Mulch: A gardener’s friend

The time, effort and/or money invested in mulch and adding the mulch to your landscape or garden, can be
extremely beneficial in the long run.
Lisa Cook, a Wood County Master Gardener, uses a wide variety of mulch materials at her home gardens.
"It does take time to mulch," Cook says, adding, however, "It’s nice to have something to
protect your plants."
Newer gardeners may not understand the full value of having mulch around the plants. While the choice of
mulch may involve aesthetics, the mulch can keep the soil from drying out by helping to retain the
moisture. Properly mulched areas can also minimize the amount of weeds which need to be pulled.
One material Cook uses is straw, indicating this is very effective with strawberries.
In the Cook garden, you can also find shredded leaves, which she says is also good for the soil as it
helps break it down.
"We’ve also used grass clippings to go between beds to make a path," she added noting the
clippings can also be used around the plants.
"It does a nice job to keep down weeds and help retain the moisture," Cook noted.
While there are a wide variety of commercial mulch products available, she suggests avoiding the ones
which are dyed.
"You want to keep it as natural as possible, especially in the vegetable garden," Cook advised.

She also cautions against the use of rubber mulch, noting, "it heats up way too much and its hard to
add compost."
The master gardener also indicated for different areas, it may be best to use different products.
While not her first choice, Cook noted how many people like to use stone around their landscaping.
While this may be attractive to the eye, it does nothing for the soil and makes it more difficult to add
fertilizer or nutrients around the plants.
While not for widespread use, Cook noted the value in using landscape fabric, "not plastic, but
landscape fabric" which is available at hardware stores, greenhouses and garden centers.
Cook said holes may be cut in the fabric for the plants or just place the fabric around existing plants.

"One thing you don’t want to do is to put it right up against your plant," Cook stated noting
the space needed to add fertilizer.
She also recommends the use of mulch on top of the fabric. She says her method has cut her weeding time
in half as she is in a constant battle with weeds which come off a neighboring field.
She also suggests using only natural products, not the fabric in a vegetable garden.
Cook suggests following the general accepted depth of two to four inches for mulch. She says if you get
any thicker, it will be difficult for the rain to get through; while any shallower will not offer the
proper protection.
With using the natural mulches, it is generally necessary to mulch each year as the mulch materials are
constantly breaking down and decomposing.
While that sounds bad to novice gardeners, it actually is good as the material is enriching the soil.
Compost material may also be used as a mulch in vegetables as it will also break down and help feed the
soil and veggies.
Cook also suggests considering shredded bark as opposed to the nuggets.
"It might do a better job of keeping down the weeds," she said.
It’s never too late in the season to add mulch if needed. At this time of the year some places will mark
down the price on the mulch so as not to have to store it over the winter.
Good bargains may be available.
Also the best value in mulch may be purchasing mulch by the truckload.
There are numerous places in the area which will deliver truckloads of much right to your home.
When placing mulch, Cook notes a common error she sees in various landscapes and homes.
"You have to be careful about mulching around trees," she says recalling a master gardener
class lesson.
"Think doughnuts, not volcanoes, when mulching around your trees," she recalls.
In other words, keep the mulch away from the base of the tree, she suggests a good four inches or more.

She says piling the mulch against the tree like a volcano may appeal to the person visually, but it’s not
good for the tree.
"That will kill your tree," she affirms.
Cook says similar advice applies to other plants as well.