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Guest blog: The eco benefits of mulch

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Jerry Day 5/4/2012

Using mulch in your garden is a good habit that benefits the earth as much as it does your flowers. Here’s a look at what makes mulch so great for both:

  • Nutrients – Most plants thrive when the right mulch is applied. Organic mulches like wood chips or compost provide much-needed nutrients to the soil. As the mulch decomposes, these nutrients are transferred to the plants, allowing them to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Aesthetics – When applied correctly, mulch can give your garden beds a well-maintained and cared for look.
  • Soil temperature – This steady soil temperature provided by mulch will keep your plants happy no matter where you live. In warm climates, mulch helps keep the soil and plant roots cooler. In colder climates, mulch can protect the plants from extreme winter temperatures and can prevent frost heaving.
  • Water – Mulch can reduce water usage as much as 70 percent in some gardens, since mulch holds the water in the soil and keeps it from evaporating as quickly. This benefit can save you money and save the environment.
  • Weeds – A layer of mulch will block weed growth. This benefits the plants because not only are weeds unsightly, but they also steal essential nutrients from the soil.
  • Erosion – Another benefit of mulch is that it prevents soil erosion. Heavy rain may still wash away your mulch, however, so check after storms to see if you need to replace what’s there.

Which mulch is best?
There are a number of different types of mulch, both organic and inorganic. What kind you’ll need depends on where you live and what your mulching goals are. In addition, even though mulches are generally made from organic materials, some are better for the environment than others. Here are some mulch tips for selecting the best kind for your needs:

  • Pine straw – This is a great source of renewable mulch, and it’s also fairly inexpensive. If you have acid-loving plants like roses in your garden, pine straw is a good choice for preventing run-off.
  • Newspaper – Newspaper is a renewable resource, degrades into carbon, and is safe for the environment. You can use newspaper in combination with compost for great, nutrient-saturated mulch.
  • Cocoa mulch – Made from the byproduct of commercial cocoa grinding, this type of mulch uses a product that would otherwise be discarded for an environmentally friendly purpose. Cocoa mulch is nitrogen-rich and affordable. If you have dogs, you may want to be cautious when using this type of mulch, since cocoa can be toxic to them.
  • Rubber mulch – Although this is not an organic mulch, it is considered eco-friendly because it is made from recycled car tires. Rubber mulch is great for weed control and can last for several seasons. It can, however, introduce some unwanted toxins into the soil, so make sure that you know which plants can handle it.
  • Straw mulch – Straw mulch is great for the environment and inexpensive. It is not suitable for areas with high winds, however.
  • Peanut shells – Mulches made from peanut shells are also great for the environment and effective at preventing weeds and holding in moisture.

One type of mulch that should be avoided is shredded cypress mulch. This is bad for the environment because it is made with virgin trees that are harvested from freshwater wetlands.

Do you use mulch in your garden? Which is your favorite kind?

Green Your Garden

Jerry Day has loved gardening and landscaping since he was very young. He loves to write about gardening topics and currently works for 1-800-Mulch-Pro helping others improve the exterior of their homes.