Roll out the wheelbarrow, slide on your gardening gloves and reach for a shovel—it's time to mulch your plants and trees!
Well, it’s almost time. Sure, you may have the tools ready to go, but have you ever taken a moment to learn about all the different types of mulch and their pros and cons.
If not, don’t sweat it. Now’s a great time to read up on the various types of mulch and decide which one’s right for your landscape
The pros and cons of different colors and types of mulch
Chances are you’ve heard about the many benefits of mulch (or if you haven’t, read about why you should absolutely mulch your plants and trees here.)
But, what about different colors and types of mulch? Are there benefits to using organic vs. inorganic, red instead of black, or rocks in place of wood chips? Let’s dig into all of these questions to help you find the best pick.
Mulch color guide: Brown vs. black vs. red mulch
Lots of gardeners have their theories about the advantages of colored mulch. Some vegetable growers have said that red mulch works wonders on certain fruits, and some say black mulch is the best at warming up the soil in winter. There’s even research on it. This study concluded that red mulch did actually help grow more tomatoes and make sweeter strawberries than black mulch.
That being said, more often than not people flock to brown, black or red-colored mulch just for the look of it. Adding color to garden beds helps make plants and trees pop while still providing all the benefits mulch offers.
Ultimately, when it comes to choosing a colored mulch, there are just a few need-to-knows:
- Colored mulch, which is typically dyed with chemicals, is safe to use so long as the product is certified by the Mulch & Soil Council.
- Mulch dye can easily transfer to your hands, your clothes, pets, or even your driveway. Be sure to apply it with caution.
- Colors fade, so the mulch will need to be replaced more often than a naturally-colored mulch.
Organic mulch vs. inorganic mulch: Does it matter?
The makeup of your mulch does matter. Here’s why—organic mulch breaks down into the soil over time, adding in nutrients. But inorganic mulch doesn’t dissolve, so soil quality pretty much stays the same.
Both types of mulch have their advantages, which can help you pick the right option.
Five things you should know about organic mulches (such as bark, grass clippings, wood chips or leaves) are that they:
- Gradually convert into plant soil. That adds nutrients to help plants grow.
- Help conserve soil moisture and even out soil temperature.
- Have universal use in the landscape. They’re great for annual or perennial gardens, trees, shrubs, or fruit and vegetable gardens.
- Come with a time stamp. Organic mulch needs to be replaced at least once a year.
- Preserve water in the soil by reducing evaporation.
Six things you should know about inorganic mulches (such as stones, gravel or landscape fabric) are that they:
- Are typically used for aesthetics, since they don’t help boost soil health.
- Are fine for permanent plants like trees and shrubs but aren’t a good option for annual gardens.
- Are good at deterring weed growth compared to organic mulch.
- Have money and time-saving perks since they rarely ever need to be replaced once they’re set.
- Can throw off soil pH, so you’ll want to do a soil test before going this route.
- Rock mulch may raise soil temps in summer.
Bottom line: what type of mulch is best?
The best mulch is the one that meets the unique needs of your landscape. Take stock of your plants to figure out what you need. If you’re relying on looks alone to cover your garden beds, a colored or inorganic mulch might be right for you. If growing flowers and fruits is your main goal, you should reach for organic mulch.
Whatever the case, when you choose to mulch, your plants will thank you!