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Mulch 101

Updated: May 15, 2020

Spring is officially here, the snow is melting, and as your planting beds reappear, you wonder if you need to re-mulch your beds this year. While freshly mulched beds are aesthetically pleasing, there is more to consider such as the condition of your soil and the health of your plants.

The benefits of mulch are numerous and include, weed suppression; moisture retention; soil cooling; nutrient replenishment, and the aesthetics of a well maintained planting bed. Properly applied mulch should be 3-4" thick on a well-drained soil and 2-3" thick on a heavy soil. When applied in lesser amounts the benefits are greatly diminished, while greater depths introduce the plant material to a variety of stress factors. Therefore, the first consideration should be the current depth of mulch in your planting beds. If it is found to be too deep, in order to reduce the potential stress on your plants, you need to have it remedied early this spring. However, it is more likely that you will determine that the mulch in your beds is not deep enough. That leads us to our next consideration, which mulch product is best suited to your needs? There are a variety of choices available to home owners, in order to clarify the options I have given a brief description of the most common products along with their recommended uses.

Shredded hardwood bark mulch is a very course material which is dark in color but fades over time. This mulch undergoes minimal processing therefore it decomposes at a slow rate. Typically, this mulch will last for two seasons. By turning it over in the spring, landscape beds can have a refreshed look for the second season. This type is of mulch most commonly used in commercial applications.

Double hammered shredded hardwood bark mulch is the most common natural hardwood bark mulch for residential use and it is also ideal for slope applications. It has an attractive dark color and a lighter more fibrous texture. Landscape beds may need to be replenished annually because the decomposition rate for this mulch is faster than that of the shredded hardwood bark mulch. However, it is important to ensure that the total depth of mulch is kept in the appropriate range.

Triple hammered shredded hardwood bark mulch has very few practical uses. It is heavily processed and therefore decomposes extremely fast. In the short term it may be beneficial in planting beds that lack nutrients or are an extremely heavy soil, because of its ability to rapidly add organic matter to the soil. This mulch would need to be reapplied annually.

Other natural bark mulches that are available include Hemlock, Cedar, and Pine bark. Each has its own unique attributes, it is best to discuss these products with a qualified landscape professional to determine if they would be beneficial to your planting beds.

Finally, Dyed mulches come in a few different colors (red, black, brown, yellow) and have been popular in some areas with landscapers and homeowners. However, there are a few items to be cautious about when deciding to use dyed mulch. The wood material that is used is not a natural bark product, but it is recycled wood products such as pallets, wood crates or wood chips. Therefore, it does not decompose easily and over time the dye fades, leaving a thick layer of faded wood chips in your planting beds. The dyes that are used have been improved and are declared to be safe, but if the dye has not bonded properly to the wood, there is potential for the dye to leach out of the mulch. Additionally, because it is not a bark product, there is a higher probability of attracting pests, insects and fungi.

The professionals at Bruno Design Associates share your interest in achieving a healthy, distinctive and functional landscape. So, whether you are maintaining an existing landscape or you are ready to begin a new project this season, our team at Bruno Design Associates is ready to assist you in planning and realizing your vision for your property. Contact us to schedule a free consultation. 908-809-5341 or

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