Is it too late to talk about mulch? No, indeed! We’re coming up on the hottest part of the year when mulch can help keep roots cool and growing (remember – grow the roots, the rest of the plant will take care of itself) and when we need to conserve moisture.

Everyone asks how much mulch to apply and when to apply it. There are no right answers. It depends on several factors, including your soil, amount of rainfall, type of mulch, and how weedy the ground is.

Here are some guidelines:

  • For most mulches and soils, start with a layer 3-4 inches deep. Use newspaper as a decomposable barrier to keep weeds at bay.
  • If the soil is dry, water it before applying mulch to pull weeds easier.
  • Apply mulch just about anytime, remembering that if you mulch early in the spring, the ground might be slow to warm. If you mulch only in the winter to prevent heaving, wait until the ground freezes. Mulch could delay freezing of the ground, causing roots to go dormant later than normal and possibly damaging them.

Sort through the mulch options and choose the right security blanket for your flowerbeds.

  • Dark-color mulches will absorb and retain more heat from the sun than light-color ones. This is an advantage in cooler regions but a disadvantage in hotter climates.
  • Light-color mulches (particularly decorative landscaping types, such as white stones) reflect light and heat and can dangerously overheat surrounding plants.
  • Some mulches won’t stay put. Gravel and stones creep onto lawns (and make tempting throwables for kids). Cocoa hulls blow away. Small bark chips can wash downstream in a heavy rain. In general, mulches with heavy or large pieces are more likely to stay put. Those that form a mat, such as leaves and pine needles, are usually stable, too.
  • Organic mulches, such as grass clippings, leaves, manure, and compost, improve the soil. Stones and plastic don’t. Black plastic, unless it’s porous or perforated, grows a smelly, slimy coating. It also turns brittle and breaks into little pieces that escape the garden. Cheap landscape fabric is not worth it — weeds and roots will tangle in it.