The Benefits of Bark Mulch
Have you ever walked past someone’s yard that has been freshly mulched? The earthy browns make the colors on the plants pop and the garden beds look clean and inviting. Mulching is not just for aesthetic value, but serves many broad and beneficial purposes.
- Improves the soil:
Bark mulches naturally add organic matter to the soil. Microorganisms live in the soil and exist to further break down decomposed organic matter. Once decomposed, nutrients are accessible for plants to take up through their roots. Any organic matter not taken up by plants stays in the soil and helps retain moisture and reduces soil compaction — which directly influences how much oxygen roots have access to. Because of this, mulching reduces the use and expenditure of synthetic fertilizers.
- Shades and cools the soil:
Mulch is an important factor in keeping the soil moist and protected, especially in the summer months. Roots do best in moist and cool conditions, so adding a layer of mulch retains water and shades the soil. It also prevents water from leaching and running out of the soil surface, thus reducing water waste and watering less.
- Weed suppression:
While mulching might not prevent every weed from emerging in your garden, it does suppress a good majority and makes maintenance more manageable. Mulch blocks weeds access to sunlight, hindering their ability to grow and take over. Do frequent weed checks in your garden beds to ensure your landscapes stay fresh and clean.
- Protects against fluctuating temperatures:
Idaho weather can be quite unpredictable, and unfortunately, not all plants are suited for our weather changes. Fortunately, mulch can help regulate soil temperature by keeping roots warm in the cold weather and cool in the hot weather. This is a great attribute for your landscape, especially because of the fluctuations in our spring and fall months.
How to apply:
- Three inches is standard depth:
Franz Witte recommends laying bark mulch anywhere between 2-4 inches deep. Equal coverage is important and be sure to spread all the way up to the base of your plants. The only exception is trees, to allow their trunk flare to breathe. Leave about 2 inches of soil exposed around tree trunks. Extend mulch 3 feet from a tree’s trunk in any direction.
- Reapply every 2-3 years:
Because bark mulch is organic (meaning it contains carbon), it breaks down and needs to be reapplied. About every 2-3 years is the standard. When your mulch appears to be wearing thin, consider reapplying. Plus, fresh coats of mulch add instant face-lifts to any garden.
What to avoid:
- Plastic sheet mulches:
Weed barrier fabric and the like should be avoided when it comes to your garden beds. They do keep weeds out, but they prevent your plant’s roots from getting full access to oxygen and water. Save plastic sheet mulches for beneath gravel drives or pathways.
- Gravel and non-organic mulches:
Hard rock and marble chips are not recommended for garden use because they compact the soil, do not release organic matter, and do not cool or insulate the soil like organic mulches. Use rock mulch for other landscaping ideas. For example, garden beds that lack plants or find a spot where the textures and colors can be appreciated for everything they are.
How to choose:
There is an aesthetic component to choosing the right mulch for your garden. Pick a color that accents or coordinates with your home and garden style. The darker the mulch, the more vibrant the plants. Keep in mind, however, that dark brown and black mulches absorb heat, so choose a lighter color if overheating your plants is a concern. The beautiful part about landscape design is adding your own personal touch, so have fun with it!
- We got you covered:
The Franz Witte garden shop has your basic bark mulches. Stop in at our local garden center, purchase bulk materials at our online nursery, or call to find the best fit and deal for your garden!
By Riley Rehberg