The Scoop on Mulch

Everyone knows the importance of mulching. It helps to conserve water, insulate your plants roots and helps your plants to retain moisture (among other things), especially during the hot summer months when rainfall may be scarce. Most people will mulch during the spring or fall or when they plant something new. As fall approaches, it is a good time to put a fresh layer of mulch on your plants even if you mulched in the spring. For aesthetic purposes it will look fresh, but even more important tender plants will benefit from a heavier layer. In addition, your plants will be well insulated for the winter months to come.

There are many different types of mulch on the market to choose from; decorative gravel, pine needles, bark mulches, compost and wood chips are among the most popular choices. Here in the Raleigh area, pine needles and bark mulches are prevalent due to the fact they are local products and readily available at a fairly reasonable price. After all, the pine tree was designated as the official state tree of North Carolinain 1963. It is believed that our ever-popular nickname, the “Tar Heel State,” originates from the fact that tar, turpentine and pitch created from our vast pine forests were some of North Carolina’s most important exports early in the history of our state. Eight types of pine trees are considered indigenous to North Carolina, including eastern white, loblolly, longleaf, pitch, pond, shortleaf, table mountain and virginia pine.

Aside from their aesthetic qualities, mulches are used to control weeds, hold moisture, reduce landscape maintenance, reduce damage to plant trunks and maintain a more even soil temperature. Though mulching is a very important part of gardening and landscaping, a little know-how is important to produce the desired results. It is important that mulches are pulled away from the trunk of any plant and is applied two to four inches deep. Mulching too deep and/or too close to the trunk of a plant can cause root problems associated with too much water and not enough oxygen; somewhat similar to planting a plant too deep. In addition, mulches are most beneficial when they cover the root zones of the plants. Obviously, on trees this isn’t practical, so most recommendations are three to six feet out from the tree trunk.

Often it is a concern of homeowners whether mulch attracts termites. It has been shown that termites can live in the moist environment that is created by various mulches, even inorganic mulches like gravel, but may not specifically be attracted to the mulch. No particular kind of mulch will repel termites better than another, but bark mulches are generally preferred over wood chips and can be found made out of pine, hardwood, cypress and cedar. Bark mulches are created by shaving the bark off of trees and do not contain any of the inner wood of the tree, unlike wood chip mulch. Obviously, to make certain termites are not a problem (with or without the use of mulch) it is best to hire an exterminator to check your property. An annual inspection is recommended by most companies.

All in all, mulch selection really is a personal preference. What is important is that all plants, whether newly planted or established, are given a layer of mulch that isn’t too deep and is pulled away from the trunk of the plant. It is important, too, that mulch is kept several inches away from the foundation of your home, but you have probably already heard this from your exterminator! So, with winter around the corner, make sure your plants are protected. Be sure to pay close attention to newly planted items and plants that might be tender throughout our winter months. Your whole yard will look fresh and be protected for winter!

Beth C.
FairviewGreenhouses & GardenCenter