There are many different types of garden mulch that fit into one of two categories: organic and inorganic. Organic mulch attracts wildlife (such as insects and wild birds) and will eventually decay. Inorganic mulch will not break down, and it does not attract garden pests.
- Organic mulch includes: grass clippings, hay, straw, leaves, pine bark, pine needles, wood chips, pecan shells and groundcover.
- Inorganic mulch includes: gravel, pebbles, plastic, landscape cloth and ground-up rubber tires.
Benefits of Mulch
- Cuts down on weeds
- Holds in moisture (saving water and preventing potting soil from drying out quickly)
- Keeps roots in cold temperatures warmer
- Keeps roots in hotter temperatures cooler
- Adds some nutrients to the garden after breaking down
- Cuts down disease that can be transferred from soil to the plant leaves
- Helps prevent potting soil compaction
Before going to your local garden shop and purchasing a bag of mulch, you must know what type to use in your garden and what containers you should use it in. Not all plant containers need mulch. Only plants that have a lot of topsoil exposed to air may need to have mulch. Dwarf trees, for example, can benefit from a layer of mulch in the top of the container. But a small, bushy arrowhead plant should not have mulch. The mulch may damage the stems, and it is not needed because the plant insulates the topsoil too much water evaporation.
If you have a balcony garden, you may not have access to or want to use most organic mulch, such as grass clippings and leaves. Because container plants need to be repotted every several years, mulch needs to be easily removed and replaced. Mulch made of wood chips is probably the best type to use. Pebbles are attractive and may be good for your plant containers, but take care during repotting so they don’t get mixed into the potting soil.
Tip: Protect your plants from damage by keeping mulch 3 inches away from stems. Mulch should be 2 to 3 inches deep.