I LOVE TO MULCH. It’s relaxing. I’m outdoors and can see immediate results of my labor. It’s multitasking, too. I mulch while thinking about installing microirrigation in a landscape bed, starting seeds, what to divide, relocate or conquer. Early morning, before the heat of the day, is a great time to add mulch to your landscape beds.
Mulch retains moisture in the soil, suppresses weeds and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes, which improves soil structure. It moderates soil temperature, reduces runoff and erosion, provides increased area for root growth, protects plants from lawnmowers and weed eaters, and enhances the beauty of your landscape.
Pine bark, a timber industry byproduct, has good color retention. Buy the medium or small size; the large size tends to float away in heavy rains.
- Pine straw, another timber byproduct, settles quickly.
- Eucalyptus, produced from Florida plantations, has a light reddish-brown color and minimal settling over time.
- Melaleuca has high termite resistance, almost no settling over time and is produced from an invasive, non-native tree.
- Oak leaves, a free source of mulch, have minimal settling over time and create self-mulching areas under trees.
- Municipal yard waste will be available at county recycling facilities when they reopen.
The University of Florida does not recommend cypress mulch because it may not have been produced sustainably.
- Crushed shell, gravel and rock provide texture and color in landscape beds and reflect heat, preventing soil moisture loss. They don’t prevent weeds as well as organic mulches.
- Recycled tire/rubber mulch lasts for a long time, but can be costly and may contain high zinc levels in leachate, which USDA research indicates may harm plants. Rubber mulch can be flammable. There may be issues using this because of stormwater runoff and chemicals entering water.
What About Termites?
University of Florida research indicates termites may be present more frequently in mulched versus non-mulched areas. To help deter these critters, leave space between plants and exterior walls; pull mulch 1 foot away from walls or apply mulch 1-inch thick near buildings to reduce moisture near foundations; and apply no more than 1 inch of water per irrigation.
Mulch the entire landscape bed. Wood and bark mulches should be 3 inches deep after settling. With newly set plants, mulch after watering. Reapply mulch around established plants as needed to maintain the 3-inch depth. Pull mulch 2 inches away from stems to prevent rotting. When mulching under a tree, apply a 1-inch layer over the root ball if necessary, but keep the mulch at least 10 inches from the trunk. Improper mulching can cause trunk rot, cut off oxygen to the roots and, in some trees, cause stem girdling.
Enjoy the weather while sprucing up your landscape.
For help with horticultural questions, contact your county extension office. Note that staff may be working outside offices. For extension information, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.