A common thing that people say during the winter around here is, “If you don’t like the weather in North Alabama just wait a few days.” It may be January, but in Huntsville the winters are usually mild enough that people still like to work on their lawn and landscaping projects when the weather is decent. They will be outside enjoying their lawn when the weather is warm because they know that in a few days it is going to get cold again.
One of the first landscaping projects that most homeowners want to do is clean out the flower beds and spread mulch. Installing mulch is an inexpensive and quick way to dramatically improve the look of any landscape area. Not only does it improve the way landscaping looks, it also serves many other purposes.
Mulch can be any material that is used as a ground cover. It helps the soil retain moisture and reduce weed growth. Most mulches are decorative and can greatly improve the looks of any landscape. However, using the wrong kind of mulch can create many problems for homeowners. In this blog, we are going to explain the pros and cons of the different kinds of mulch products.
Most people think there are only one or two types of mulching materials to choose. Actually, there are many types of material that can be used when installing mulch. Each type of mulch has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Whether you are a do-it-yourself type of person or you want to hire a commercial lawn care and landscaping service to do the work for you, I want to help you make an informed decision so you are able to choose the mulching option that is best suited to fit your landscaping needs.
How Much Mulch Do I Need?
Have you ever wondered how much mulch you should buy? You don’t want to run out of mulch before the job is complete. You will have to waste a lot of time buying more mulch. Also, you will have to pay to have it delivered or arrange to haul it yourself. This is the time you can spend giving your lawn care projects some attention or just relaxing. On the other hand, you don’t want to buy too much mulch. Then you have to find something to do with the leftover mulch. Depending on how it was purchased (bags or dumped) the mulch may not be returnable for a refund.
The best way to figure out how much mulch is needed is to use a formula to calculate cubic yards. I have included the formula for the do-it-yourself landscapers that are unsure of how much mulch to buy. Hopefully, this formula will help eliminate some time wasting mistakes.
Calculating Cubic Yards
Measure the length and width of the area by feet. Multiply the two numbers together and this will give you the area in square feet. Do this for all of the areas where you want to install mulch. Then add all of the square footage measurements together to get the total square footage of the areas that need to be covered.
How deep you want to the mulch to be? In most flowerbeds, 2 to 3 inches is a good depth.
Multiply your total area in square feet by how deep you want your mulch in inches. For example, if your square footage is 2916 and you want a 3-inch depth, multiply 2916 by 3 to get 8,748 (2916 x 3 = 8,748).
Divide your answer by 324 (1 cubic yard of mulch will cover 324 square feet - if installed at 1 inch deep). In this example, we need to purchase 27 cubic yards of mulch (8,748 / 324 = 27).
The first step is to select the type of mulch you want. The second thing that needs to be done is make sure the area that the mulch will be covering is free of any weeds. Sometimes this can be a huge chore depending on how neglected they are. Depending on the amount of work, it could be a good idea to hire a lawn care and landscaping service to help you. The third step is to measure all areas needing mulch. Using the measurements, the fourth step is to purchase the mulch. Finally, the last step is to install (spread) the mulch.
Of course, if you hire a lawn care service to do the work for you, the only step you will need is step 1. The rest of the work will be performed by the company that is hired to do the work.
Types of Mulch:
Pro -This is the most common and affordable form of mulch. It works well on hills and won’t wash away. Hardwood mulch is easy to spread and breaks down slowly.
Con - Hardwood mulch can increase the alkalinity of the soil.
Pro - Pine Straw (Pine Needles) is an affordable option for mulch and spreads easily. Sometimes it can be found in abundance, for free, under pine trees. Pine straw is reddish/brown colored and provides a natural appearance compared to other kinds of mulches. Pine straw is a good mulch for landscapes with azaleas and rhododendrons. It also provides protection around newly planted flowers and shrubs as well.
Con - Pine straw increases the soil’s acidity.
Pro - Shredded Pine Bark - Like shredded hardwood, this type of mulch is easy to spread. This form of pine bark mulch breaks down faster than mulch nuggets this is a good thing for the soil.
Con – Nuggets - Whether you choose large or mini nuggets, this longer-lasting pine bark mulch is a much looser mulch that doesn’t excel in water retention or staying put. High winds and rain have been known to make the nuggets float away.
Pro - Cedar mulch lasts longer than most mulches because it is resistant to decay. It smells great too. Unlike darker mulches that absorb sunlight and heat, the lighter color of the cedar mulch works well to reflect sunlight during the warmer months.
Con – A little more expensive than pine or hardwood mulches. Provides almost zero nutritional benefits to the soil.
Pro – Cypress mulch is long lasting. It reflects sunlight and repels insects. Cypress mulch also helps to prevent soil erosion because it has the tendency to matt and stay in place.
Con – More expensive than hardwood, pine, and cedar mulch. Also, provides little nutritional benefit to the soil.
Pro – Long lasting and safe around plants. It is the longest lasting mulch of all of the mulching options. The best type of mulch for preventing weeds. Does not float and stays in place. Colors last a long time compared to other mulch products.
Con – This is an expensive type of mulch. Also, it is not beneficial for the soil.
Pro – Very popular because of the bold color choices. Also, it is not too expensive. That makes this type of mulch the most popular type of mulch.
Con – The color can bleed onto concrete and/or get into the soil. This is harmful to the plants.
Pro – Rock is more expensive than other types of mulches, but it lasts for a long time. Since it never needs to be replaced it makes this the most affordable type of mulch in the long run.
Con – Rocks are heavy and difficult to move/spread. Sometimes they need to be washed off to keep looking clean. Doesn’t provide any beneficial nutrients to the soil. Plants and shrubs that have rock mulch will likely need more feeding/watering than plants covered in another type of mulch.
How to Install Mulch
Bags (Small Jobs) – Expensive, but still economical for small jobs. Most homeowners use bags to spread mulch. They are perfect for small mulch jobs. It is easy to calculate how much mulch you are buying when using bags. Bags are also easy to handle and are a clean way to install mulch. Minimum clean-up is required.
Dumped (Medium/Large Jobs) – Least Expensive, and messy. Mulch is dumped at a location, or left on a truck (trailer), and shoveled into a wheelbarrow for transport to where it needs to be installed. This is a method professional landscape companies use when a lot of mulch is needed.
Blow (Large Jobs) – Most expensive, but quickest and cleanest. This option is great for jobs that require mulch to be spread around large properties. Mulch is blown from the truck, through a tube, and installed without any required raking to smooth the mulch.
Hiring a Mulch Service -vs- Do It Yourself Mulching
Do It Yourself – This is the least expensive option. However, it is hard work that requires a lot of walking, lifting, and bending over. You should feel a sense of pride for completing a lawn care and landscaping project, and making all of your neighbors jealous.
Hire a Mulch Service – This option is more expensive than doing the job yourself. It does have its advantages though. You can sit back and relax while the job is being completed for you. The mulch service will pick-up, deliver, and install the mulch in a clean, professional manner. Meanwhile, you will never break a sweat.
Mulch and Termites
Does mulch attract termites? If so, is there anything that can be done about it?
Some people believe mulch contains termites, and some people think it attracts them. There have been many stories about how termites have spread by being sold from the store in bags of mulch. Although this is unlikely, it’s not impossible to find termites in a bag of mulch.
Termites would probably be killed during the chipping/shredding that is used to fill bags full of mulch. However, if some termites lived through the wood chipper/shredder, they wouldn’t live long. They would be separated from their colony and die.
Why do termites like mulch once it is spread around your home? They like mulch after it is installed because mulch keeps moisture in the soil. This is the primary benefit of mulch. The moisture is great for growing shrubs, flowers, and trees. The bad thing is that termites also love this moisture. This wet environment lets termites explore the area by digging tunnels and looking for food. The mulch gives camouflage for the termites, so they can go anywhere they want. The termites might not actually eat the mulch, but having mulch present provides ideal conditions for a termite colony to develop. Another way of looking at this problem would be to say that mulch doesn't necessarily attract termites, but can invite them to live in your house.
Are there any types of mulch that are termite resistant? Not all mulches attract termites. In fact, the termites like some kinds of mulches while other mulches do not attract termites at all. Pine and Cypress are the main kinds of wood that termites like to live in. Cedar mulch is the best kind of mulch to spread because it is termite resistant. After reading this and you are scared of getting termites from mulch, then rock mulch will be the option for you.
Getting Prepared for Mulch Installation
Removing weeds from flower bed areas before mulch is installed is mandatory. If this step is neglected, weeds will overtake the fresh mulch is a very short amount of time. Once weeds start growing in the mulch, they are difficult to remove. Also, it makes the job of keeping the mulch clean and fresh impossible.
Do Not Use These Materials As Mulch
All of these materials use a lot of nitrogen as the mulch begins to break down. This does not allow for plants to get the proper nutrients.
Fresh Wood Chips
8 Reasons for applying mulch:
1. Improve the beauty of the landscaping and add to property value.
2. Help keep moisture in the ground.
3. After it breaks down it adds nutrients to the soil.
4. Keeps the soil dark and helps prevent weed growth.
5. Reduces soil erosion on slopes.
6. Keeps the ground from freezing. Mulch is an excellent insulator from freezing weather.
7. Reduces soil temperature in the summer by 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Shrubs and flowers will be cleaner (rain will not splash mud on to the plants).