A mulch layer around trees, shrubs, and planted beds provides many benefits. In areas that are difficult to mow, irrigate, or otherwise maintain, use mulch to replace turf or groundcovers. Also consider placing mulch in shady areas where many plants don’t grow well. Mulch is a wonderful addition to any landscape, because it:
• Buffers soil temperature; keeps soils and plant roots warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
• Helps maintain soil moisture. Mulch slows evaporation and reduces water needs of plants.
Properly applied mulch encourages moisture retention and accents the landscape.
• Inhibits weed germination and growth.
• Adds beauty. Mulch gives planting beds a neat and uniform appearance, and its color and texture can complement plantings.
• Helps reduce soil erosion.
• Can improve soil. As they decompose, organic materials like wood chips, pine needles, leaves, and grass clippings make soil more fertile and improve soil aeration, structure, and drainage.
• Can protect plants. Mulch can help prevent certain plant diseases, and when placed around shrubs and trees (at least 12 inches from the trunk), it reduces the likelihood of damage from trimmers and mowers.
Which Mulch to Use
There are many factors to consider when selecting mulch for your landscape. Depending on your priorities, you could make a decision based on any or all of them:
• Origins of the mulch
• Nutrient content
All of the different kinds of mulch available in Florida have benefits and drawbacks. Cypress, melaleuca, and pine bark are the longest lasting types of mulch but don’t offer plants many nutrients when they break down. Soil pH may be reduced by pine bark and pine straw, which would be excellent for acid-loving plants like azaleas, but not plants that require high-pH soil. Here’s an overview of the most popular mulches:
Pine bark is a byproduct of the forest industry. It comes in ground and nugget forms, and has a rich brown color.
Pine straw (pine needles) comes from pine plantations, which produce paper and wood products, and is sold in bales. Unlike some mulches, pine needles are not likely to wash away, because they knit together.
Fallen leaves (including grass clippings) can be raked up for free in your landscape. This type of mulch is high in nutrients, but decomposes quickly.
Melaleuca mulch is made from the invasive exotic trees. The product is cured at a high temperature to kill seeds.
Mixed hardwood mulch is produced from scrap lumber, recycled pallets, or tree stems that are too small to be used for paper or wood production.
Eucalyptus mulch typically comes from plantations in South and Central Florida where the trees are grown specifically for mulch. They grow quickly, so this mulch is considered renewable.
Utility mulch is sold or given away for free by many utility companies. This mulch comes from trimming trees and other plants that get in the way of power lines, but it can come with weed seeds.
Cypress mulch is composed of both wood and bark. Cypress trees, which grow in Florida’s forested wetlands, are often harvested for lumber used in fencing, flooring, furniture and other wood products. Cypress mulch is often made from the waste wood generated in the manufacture of these products, but it may also be produced from whole trees cut from wetlands. The Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Program does not recommend the use of cypress mulch, as its origins may be difficult to determine.
Gravel or pebbles can be used as mulch, but they won’t contribute to the soil’s nutrient and organic content or water-holding capacity. If you choose to use these products, make sure to first install a woven ground cloth