PA

A. I think you have perfectly described the most acceptable uses for wood mulch; and the material you have at hand is vastly superior for those uses than any kind of bark or wood mulch you could buy.

Now, before I explain those statements, I have to say that your email is also a refreshing change from the vast majority we get on this topic, which all seem to start out with “I know you’re against the use of mulch…”

For the record, your honors, I am NOT against mulch! I love mulch! Mulch is a good friend of mine! A lot of the blame for the “I know you’re against the use of mulch…” misconception is due to my repeated warnings about products made by the “chipping industry”. When landfills stopped accepting green waste decades ago, developers, arborists and contractors started sending their trucks full of tree trimmings and wooden construction debris to chipping plants instead of the dump.Then landscapers so successfully sold the finished product to their customers that most people today think that the word ‘mulch’ means wood or bark.

Which it does NOT! Mulch is anything that’s used to cover the surface of the soil to prevent weed growth and retain soil moisture. Thirty years ago, wood mulch was fairly rare; you either had to flag down a road crew trimming trees and beg them to dump their load or have an arborist leave the chips behind after you had a tree cut down.

And I feel strongly that such ‘old school’ material is vastly superior to store-bought ‘mulch’; because at least it’s real wood from local trees. There have been many reports of construction debris—including pressure treated wood containing arsenic and creosote—being chipped up to make generic wood mulches, especially the dyed ones. Those nasty colorings can do an excellent job of hiding the true nature of suspicious wood. (Not to mention that some of the colors they use make your landscape look like the inside of a Burger King.)

Our listener knows where her wood came from and she’s keeping it on site—that’s re-use, recycling and a very small carbon footprint. You should keep any chips from your own trees—or even a load from a local tree trimmer—if you have the room and appropriate places to use it in your landscape.

And her uses are appropriate, especially the keeping weeds down in pathways. I’ve used wood chips from my own trees and the local power company’s tree-trimming crews to keep the weeds down in the lanes between my own raised beds. You could also pile the chips up a foot or two deep as a ‘killing mulch’ to try and smother something like a patch of running bamboo after you scalped it low to the ground.

But don’t use wood mulch within thirty feet of a house or car because any wood mulch can breed the artillery fungus that stains those expensive objects with zillions of little tar ball-like spores. (See this previous Q of the Week for the stained details.)

And don’t use wood or bark as a mulch underneath disease-prone plants like tomatoes, roses and lilacs for the same basic reason; wood is the perfect incubator for fungal spores, including ones that spread disease, like black spot. Compost makes a great mulch for any plant, but it’s absolutely essential for these and other Drama Queens of the Garden.

In fact, I’ll go further and add that compost—your own properly made black gold or store bought—should always be your first choice for mulching raised beds and other forms of vegetable growing gardens. And wood mulch should be the last choice. As documented in this previous Q of the Week, a massive study conducted by three different Universities found that two inches of compost prevented weeds just as well as two inches of shredded bark, but the compost mulched plants thrived, while the wood mulched plants suffered.

Compost rules! Wood mulch drools!

And no mulch should ever touch a plant; you always want the stem or trunk to be open to the air. Piling mulch onto a plant as opposed to around it invites rot and disease to take hold and insects and vermin to nibble away undetected.

And yes, that means that every ‘volcano-mulched’ tree is wrong, wrong, wrong! I want everyone reading this to get up! Get up out of your chairs! Grab hoes and rakes and go out and pull that mulch away from every poor tree you can save! And if anybody asks what you’re doing….

“Tell them you’re mad as hell and you won’t take it anymore!”

And finally, never use ANY mulch right next to the foundation of a home; keeping moisture in the soil next to your house creates a super-highway for subterranean termites to get right up close to your framing. Always leave a foot of bare, dry soil around the perimeter. (You’ll find more info on this very important topic in our termite Qs of the Week.)

Q. Let’s squeeze in a last question from Barbara in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, who writes: “I’ve heard your warnings about using wood chips many times, but my husband has been cutting and splitting logs from an old cherry tree, and we have lots of sawdust and chipped-up bark. Isn’t there something we can do with it?”

A. You can absolutely use the bark chips for weed control in pathways and other non-veggie, far-away-from-stainable-surface areas, and you can mix the sawdust right in with them. But don’t use fresh wood of any kind—especially sawdust, with its small particle size—as a mulch anywhere near WANTED plants. Fresh wood—again, especially in the form of sawdust—will suck all the Nitrogen out of the soil and starve your poor plants to death.

And whatever you do, don’t ever till sawdust or other forms of wood INTO your soil; that’ll turn the area into a killing field for plants for years to come.

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