Experienced gardener seeks the right mulch for a long-term relationship. Loves mulches that are environmentally responsible, willing to stay put, and do their part in suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, and breaking down slowly. Must love plants and gardening and not break the bank. I’m not moving and neither are you, so must be locally available. Prefer bags for easier handling but truckloads, let’s talk! No rocks or rubberized ‘mulches’, please.
I’ll be the first to admit that after years, decades, of gardening, I’m still searching for the perfect mulch. Does it exist? Around here, mulch options include cypress, cedar, hardwood, and pine bark, along with cocoa bean hulls, mushroom compost, cheap wood chips and any leaves or compost you can get from your own garden.
I have a history of trying most of them, so you would think by now I would have settled down with one or two of them. But I haven’t. I still feel like I’m playing the field, trying to find the perfect one.
My history of mulch relationships is probably similar to many other gardeners.
For a long time, I used cypress mulch around the landscaping. I was not ever all that pleased with it, but it was readily available and often on sale. Then I found out that the cypress mulch wasn’t a forestry byproduct like I thought it was. It seems that they actually chop down cypress trees to make the mulch. Once I found that out, I broke up with cypress mulch.
Last summer, I tried a mulch called ‘hardwood fines’. It seemed ideal. The byproduct of Indiana’s own hardwood industry, it didn’t have to travel far to get to my garden. It didn’t cost a fortune. But it was a bum! It had a tendency of ‘sheeting’. ‘Sheeting’ is what happens when the finer particles get wet. They act like a glue, locking all the particles together in a big sheet. Those sheets can keep moisture from reaching some plants, and I can imagine that in the heat of summer, they heated the soil up pretty good, too.
It was a happy day when I got my first bag of cocoa bean hulls, many years ago. Such a rich color, such a chocolate-y aroma. Oh, the love. Even when it molded a bit, I forgave it. It was easy to stir it up a bit and get rid of the mold, which is harmless. Even when it blew around a bit and floated in the rain, I raked it back into the flower beds and forgave it. I used it mostly around my perennials and on container plantings. Even though it is expensive, I still love it. Unless I can find something else, I’ll go back to using it around perennials, even at the inflated price of $6 per bag.
But I can be cheap, too, and that’s why I use inexpensive wood chips, called ‘Playsoft’, for the paths throughout my vegetable garden, with good results. It’s easy to walk on, and did I mention it’s cheap?
Oh, I wish my garden produced enough leaves and compost to use to mulch everywhere, but it doesn’t. Maybe someday. What it does produce I usually put on the raised beds in the vegetable garden.
So this weekend, desperate to add mulch around the trees and shrubs in the front, I turned to “premium pine park mulch”. I think I like it. It isn’t those big chunks of pine park, it’s more finely chopped up, and the color is good, at least for now. We’ll see. Hopefully it will keep its color for awhile and stay put with the first heavy rain. If it does, I may be interested in a more long term relationship.
Really, I hope it works because I’m almost out of options, other than groundcovers, on what’s available around here.
We’ll see what mulches answer my ad. Feel free to speak for them in the comments…