Ready for winter? Make the right choice.
Although the right mulch can put the finishing touch on garden beds, most importantly, a layering of mulch will help to control weeds, retain soil moisture and keep temperatures as consistent as possible. A summer or winter application of mulch acts as an insulator, keeping temperatures from fluctuation rapidly in our more extreme seasons. A winter mulch is applied after the ground freezes, keeping the soil frozen--preventing early sprouting and frost heaving. The 'best' mulch is one that fits your needs for both function, as well as aesthetics. Even though each type of mulch has its strengths and weaknesses, your garden will appreciate a layer (2-3 inches deep) of any type that keeps your plants happy and healthy.
Shredded hardwood: Hardwood mulches spread or cover beds easily and are long lasting, too. It is similar to pine bark nuggets, but it is less likely to wash away. However, as wood mulches break down, the soil becomes more alkaline. You may need to boost the pH with fertilizer around acid-loving plants such as boxwood, rhododendrons and evergreens. Be vigilant because hardwood mulches can compact over time... not allowing rain or nutrients to reach the soil easily.
Leaf: Leaf mulch is basically ground-up, deciduous shrub or tree leaves (not thick, oak leaves). This makes a wonderful, light mulch, applied in fall or spring, that will add nutrients to the soil. Purchase pre-made leaf mulch in bags or try making it yourself. In autumn, simply mow over fallen, dry leaves a few times with a mulching lawnmower or run them through a leaf shredder/wood chopper. Gather shredded leaves in plastic trash bags and store over winter in your garage or shed. In spring, add this mulch called 'leaf mold' to your garden beds. It’s a beautiful source of organic matter that will feed earthworms, beneficial microbes and annuals, perennials and vegetables.
Cocoa Bean or Cocoa Shell: This type of mulch consists of the shells of the cocoa bean. The shells come off during the roasting process and are separated from the beans. Chocolate lovers will love its cocoa fragrance but, for better or worse, the scent disappears after 2-3 weeks. Spread mulch around approximately one-inch thick. As it is a light weight mulch, it helps to spray it down thoroughly with water after spreading. The shells will curl and interlock, creating a honeycomb effect and stay in place. You can use cocoa shell mulch with all kinds of plants such as annuals, perennials, shrubs, evergreen or deciduous, trees, roses and even vegetables. This type of mulch can be spread on garden beds in both winter and summer months.
Bark (small, medium and large nuggets): Pine bark nuggets in any size are a long lasting mulch for garden beds or pathways. The nuggets are slow to break down in the soil, but when they do, the soil is enriched with organic material. The downside of bark nuggets is that they have a tendency to float and spread by rain and moving water. Use them in areas that will not get a river of water from heavy downpours. Pine bark is usually available in small, medium and large nuggets.
Cedar: This mulch comes from the bark of the cedar evergreen. It is available shredded or chipped and decomposes slowly—lasting longer than many mulch materials. The shredded cedar creates a light, airy layer over the soil that works best with smaller plants such as annuals and perennials. The more dense and heavier cedar chips are better used with larger bushes or trees. The resins in cedar give off a pleasant scent and also keeps certain types of insects away from your plants. Layer cedar mulch on top of the soil… do not mix it into the soil, as it will deplete the nitrogen in the soil and affect plants' health. It always helps to fertilize plants periodically when mulching beds with cedar.
Colored wood: Make sure this wood mulch is made from raw lumber, rather than recycled wood. You don’t want to use any dangerous additives such as pressure-treated wood or recycled crates or pallets from unreliable sources in your garden. However, the brown, black or red dyes that are used to enhance the color of the mulch are considered safe.
Compost and manure: These two mulches will add large amounts of organic material to your soil quickly… improving soil structure, adding nutrients and improving water holding properties. Since these two mulches are not as heavy or dense as the hardwood or bark mulches, weeds have a tendency to sprout through it.
TIP: Some materials such as sawdust, wood shavings or wood chips that haven’t been aged, should not be used as a mulch around plants Since these materials haven’t been aged or composted, they consume large amounts of nitrogen in your soil as they break down—and steal this valuable nutrient from nearby plants. When using materials for mulch in garden beds, only use products that have been sufficiently aged.
BAGGED GOODS COVERAGE for Composts, Soils and Mulches
1 Cubic Ft.
12 sq. ft..........1" deep
6 sq. ft..........2" deep
4 sq. ft..........3" deep
3 sq. ft..........4" deep
1.5 Cubic Ft.
18 sq. ft..........1" deep
9 sq. ft..........2" deep
6 sq. ft..........3" deep
4.5 sq. ft.......4" deep
2 Cubic Ft.
24 sq. ft..........1" deep
12 sq. ft..........2" deep
8 sq. ft..........3" deep
6 sq. ft..........4" deep
3 Cubic Ft.
36 sq. ft..........1" deep
18 sq. ft..........2" deep
12 sq. ft..........3" deep
9 sq. ft..........4" deep
1 Cubic Yard = 27 Cubic Feet