“Mulching” is simply laying a top dressing of partially decomposed bark mulch, fine bark mulch, or arborist chips to your garden beds. (My favorite is the partially decomposed bark; we’ll talk more about arborist chips in a bit.)
The importance of mulching
When applied to the soil at a depth of at least 2 inches, mulch has a number of key benefits: It can help prevent erosion, stop existing weed seeds from germinating, hold in moisture, and provide temperature moderation in the soil. Mulch also builds the soil as it decomposes, bringing in microbial activity to convert nutrients into a form that is more accessible for plants.
Think of it this way: With mulch, you are feeding the soil, and that means you also are feeding your plants!
How much mulch should you add to your garden?
Between 2 and 4 inches on the top is best—there’s no need to mix it into the soil. Keep in mind, however, that you should keep the mulch 1-2 inches away from the base of woody shrubs and trees to prevent disease and decay.
When is the best time for mulching?
Fall and/or spring are great times. In the fall, mulching prevents erosion and the germination of winter weed seeds; it also can keep soil from splashing onto fences and structures. Mulching in the spring will give your garden a fresh look for the new season.
What about rock and gravel?
While some people like to use crushed rock or gravel instead of mulch, those work best in areas that don’t have weed seeds blowing around all over the place—which means “not here.” Also, rock and gravel don’t decompose to build the soil and feed your plants.
What’s the deal with arborist chips?
Arborist chips are wood chips ground up after an arborist has pruned or removed trees (see photo). They differ from regular wood chips in that they contain a blend of leaves or needles and wood bits that are beneficial—leaves and needles break down sooner, while the wood itself takes longer.
If appearance is a concern, arborist chips might not be for you: They are less uniform then processed mulch. In fact, they’re not uniform at all. They can contain sticks and pieces of bark of varying sizes, including some that are quite large.
The best thing about arborist chips is that they are free! It saves the arborist the time, effort and cost of dumping. However, it’s usually not possible to order a specific amount from an arborist—think of it as an all-or-nothing deal where you get whatever they have in the truck. This could be 2 yards, or it could be 12 yards. So be prepared and have your neighbors on standby with their wheelbarrows! The last time I got arborist chips it took me all winter to place them in my garden (and that was even with my neighbors taking all they wanted for themselves).
If you want to move ahead with chips, www.chipdrop.com can help connect you with an arborist. But be sure to read all the information and warnings so you aren’t surprised.
Just do it!
Whether you choose mulch based on aesthetics or what’s best for the soil, any mulch that decomposes will be beneficial. You’ll be protecting your soil and feeding your plants, too. So don’t hesitate—go forth and mulch!