Mulch can be made from shredded yard waste. ATTRIBUTION: Dvortygirl (Wikimedia Commons)

I despise pulling weeds, and I often don’t have the time to water my outdoor plants. Fortunately, my garden is still thriving. Why? I’m able to keep my ornamental plants flourishing with the help of mulch. Mulch is a type of covering that is spread around or over a plant to insulate or enrich the soil. It can also improve the appearance of a garden, reduce time spent on weeding and watering, and help the soil maintain moisture during the warmer months of the year. In the winter, mulch can help protect the delicate roots of the plants. Mulching remains one of the best and easiest ways to maintain healthy landscape plants.

What Are the Benefits of Mulch?

Depending on the materials used, mulch can have a number of benefits. One of the biggest perks is the reduction of water use. Mulch decreases evaporation from the soil surface, which can cut water use by as much as 25 to 50 percent, according to the Colorado Master Gardener Program. Mulch also inhibits weed growth, moderates soil temperature fluctuations, and protects your plants from drying out.

What Types of Plant Need Mulch?

Mulch is not only suitable for your ornamental plants, but it can also be safely used in your vegetable garden. Before applying mulch, it’s important to consider the existing soil conditions. Many vegetable plants perform poorly in wet, heavy soil. It’s best to let the soil dry out a bit before applying a moisture-retaining mulch. Depending on your location, it may be necessary to wait until June or July.


Mulch helps to keep the soil moist. ATTRIBUTION: Christopher Sessums (Flickr)

What Varieties of Mulch Are Available?

There are numerous types of mulches available for purchase, including popular options like wood chips, pine straw, pebbles, and straw mulch. The type of mulch you choose will ultimately come down to the soil conditions, type of plants, and personal preference. Wood chip mulch is ideal for most vegetable gardens, as it’s better able to retain water and will break down faster than other options.

How Do You Apply Mulch?

How much mulch you apply to your plants will depend on the type you choose. Thin, fine mulches, such as shredded bark or pebbles, should be layered no more than two to three inches deep to allow for oxygen to get to the roots. Larger mulches, such as rocks, bark chunks, or pine needles, can be layered up to four inches deep, as the spaces between the particles allow light and oxygen to reach the roots.


Large rocks can be used as a type of mulch. ATTRIBUTION: Abrahami (Wikimedia Commons)

Can You Make Your Own Mulch?

Don’t feel like spending money on store-bought mulch? Just make your own at home. For example, fallen leaves make an excellent base for mulch. Shred the leaves with an electric leaf shredder or run them over with a lawn mower. Add other organic materials to your mulch, such as sticks or branches that have been run through a wood chipper. Other materials can also be used as mulch, such as grass clippings, sawdust, or compost.