Compost as Mulch – Choosing the Mulch that is Best for You
Even your compost can serve as a mulch for your garden. When used in this way, it is often referred to as native mulch. Since compost consists of items such as grass clippings, leaves, soft-wood bush prunings, plants, coffee grounds and other types of kitchen waste, it is also great for providing your garden with much needed nutrients.
In some cases, you need to use caution when using compost as a mulch. This really depends on what you have added to your compost pile. If you have added white wood, it does not compost well and can promote fungal growth and attract insects such as termites. If you use your compost as a mulch, do not include white wood in your compost pile. Or, be sure to blend it with hardwood bark in order to gain the beneficial anti-fungus and anti-insect properties.
Native mulch can also be purchased from some garden centers and landscape centers. In this case, it generally includes only brush and grass. Nonetheless, you cannot be sure of what types of woods are in the compost. It is also sometimes called hardwood mulch in an attempt to sound as if it is hardwood bark mulch. Therefore, be careful when ordering mulch and be sure it is hardwood bark mulch or else be prepared to mix your hardwood mulch with hardwood bark.
Choosing the Mulch that is Best for You
All in all, the mulch you choose mostly comes down to your personal preferences and your unique needs. Just keep in mind that a mulch that is coarse or cut in bigger pieces will last longer and will provide a better barrier against weeds than a finer mulch. On the other hand, a fine mulch breaks down faster and adds nutrients to your soil more quickly. This, of course, can be much better for the health of your plants.
Fine mulches also tend to blow around more on windy days than do larger pieces, which can be quite messy after a storm or particularly windy day. Most professional landscapers use a combination of both in order to provide the best maintenance while also adding nutrients to the soil.
With organic mulches, you will need to be prepared to replace them as needed. The type of mulch you select will determine how often you need to replenish the mulch. In addition, your garden will require less and less mulch as your plants grow and mature. This is particularly true of a perennial garden because your flowers will grow back bigger and healthier each year if properly cared for.
Applying the Mulch
Regardless of the type of mulch you decide to use, it needs to be applied to your garden immediately after planting your plants before weeds have the chance to grow. The best time to mulch is in the early spring, which is before weeds have had a chance to germinate and is when your plants are at their weakest state.
If you have started your garden later in the season, however, you should still mulch it right away in order to help get your garden established and to protect it.
When applying mulch, you should apply a layer of mulch that is about two to four inches thick and take care to prevent direct contact between your mulch and the stems of your plants. If you pile mulch up around the stems, it can cause the stems to rot. In addition the mulch can provide a hiding place for garden pests as they chew on your plants, such as voles and mice.
You should also take care to keep mulch away from the walls of any buildings on your property, particularly your home. This is because subterranean termites nest in soil and they eat wood products, which can include the supports and walls of your home or other structures.
Even if the perimeter of your home has been treated against termites, they can use your mulch as a bridge to cross to your buildings. Six to twelve inches away from structures is the general rule for keeping them safe.