The Pros and Cons of Different Mulches
Organic or inorganic? A survey of various kinds of mulches.
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Organic or inorganic? Fine or chunky? Mulch conserves moisture and suppresses weeds, and it can also look decorative. There are a variety of types for every landscaping need, so how do you decide which one to use? Here's a look at several:
So-called organic mulches come from something that was once alive. Shredded bark, pine straw (needles), cypress mulch, wood chips and grass clippings all fall into this category. Organic mulches break down gradually and help improve the soil.
Inorganic mulches include gravel, rock, plastic and landscaping fabric. Gravel and rock can be highly decorative, but small pieces migrate down into the soil as you add new plantings or replace plants. Recycled manmade products such as tires make a good mulch for children's play areas, but it too easily migrates. In planting beds, use the real thing--shredded bark or other organic material. Plastics are used in commercial vegetable and fruit production, and they can easily be used in home gardens too.
Nearly all mulches suppress weeds and conserve moisture. But what else do they do? Here are their other pros and cons:
- decomposes quickly
- neat appearance
- must be spread thin and kept away from plants when fresh
- may contain weed seeds
- grass may contain insecticides or herbicides
- inexpensive or free
- ideal for paths
- inconsistent appearance
- must be composted six months ahead for best appearance
- can attract insects, especially termites
- natural appearance
- organically improves soil
- surface dries out and blocks water from passing through
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