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Ohio State University Extension Factsheet

Ohio State's Fact Sheet on Mulches

 

 

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Mulch Info        

Mulch Types | Why Mulch? | Depths & Intervals

Bagged or Bagged or Bulk | Weed Barrier Fabrics

 

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Mulch Types

 

Pine Bark Mulch:

One of the most popular mulches used today, Pine Bark mulches are derived from a wide range of sources from the southern states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, etc. These mulches are available in bagged or bulk forms, but are more commonly purchases in bagged sources.

Two of the popular attributes of pine bark mulches are those of it's decorative reddish brown texture as well as it's slower rate of decomposition compared to some mulches. It's available in one of four grades being Nuggets, Mini Nuggets, Shredded Mulch, and Humus. The most popular sold at Evergreen of Johnson City is Pine Bark Shredded Mulch which is a uniform shredded mixture that is great for a wide range of uses including slopes. Piine Bark Humus is a finer saw dust textured mulch that is great for mulching annual and perennial flower beds especially annual flower beds where yearly cultivation would allow cultivating last years mulch into the soil as a conditioning organic media.

When utilizing weed barrier fabrics, pine bark mulch is a great choice due to it's slower decomposition rate.

 

Hardwood Mulch:

Hardwood mulches are a native mulch of our region being produced in the nearby states of Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. Most commonly found in bulk forms, hardwood mulches are also found in bagged forms as well as other unique colored dyed textures.

One of the attributes of hardwood mulches that is most common is that of it's matting texture resisting erosion especially on sloped areas. It's downfall is it's higher decomposition rate requiring more frequent applications.

Often used due to it's slightly lower cost, hardwood mulches are widely used in the commercial landscape market. Use caution in areas where acid loving shrubs exists for long term use of hardwood mulches can cause a high pH or alkaline pH level. This is contrary to many users assumptions commonly thought of being acidic which is most common in very new mulch not having been decomposed or aged properly.

Most of the newer hardwood mulch sources are now being managed by sources that are not only properly aging their mulch supply but are also utilizing double shredded techniques to improve aging, coloring and texture.

One thing to remember is when using hardwood mulches, most weed barrier fabrics are useless for the higher decomposition rate of hardwood mulches often cause soil and decomposed organic matter to develop weed problem on top of the previously applied weed mats.

 

Cypress Mulch:

Cypress mulch is a growing category of mulches that displays a blondish tan shredded texture that is widely known for it's very slow decomposition rate. Though some gardener's don't prefer it's lighter blonde color, it's slow decomposition rate makes it a good choice for the gardener that may not want to apply mulches so often.

Cypress mulch is usually only found in a bagged source.

 

Pine Needle Mulch:

Pine Needle Mulch is purchased in baled cubes similar to, but slightly smaller to that of wheat straw or hay bales. This pine needle mulch is produced and baled in the southern states of Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida.

One of the attributes of this type of mulch is that of it's medium to light brown color along with it's long stranded needle texture that is often a great contrast to other mulch textures or lawns especially when used in large mulched areas.

When managing large mulched areas, this is a great mulch to manage a lower mulch cost. Be careful of many pine needle sources, for lower quality forms with more sticks and trashing debris can be supplied by various sources. True bale size and compactness can also vary from various sources.

 

Gravel Aggregates:

Gravel aggregates can come in many styles such as limestone, brown crushed river stone, white washed river stone, lava rock, and tan river rock. The benefits of stone aggregates is that of their permanence not requiring repeated applications, at least in cleaner landscape sites where natural debris are not allowed to infiltrate their content.

Evergreen of Johnson City highly suggest the use of a high quality landscape fabric, commonly referenced as weed blanket fabrics, to provide a separation between the soil surface and gravel aggregate applied. This will provide a longer lasting application of gravel not allowing the stone or gravel to work into the soil's surface.

Many gardener's theorize that gravel mulches are not as good for plants as other organic mulches, such as pine, hardwood, and pine needle mulches. A range of variances can make this both true and false depending on the type of landscape being managed. Often commercial landscapes of great candidates for gravel mulches especially where high volumes of annuals and perennials are not present.

 

Why Mulch?

 

Mulching is primarily managed for 5 main reasons being enhancement of soil's surface, suppression of weeds, retention of moisture levels, management of uniform temperature levels with the root zone, and finally for erosion control.

Let's start with the first of these reasons. Obvious as it is, mulching provides an enhancement to the soil's surface in landscaped areas also providing a strong and uniform color and texture to the many tree, shrub, perennial and annual textures existing within a wide range of landscapes. No matter which type of mulch you use, they all will manage to enhance your garden.

Suppression of weeds is one of the most common reasons that mulching is done to the landscape. A managed layer of mulch at a depth of 3" will go a long way in suppressing broadleaf and grassy weeds. Reducing the sun's exposure to the soil's surface high suppresses the germination of weeds in the garden thus minimizing weed problems.

Retention of moisture level in the soil is a great benefit to the gardens especially in the drought regions of the states. Keeping moisture levels maintained in the soil not only reduces the frequency of watering saving time and money, but also keeps plants in a more active growth state flourishing and performing their many beautiful traits.

Management of uniform temperature levels in the soil area offers a more stabile root zone area not fluctuating so much with seasonal changes in the environment especially in the early spring, summer and late fall. For many plants that are sensitive to early warm spells, mulching maintains the proper timing of their spring arrival minimizing harsh damage from late frost. Management of soil temperatures keep plants in a more stabile growth environment as well as high a huge role in moisture retention as described above.

Erosion control, whether temporary till a groundcover plant material provides full coverage, or whether used in areas of the landscape where erosion can potentially cause problems in soil movement due to heavy rains and wash outs.

 

Depths & Intervals

 

Depth and mulching interval do somewhat work hand in hand, but there's one thing to remember about mulching. Don't try to eliminate intervals by doubling up the depth of application. Applying too deep of a mulch layer doesn't provide practical benefits to the garden or to the pocketbook when considering the problems caused by over mulching.

The recommended application of mulching is an initial 3-4" layer at initial new landscape bed  installation or for individually mulched trees or shrubs. Follow up top dress mulch applications should be done by applying a 1.5" - 2" deep layer and no more. This is especially true with hardwood mulches that decompose even faster when deeper layers are applied due to the increased heat and moisture retained due to the heavier application. This speeds up decomposition. The surface of hardwood mulch discolors quite fast and has many gardener's making frequent applications.

Here is the real problem. Mulch accumulation can be a real problem and can cause problems within many trees, shrubs, and perennials, Root systems become shallower and more sensitive to varying seasonal temperatures such as heat and cold,

So, here are the bottom line rues:

Timing of mulch applications many times vary with site and customer preferences.  Being involved with many landscape maintenance accounts, Evergreen of Johnson finds timing very flexible, but do see more mulch applications made in the spring time to provide enhancement to the garden prior to spring's full onset and to provide good moisture retention and weed suppression before summer's heat.

 

Bagged or Bagged or Bulk

 

Organic mulches come in a both bagged and bulk loose forms. Where hardwood mulch most commonly comes in bulk, it also can be purchased in bagged forms, usually the smaller 2 cub.ft. bag sizes due to it's heavier weight. Pine bark and cypress mulches most commonly come bagged and are most commonly found in the 3 cubic ft. sizes other than some mass merchants who utilize the 2 cub. ft. size to portray a lower price.

Evergreen of Johnson City's landscape and maintenance departments have found bagged forms of pine bark mulch to be preferred. Bagged mulch products allow easier management of product onsite due to being able to manually mobilize product easier both in and out of the vehicle. Even if you only have a car or small truck to mobilize mulch, bagged products make it possible where bulk mulches require an open bed pick up truck for transportation.

 

Weed Barrier Fabrics

 

Weed Barrier fabrics can be a great benefit to suppress weeds in the landscape, but there are a couple of things to remember to ensure their effectiveness. If organic debris or matter becomes infiltrated or concentrated within the mulch layer on top of the weed fabric, then your weed problem is going to start developing above the weed fabric.

I have found that, with hardwood mulches high decomposition rate, weed barriers are effective only for a short term and not worth the investment. We at Evergreen of Johnson City only feel that weed barrier fabrics are only useful when applied beneath pine bark, cypress mulch, or other stone or gravel aggregates.

When applying weed control fabrics, manage smooth grading on the soil's surface to ensure a smooth grade to the surface which will make the application of mulch easier and more efficient. Overlap seams 3"-4" and utilize U staples or weed barrier pins to manage the weed barriers attachment to the soil's surface.

Evergreen of Johnson City does not recommend the use of plastics beneath mulches due to the lack of moisture and air flow that is blocked by the non permeable texture of the plastic. Most professional weed barrier fabrics contain a certain level of porosity that allows water and air flow to move thru the fabric. This is of utmost important to most trees, shrubs, and perennials.

 

 Mulch Types | Why Mulch? | Depths & Intervals

Bagged or Bagged or Bulk | Weed Barrier Fabrics

 

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