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All About Mulch for your Garden

Mulch is broadly defined as a protective layer over the soil. Mulch can help your soil retain moisture in dry periods, and can prevent weeds from germinating. Mulch comes in many forms, including natural and synthetic materials.

Natural materials include a wide variety of wood chips, available from coarse to fine, using different types of wood, and in a variety of colors. One benefit of wood chips is that they will slowly break down and enrich your soil. This does mean, however, that you do need to add to your wood chips on a regular - perhaps annual - basis to keep them looking their best. It is best to not use wood chips close to a building, as they may encourage wood eating pests such as termites and ants to invade the structure.

Cedar Mulch

Wood mulch can be found in plastic bags at your local nursery or builders center, or as bulk loads from a local nursery or other sources. The bulk loads will generally be less expensive per square foot, but you will need to purchase a large amount, may have limited choices, and will need to arrange for delivery if you do not have access to a pickup truck. I always feel that wood mulch needs to be a few inches deep for best results, but your climate might not require that, or your budget might not allow for that.

Cocoa mulch is similar to wood mulch, but is made of cocoa shells that are the byproduct of chocolate production. Cocoa mulch smells great when first applied, but usually looses most of that within a month. Cocoa mulch is fairly expensive, and is generally only available in bags and not in bulk loads. Cocoa is dangerous to dogs, and should not be used in an area where a dog might eat it.

Stone gravel or pebbles makes an excellent mulch, as it does not break down as a wood mulch will. Gravel comes in a variety of different colors and sizes, from smaller "pea gravel" to larger river pebbles. Like wood mulch, gravel can also be purchased in bags or by the truck load.

Gravel has some disadvantages to wood mulch. Gravel is much heavier than wood mulch. Gravel also heats up in the sun and holds that heat, which is an advantage is colder areas but a disadvantage in warmer areas. Gravel doesn't break down, which is a big advantage. However that does mean you will have the gravel you choose for a long time, which is something to keep in mind.

Synthetic materials include rubber mulch, which is made from recycled shredded tires. Plastic and fabric mulch comes in sheets which you cover your entire bed with - and then cut holes in the material where you will be planting. This is best used on a new and not existing garden, as it can be quite difficult to properly install around established plantings. Most gardens I have seen with fabric mulch will cover it with a wood mulch, as the fabric is effective but not ascetically appealing.

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