THE Best Mulch for your Garden
There are sooooo many mulches out there to use in the garden beds. Most mulches are varied by the regions in the country. Down in the Southeast, Pine Straw mulch and Cocoa shells are used. In the southwest it can be rocks, thick bark shelled mulch, or in really up kept properties ie California mulch is used just as much as it is on the east coast.
Pine Straw comes from discarded Pine needles. Though primarly used in the Southeast, the true source of Pine Straw comes from any Pine. It gives the same benefits of typical landscape mulch by being a natural cooling and water retention with breakdown over time.
Atypical in most landscapes, crushed shells are used in traditional Bocci courts. It is a great calcium source and slug preventer. It is dry and good for compact places where rain could wash out most mulches easily.
Cocoa shells are the main by product of Cocoa. The shells are actually cotelydons that fall off during the roasting process of Cocoa. Organic cocoa mulch, which contains nitrogen, phosphate, and potash and has a pH of 5.8, adds beneficial nutrients to the soil. Using cocoa hulls in the garden is an excellent way to increase soil vitality and is an attractive top cover for both flower beds and vegetable patches. Though atypical here in New England and hard to source, I see it used more in Greenhouses and nurseries especially with tropical indoor plants.
Ahhh Bark Mulch, so many kinds and varieties one has trouble choosing. There’s shredded Bark Mulch, non shredded Bark Mulch (literally looks like bark off conifers like Hemlocks, Spruces, and Pine) and the colorful Dyed Mulch where it comes in Hot Dog Red, Gothic Black, and “Natural Brown” (no that brown is not the normal color of undyed mulch).
Shredded Bark Mulch breaks down more readily in the landscape and provides the essential wanted in mulch. Cooling of roots, water retention, and weed prevention. Non dyed shredded Bark Mulch is the way to go cause it is free from insectides, pesticides, and harmful chemicals.
Non Shredded Bark Mulch again does what it should do, however does not break down easily and will not add nutrional value to the soil quickly.
Dyed Mulch oftentimes comes shredded and yes does what you want out of a mulch but at a toxic level. I do not recommend it. There are other mulches that can provide the color you prefer in your landscape.
Ideally, this is the best mulch for any garden especially if it’s a good quality. Not much of a weed preventer but it makes weeding easier since the soil becomes so aerated with healthy ecological lifecycle of earth worms and beneficial nematodes. It also has a nice dark color which is great substitute for dyed black mulch.
Wood Chip Mulch
Made from large tree debris with a large wood chipper, the mulch is thick and big, uneven. Often used as large weed suppressor for big areas that are in the process of becoming a landscape. Undyed and light cream in color.
Rocks in a drip edge is often used with filter fabric to prevent weeds and as you know, we hate filter fabric in the garden beds in general. So rocks as a mulch is great for areas that are usually wet or areas that are super dry, ie xenoscaping (arid gardening in the Southwest mostly). Rocks do not wash away like most mulch does or hold water too long. In dry areas, mulch gets hard and dry and sometimes if wicked hot can catch on fire (eep!) so rocks are used and honestly looks more natural to the landscape.
Like picking the right plant for the right place, picking the right mulch is key too. As in all things with gardening, observations and trial and error will lead you to make the right call for the best mulch in your gardens.