Memorial Day Weekend

A day to remember and honor all the brave heroes that served to hold our flag high.  Thank you for your service. 
Memorial day weekend also means its time to plant and mulch.
  
It seems everyone from gas stations, to grocery stores to hardware stores are selling bags of mulch these days.  Pallets of mulch are  delivered and unloaded creating mulch castles walls which surround edges of properties with large signs offering great deals....or is it really?
The prices vary all over the board.  I have seen three bags for $10, 4 bags for $10 and even 5 bags for $10.  It seems there is no bottom as to pricing for these bags of mulch....
 
So how can they sell these bags for so little?  A closer look reveals volume or the size of a bag varies.  We have always sold, 2 and 3 cu ft. volume bags at my store.  I have seen anything from .75 cu ft. bags to 1 cu. Ft. bags to 1.5 cu f.t bags at some of these stores.  If you purchase these bags, you need to buy more to cover the same area.  Pay close attention to what the size of the bags are.  It's just a fact, you get what you pay for ultimately.  Many of my clients have been disappointed with what they thought was a good deal and ended up not being so....
 
The next consideration is what kind of mulch is in the bag.  With the addition of dyed mulches being introduced to the mix several years ago, any mulch can be dyed to look good.
 
It used to be, the saw mills would cut as much of the trees into boards for building and discard the bark of the tree which would then be made into mulch.  The popularity of this shredded waste grew and more and more homeowners began mulching their landscape beds with mulch.
 
In a response to this, tub grinders were invented to shred and reduce branches, limbs huge stumps of trees and anything else you could throw inside into shredded mulch.  Add a machine that dyes mulches and you can create great looking mulch.
 
The bad thing is, fresh green wood is sometimes used.  As you put down layers of this mulch, the decomposition process needs added nitrogen which may be pulled out of your soil and plants.  Most less expensive mulches are hardwood mulches.  Most any type of tree can be shredded and classified as hardwoods.  Hardwoods are good but pose the potential for slime molds and shot gun fungus.  When rainy cool weather continues, like this season so far, this creates the ideal situation for this fungus to grow.  Yellow to white resembling dog vomit can appear in piles all over your landscape beds.  Shot gun fungus can also attack.  This resembles a tar-like substance which looks like a shot gun spray which can attack your siding and can not be removed even with power washing.  Both these fungus' love hardwood mulches.
 
The best mulches I have found which typically do not allow this fungus to grow are cypress, cedar or pine bark mulches.  The cypress and cedar seem to have an almost water repellent nature.  They allow water to percolate through the mulch into the soil.  Pine bark mulches are the best soil amendments I have found.  There chocolate brown color and easy to spread nature provides acidity to your soil as they break down which 90% of plants like.  I love this as a soil amendment when planting.  This is kind of a "growers secret" as all the fifty plus nurseries we buy from use pine bark mulch mixed into their soil media as part of their soil-less media to help plants grow.  Use in your garden and this will improve your soil there as well.
These aged organic mulches improve soil and encourage all around plant growth.  As it breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil.  Wood chips should be used in areas where you want to control weeds and improve appearance but are not concerned with soil improvement. They will last longer as they will need more time to decompose.  Different river stones can be used as mulch in areas vulnerable to washout.  A layer of weed fabric should be placed to stop stone from settling into the ground.  This barrier will stop this from happening.  I do not recommend weed fabric for under mulch.  After a few years, this fabric will cause more harm then good, and weeds will begin to grow on top of fabric barrier.  It ultimately creates a big mess!
I am often asked what mulch holds its color the best.  Organic vegetable dyes are used in tumbler machines and any of the dyed mulches will hold their color for the year, sometimes a little longer.  My personal favorite is dyed cypress mulches.  They are available in red, brown and black.  As for the longest lasting mulches,  the bigger or chunkier the mulch, the longer it will last.  Pine bark nuggets  in large sizes will decompose the slowest of all mulches.
 
Keep in mind, mulch reduces maintanance but doesn't eliminate it.  Mulch helps to give a finished look to your landscaping.  It helps prevent weeds from growing and keeps moisture in and around your plants.  A yearly light layer re-invigorates your landscape and makes old, new looking again.  Get out and mulch this weekend   Your plants will appreciate when it gets warm.

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