Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears every other week during the growing season. It features timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.
By Sheryl Andrews
What’s not to like about mulch? It saves water, reduces weeds, prevents erosion, looks beautiful and is instantly gratifying.
Mulch is just a layer of material applied on top of the soil. It can be wood chips, bark, shredded leaves, gravel, rocks, recycled newspaper or your grass clippings.
Wood and bark chips are commonly used in perennial and shrub beds. Apply mulch directly on top of the soil. As it decomposes, it will improve the soil below. Avoid mixing wood and bark chips into the soil as they will take years to decompose and steal precious nutrients from your plants in the process.
Weed growth is a problem only when the mulch is spread too thin. Spread small chips 2 inches deep. Large chips may require 3 to 4 inches. Keep wood mulch away from tree trunks. Wet chips piled up against the bark can cause damage.
Rock over landscape fabric is an excellent long-lasting, low-maintenance solution. It stays in place in windy and wet conditions. Rock is preferred for non-plant areas and is commonly used in specialty applications such as cactus, rock and alpine gardens. When using rock, know that it can retain heat. During hot summer days, you may notice rock mulch adjacent to your patio increasing the afternoon and evening temperature. Avoid using black plastic as an underlayment.
Recycled grass clippings and shredded leaves in your vegetable and annual flower gardens is an excellent way to give your plants a nutrient boost. Apply a thin layer of grass clippings around the base of each plant allowing it to dry between layers. Thick layers of fresh clippings may mat or rot. Avoid using clippings from lawns treated with pesticides or herbicides for at least four weeks after application. You can shred leaves with your lawn mower and collect them in the bag attachment.
A thin layer of regular newspaper, only a sheet or two, under grass or wood mulch can serve as an inexpensive underlayment to stop weed germination in a recently cultivated bed. Avoid using glossy printed paper.
For more information about gardening in Colorado, visit www.cmg.colostate.edu. Looking ahead to next year, the city of Durango typically offers free wood mulch in June from recycled Christmas trees.
Perk up your weary midsummer flower garden by adding a layer of mulch, then sit back and enjoy!
Sheryl Andrews has been a Colorado master gardener since 2008. She lives in La Plata County.