Mulch Alternatives for your Landscape
Mulch is a crucial element for any home gardener. Mulch retains moisture, insulates plant roots and reduces weed growth, all while enhancing the visual appeal of flowerbeds and other landscaping features. Many people rely on shredded wood or bark mulch for their garden and yards, there are a number of mulch alternatives for your landscape you might not have considered using to condition your plants and soil.
Rock is economical and rarely needs to be replaced, also gravel, pebbles and other stones can be applied to landscaping features such as flowerbeds to suppress weed growth and retain moisture. One small drawback of rock mulch is, because it doesn’t decompose, it doesn’t return nutrients to the soil as biodegradable mulches. This is easily remedied by periodically applying fertilizers, giving plants an extra nutritional boost.
Rubber mulch is made up of 100% recycled rubber. It insulates soil from heat and cold, allowing soil temperatures a couple of degrees higher or lower than wood mulch provides. Because rubber is non-porous, water makes its way directly to the soil underneath without absorbing into the mulch. It also reduces fungus and unwanted plant growth, acting as a very good weed barrier.
One drawback as rock mulch, is it doesn’t decompose and return nutrients back into the soil. Another drawback is that some types of recycled rubber can leach small amounts of chemicals and minerals into the soil. In high concentrations, may harm some types of plants.
Rubber mulch can be an effective and sustainable alternative to wood mulch because it cuts down on the use of trees and other organic material. Recycled material that would end up in a landfill and lasts significantly longer than wood mulch, making it a viable alternative.
One of the best things about organic mulches are they deteriorate and decompose naturally over time, returning nutrients to the soil and making it ideal for productive plant growth. There are a several organic substances outside of the typical wood that you can use as creative mulch alternatives for your landscape.
If you do choose organic mulch materials to use as compost for soil enrichment, a great way to expedite this process is the use of worms within the compost material. This is known as vermicompost, and the process commonly uses worms known as “red wigglers.”
Not only do they help the organic mulch break down into nutrient-rich composting material more quickly, but they can also help stave off maggots. Learn more about worm composting from our friends at RedWormFarms.com!
Some organic mulch alternatives:
- Leaves – Shredded or mulched leaves from deciduous trees can make great mulch for both your garden beds and your lawn. Many mower models now have a mulching feature that allows you to cut grass and simultaneously mulch the clippings. So the finely shredded pieces return to the yard. Adding essential nutrients while eliminating the need for bagging the clippings. You can use this same feature to mulch fallen autumn leaves and leave them on the grass, or collect them in the mower’s catcher.
- Grass Clippings – Clippings from recent mowing can be used to mulch more than just the grass itself. Grass clippings can be used for garden beds as well. Clippings prepared beforehand—you cannot dump your grass clippings on your flower beds and expect anything but problems. Clippings need to be dried out thoroughly or composted before use because a pile of freshly cut grass mats and starts to rot—creating potentially plant-damaging heat, making it less than ideal for mulching your garden beds.
- Pine Needles – Pine needle mulch decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil just like other organic forms of mulch. For the best results, it must be correctly paired with particular plants. Pine needles are acidic and work best with plants that like acidic soil, such as holly, gardenias, roses. Pine needles are easy to spread on the ground and easily allow water, oxygen and other nutrients into the soil. To reduce their acidity, dry them out before use. Here is a list of plants that like pine mulch for acidic soil.
- Newspapers & Cardboard – Cardboard and newspaper can be used in a similar fashion as landscaping fabric. By adding to commercial mulches, cardboard and newspaper can extend the coverage and save money. They are also biodegradable and deteriorate like other mulches. Also, because they break down, they work with the mulch on top to return organic matter to the soil. Landscaping fabric, while good for keeping weeds out of beds. This might also keep any nutritional benefits of decomposing mulch from reaching the soil.
Published on May 11th, 2020
Updated on May 11th, 2020
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