PLANTSCAPERS spoke with Wendy Proud about mulching. She’s the California Sales Representative for Mountain States Wholesale Nursery. Her passion, knowledge and experience in horticulture is evident in the information she shares with our readers on why adding organic mulching on top of the soil contributes to healthier and prettier landscapes.
Why is it so important to mulch our landscapes? I think organic mulching is a very important aspect to landscaping, especially now with all the drought issues we have been experiencing in the Southwest. The benefits received by far out weigh the initial cost and labor for its application. For one, it’s a renewable product that keeps weeds down and water in while reducing evaporation. Also, it’s important to keep the roots of plants as cool as possible. Mulch provides shade, keeping the soil cooler despite the intensity of the sun.
How does organic mulch improve the soil structure? Mulch feeds the soil. And don’t confuse mulch with compost. Compost is a component of soil, where mulch goes on the top eventually to decompose into the soil. But the mulch I’m talking about is an organic source which is wood based. Since it is organic, the wood breaks down into the soil thereby changing the soil’s structure. Microbes and other little critters in the soil are the ones that work their magic decomposing the mulch. This is such an important process to soil health and for root growth. In nature, leaves, branches and other organic matter provide the food and substance for the soil underneath.. By putting mulch in your landscapes, it mimics nature and makes the soil alive and gives permeability to its structure. Mulch also helps get air into the soil, another important factor in healthy soil.
What is soil permeability? Soil permeability defines how much irrigated or rain water is retained in the soil. Both the rate of how fast the water moves through the soil and how much is retained influences irrigation and fertilizing strategies. Mulching keeps the water that percolates into the soil within the top layers instead of evaporating and leaving the ground dry.
Is there a big difference in water usage when mulching? Yes if you have the proper amount of organic mulch. The key here is organic mulch, not rock, decomposed granite, or even ground up tires. (It’s true, tires are ground up and sold as rubber mulch!) With the proper thickness of organic mulch, water savings can be up to 50%. Other things to take into consideration to save water are soil type and when and how you water.
What is the proper amount of organic mulch? So the proper layer or thickness should be 3 to 4 inches. Then as it decomposes your soil is enriched. About once a year you’ll need to add more. And depending on the amount of precipitation or watering in your area, you may only have to add just an inch to top it off. In wetter climates, the mulch will decompose more quickly. But in a dry climate using drip irrigation, the mulch will last longer. Yes, the initial investment is expensive, but in the long run, you save money and have a garden that is happy, healthy, more aesthetically pleasing and free of weeds.
Are there different types of organic mulches for different plants? There are quite a few, like pine based mulches, redwood, and cedar. Then there is green waste that comes from landfills and made into compost. It’s a wood fiber material that is shredded and ground up into small chips.
What is your preferred mulch medium? I like shredded cedar mulch. But I have a new product from a company I’ve currently just started to represent, Apollo Wood Products. I’m going to place the mulch throughout my whole front yard. It’s recycled pine from the construction industry’s waste (such as broken pallets) ground up to a consistent look and then colored. The colorants – red, brown, black and gold – are natural oxides which are also used in various products including cosmetics. It has all the same benefits as the other organic mulches.
When is the best time to apply mulch? If you want to dial-in the best time in the southwest desert region, it would be spring or pre-summer. You want to try and put it down before it gets too hot to receive all the benefits. But really, there is no bad time. Just do it.
ABOUT MOUNTAIN STATES WHOLESALE NURSERY
For 45 years, Mountain States Wholesale Nursery has led the way in developing and growing plants that belong to the deserts of the Southwest, plants that are water-efficient. These plants are adapted to our soil, sun, water and winds and bring fascinating and unique beauty to homes, neighborhoods, and communities of the Southwestern desert.