Mulch is any material that is spread over the soil as a covering. Reasons for applying mulch include conservation of soil moisture, improving fertility and health of the soil, reducing weed growth. In a natural habitat, there will be as much of as little mulch as needed for the vegetation to thrive. Simply because plants that require mulch will grow where leaf litter is available, and plants that don’t need mulch will grow where mulch is absent. Healthy yards don’t need mulch. But as a landscaper you often have to work with an unnatural situation: grass was planted under trees where it is smothered by leaf mulch. And woodland plants that need humus and leaf litter are placed in dry and compacted soil. Some issues can be solved with the use of mulch. First we need to understand what mulches are available.

Why Mulch?

The first choices for a planting bed are good plants and humus. Mulches are good solutions for pathways, playgrounds, and to get rid of used hay or wood chips from a cut tree. If you have dry, poor or compacted soil, but you have no humus available to amend the soil, then mulches can be a good temporary solution to create protection and to restore the soil. Mulches can be placed over dripping systems in arid landscapes, especially where specimen tree and shrubs need extra protection from drought.

Create pathways and terasses

To restore woodland plantings

To decompose and create humus

To help decomposition of tree stumps

To remove turf and create planting beds

For weed suppression in vegetable gardens

The Problem With Too Much Mulch

Some industries produce wood chips as a by-product, so wood chips are easily available. The biggest problem with wood chips, and other heavily applied mulches is that, not only do they prevent weeds to get established, but they also smother plants with soft stems, and prevent plants from spreading. The abundance of the use of wood chips has resulted in an omnipresent landscaping feature: trees and shrubs surrounded by wood mulch but absent of plants and flowers. This type of landscaping isn’t very appealing, but more importantly, it offers very little opportunity for pollinators or insect-eating birds. Never pile soil or mulch up the trunk of a tree (volcano mulching): It will kill the tree. Mulch should not touch the tree trunk.