If I asked you right now, on the spot, to name your top two most annoying gardening chores, what would you say? I’m going to guess one would be dealing with weeds and the other would be keeping your plants in that Goldilocks moisture zone—not too wet, not too dry. If you aren’t already using mulch, get ready, because it is a game-changer when it comes to gardening. Not only does mulch have weed-fighting and moisture-conserving benefits, but it also helps you achieve that ‘just got landscaped’ look, year after year.
Why Should You Use Mulch?
Mulch is essentially a layer of material that you lay on your garden beds, borders, and containers. There are several materials you can use for mulching and each of them has pros and cons. The main benefit of any mulch is that it slows the evaporation of water in the soil, reducing how often you need to do it. It also stifles weeds by blocking sunlight and interfering with the germination of new weed seeds.
Mulches made of organic materials also have the benefit of slowly breaking down and nourishing the soil over time. This means your mulch will need to be topped up from time to time, but that’s no problem—nothing adds polish to your garden than a fresh layer of mulch! When neatly applied, mulches tend to have a nicer, tidier appearance than plain ol’ soil, so it serves an ornamental purpose, as well.
How and When to Apply Mulch
Mulch should be applied to the garden surface after your plants have been transplanted and watered. Apply an even, 7-10 cm (or 3-4 inch) layer that tapers down to ground level around plant stems and stalks. Mounding mulch around plants is an invitation for pests to nest there and the mound can become a host for rot and mould. Plus, keeping the base of the stem nearly exposed will allow better airflow to the plant roots.
Best Mulch for Gardeners in Guelph
Here in the Guelph area, we can’t just use any darn mulch we please. This is because we have a bit of a problem with termites, and I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re not keen on inviting them onto your property. Don’t worry, neither am I. We at Royal City Nursery would never recommend a mulch that could increase your risk of a termite infestation, so these mulch recommendations are our personal recommendations that are also approved by the City of Guelph for preventing the spread of termites.
Pine Bark Nugget: In my opinion, this is the best mulch for garden use, termites or not! Bark, unlike wood, is not a food source for termites and this mulch is highly termite-safe. It also covers the ground in your garden with gorgeous chestnut-brown colour and weighs enough that it stays put, even on windy days—an A+ for function and style!
Coconut Husk: Coconut husk mulch, or coconut coir, is approved termite-safe and highly renewable. It works a lot like pine bark nuggets, looks great, and comes in easy-to-carry packages because it’s so light. Coconut husks retain water like crazy and are great for keeping the soil moist. With that said, it’s recommended by the City of Guelph as more of a soil amendment than a true top-layer mulch, so if you choose to use it, you’ll need to work in into the soil. This will offer the moisture benefits, but won’t give you much in terms of weed protection.
Decorative Landscape Stone: Landscape stone doesn’t offer the same benefits as an organic mulch, but if you’re really preoccupied with keeping maintenance to a minimum, it’s a nice option to have. This mulch never breaks down, keeps water locked in, and definitely keeps weeds at bay—perfect for a “lay it and leave it” approach. However, because of the weight of the stone, you’ll want to keep your use of landscape stone reserved for mulching trees and evergreen shrubs. Your delicate annuals and perennials will be overwhelmed by this product.
Mulches to Avoid
Just because these products are easy to find, doesn’t mean they’ll treat your garden right. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Wood mulches: If you don’t want termites, you don’t want wood mulch. Wood mulches are highly appealing because they look lovely in pictures and they’re cheap to buy, but the risk of termites is so much more costly. Termites seek out sources of wood like this specifically, and once they start to colonize in your garden…trust me, you don’t want to go down that road.
Rubber mulches: They come in lots of colours, they’re often made of recycled ingredients, AND…they’re no good. Rubber mulch is made from recycled tires, and over time, toxic chemicals leach out from this material directly into your garden soil. The rubber also chokes airflow to the soil below. Even though these mulch options are touted as “environmentally friendly” because they’re made from recycled materials, the long term costs are definitely not.
The right mulch can do a world of good for your garden. For help with choosing a mulch material that suits your landscape, visit us at Royal City Nursery. Our garden specialists can help you fall very mulch in love with mulch!