Mulch come in many shapes, sizes, materials, and colors. Let’s take a look at what your options are, and which one you should choose…
First, let’s answer the question “What is mulch?”
Mulch is simply any material you put over the surface of the ground around your plants. This is most commonly some type of bark or wood chips. Rock or gravel is another popular option.
Mulch helps the soil retain moisture, suppresses weeds, and if it a decomposable material it also increases the health of the soil.
That last part – increasing soil health – is what we are all about here at Greener Environments. Healthy soil lowers your water needs, makes your plants healthier, and has a whole host of other positive benefits for the environment. See this article for more on soil health.
This means that the decomposable mulches such as wood chips or bark are the best option for the environment. That doesn’t mean that rock can’t be used too. A nice decorative gravel or cobble can add a beautiful touch to a landscape and can even be quite functional in spots such as around walking areas, helping with drainage, lining dry creek beds, and creating borders. The trick is of course balancing the use of materials so that we can properly build soil health.
Let’s get more specific about your different options for mulch and look at some of the most popular materials being used around SLO County these days.
Durable, clean, and natural. This is what we use much of the time as a general purpose mulch. It is made from fir trees and has a mixture of longer pieces and small chunks of bark which create a clean yet natural looking floor for your landscaping. The hue resembles redwood and it darkens slightly as it ages.
This is a premium mulch and comes with a premium price tag of around $55/yard. It is completely worth the money, in my opinion, since a nice mulch can be the icing on the cake for a well designed landscape. A bad mulch choice, however, can make an otherwise gorgeous landscape look messy, bland, or in some cases just not very good.
2.Fresh Wood Chips
This is the mulch that comes out of the chipper when trees are cut down or pruned. You can usually score some from one of the local tree service companies. It is priced very affordably, even sometimes as little as $10/yard.
The way it looks can be all over the map depending on the type of tree that it came from and how finely it was chipped up. Sometimes it can look quite nice while other times it can look very messy.
In my experience, it is usually the case that this type of mulch looks pretty bad when it is first laid down, but in as little as a few weeks it fades out into a brownish color that can look very natural.
This type of mulch gets huge points from us because it is actually the number one best choice for building healthy soil. If it is freshly chipped with leaves and all, it breaks down quickly into the soil which feeds the microorganisms in the ground and kick starts your sustainable landscape.
Here’s a secret: You can have the best of both worlds! You can use this mulch in conjunction with a nicer looking mulch to give you the soil building superpowers of the fresh wood chips AND the clean beauty of a premium mulch such as walk-on bark. How do you do it? Simply place the fresh wood chips as a base layer and then add the nicer looking mulch as a top layer. Voila!
Palomino is a decorative gravel that comes in a few different sizes. It has a mixture of subdued, natural tones yet has just a slight rosy color to it. Palomino looks very classy, clean, and stylish which can be just the ticket for an eye-catching landscape.
Keep in mind that in most cases using solely Palomino or any other rock is not going to be your best option for a groundcover. In most cases a bark or wood based mulch will be the better choice. Rock groundcovers tend to work best when it accentuates the landscape as a border, along a walkway, in a dry creek bed, or as another subtle addition to the space. Too much rock can often times make the landscape appear harsh or hard on the eyes. Plus, it doesn’t decompose and add organic matter to the ground, so it won’t help you to build healthy soil.
Used correctly, Palomino can be an excellent addition to your landscaping. Just be careful not to overdo
Bonus: Don’t use these materials, please!
1.Dyed Red Wood Chips
You may have seen this, although it is unsurprisingly not very popular. It is a dyed wood chip that is bright red. Very unnatural looking and can be blinding in direct sunlight. In general, I always suggest steering clear of dyed wood chips. They tend to look tacky.
2.Recycled Brown (Purple) Wood Chips
Another dyed wood chip. This one claims to be brown, but it is actually more of a purple color until it fades out.
The real problem I have with this mulch is that it is FULL OF TRASH! That’s right, it is actually recycled lumber or pallets from the landfill that have been chipped up and dyed brown (purple). The wood is not well cleaned or sorted before being chipped so you will find quite a bit of trash in it. You will see pieces of plastic, bits of trash bags, scraps of cloth, old tools, and chunks of metal, all dyed brown (purple) of course. I have even seen razor blades in this mulch! So unless you want a mulch that is full of purple trash, and possibly lethal, I’d suggest steering clear of this one.
The key to making a good mulch decision is balancing function with looks. Also keep in mind that mulch shouldn’t be the star of the show. It should accentuate and compliment the rest of the landscape without being distracting.
There are of course many more options for mulch, but hopefully this gives you some ideas to choose from. Let us know if you have any more questions about mulch or need help with any of your landscaping choices.