What's The Best Mulch?

In posting yesterday about my mulch (that I got for $1.34 per 2 cubic foot bag) several people left comments about what mulch they like to use. I thought that maybe today it might be good to take a look at the types of mulch and what's good about each one. The main purpose behind any mulch is to retain moisture in the soil for plants to utilize.

Hardwood Mulch
The mulch I use the most is regular brown hardwood mulch. I usually get it in bulk from a local bulk landscaping supply company because it's usually cheaper in bulk than in the bag. Generally I pay about $30 per yard which is 27 cubic feet. The brown mulch looks good and lasts through each season and then some. It's an organic mulch which gradually decomposes and feeds the soil.

Pine Mulch
Pine Mulch by the bag
The bags of mulch I picked up this weekend were filled with pine mulch. It breaks down a little faster than the hardwood mulch.

Pine Straw
Pine straw is just pine needles. Pine straw usually comes in bales and is very inexpensive. It's even cheaper if you happen to live in areas with pine trees! Over the course of many years it can acidify your soil - slightly. It makes good cover for azaleas, blueberries, and other acid loving plants but really won't effect other soils significantly unless you had very heavy acid soil to begin with. There are two good advantages to pine needles - it's cheap and easy to spread!

Straw works great on vegetable gardens and decomposes fast to enrich the soil. It's also fairly inexpensive and sold by the bale.

Rock, Stone, and Gravel
This is probably the most expensive of the mulches but it will probably outlast the gardener! I'm not a big fan of rock mulch because is doesn't feed the soil. If the rocks are in a sunny location they will heat up the area more during the day creating a warmer micro-climate. That may be good if you live in cooler regions but for Tennessee it's not necessary. I'd rather save the rocks for use in borders and dry creek beds.

Grass Clippings
I have a push lawnmower with a bag attachment that I use all the time to collect grass clippings. The clippings decompose fast, feed the soil, and keep the moisture underneath. My favorite use for grass clippings other than the compost bin is to start new beds with heavy layers of grass. A 3-5 inch layer of grass will completely kill off the grass and weeds I cover with it. A layer of newspapers underneath is a good insurance policy against a few highly determined weeds creeping through. When the grass decomposes I have a soft soil to begin a new bed with a more attractive type of mulch.

In the fall I collect leaves everywhere I can, chop them up with the bagger mower (which inevitably fills with a mixture of leaves and grass clippings) then spread them anywhere that needs more mulch. Around trees, over garden beds, in the vegetable garden, or anywhere else - it works great! Just be careful if you have black walnut trees since the leaves contain a chemical that retards plant growth.

Questions for Garden Bloggers:
In a post on your blog write about your favorite mulch! Why do you like it? Where do you put it? Share a little Mulch Madness with us. Any blogger posting about your mulch mayhem will get linked to in this post with the appropriate mulch!

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