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The Many Moods of Mulch

Updated: May 2, 2022

It's spring, and that means time to refresh, rejuvenate... and mulch!

In the spring, mulch flies out of the yards in huge "scoops" and is deposited into planted areas one wheelbarrow at a time. Well-kept gardens and public spaces sport fresh layers of bark and wood chips. Decorative gravel, rock, and stones are turned over, freshened up, and supplemented where spots have grown thin.

But in many homes and gardens, the season passes without any fanfare, and the soil goes without feeding or protection yet another year.

Gorgeous hardscape, a shimmering green lawn, outdoor kitchen, swimming pool - you can check off every box on the list, but your landscape would not be complete without real plants, shrubs, or trees. That's what ties in and blends your yard with the scenery beyond it, to give you that natural element of rest and relaxation - even awe.

Plantings bring nature and serenity into your landscape.

I often arrive at client's homes and am asked why trees are suddenly failing, certain plants keep dying, and the lawn is getting worse by the year. By the time I've been called, the soil isn't really soil by definition. It's dirt, so depleted of nutrients and moisture that it is utterly dry. Sometimes it can only be described as dust.

If you've ever seen the black gold that is compost, you might understand. Healthy soil is teeming with life, with nutrients that support the microbes that plants need to grow.

Soil needs nutrients to host microbes, and plants need microbes to grow.

When we talk about nutrients, we are talking about the same things that we need: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. One of the best ways to feed your soil and keep it (and your plants) healthy and thriving is by covering it with a thick layer of mulch. Not only does this look great, it feels great to your garden.

As the mulch decomposes, it provides nutrients to your soil. It also keeps the soil temperature cooler and retains water in the soil longer (keeping it from running off or drying up). This, in turn, keeps you the homeowner from wasting water. The mulch cover also provides a home for beneficial insects and worms that help aerate and clean your soil.

Mulch is good for your soil in more ways than one. To recap:

  1. It feeds your soil with essential nutrients.

  2. It cools down your soil (saves on watering the plants).

  3. It retains water and keeps it from leaving the area (again, saving water)

  4. It provides shelter for beneficial insects and worms

  5. It looks amazing (and smells great too!)

I called my friend Dean from Apollo Wood Products to ask him if I'd left anything out of this list. He reminded me that mulch also helps with weed abatement. And that mulch helps to keep roots cool in the summertime, but also keeps them warm in the wintertime. In fact, according to Dean, you can mulch any time of the year. Mulching in wintertime, when it usually rains, encourages the growth of beneficial fungi, one of the key microbes that make up healthy soil.

There are many different types of mulch: chips of various sizes, shredded bark that has a more forest-floor look, brown, red, straw, pine needles. It's easy to find something that will suit your existing landscape.

Wood chip and bark mulch

Some people want photos of a different kind sent to their phones. I ask to see your mulch.**

Like with many other things, the magic number with mulch is 3. You need at least 3 inches to provide all of the benefits discussed above. In addition, the mulch should be as unprocessed as possible. These two factors are why I often encourage clients to invest in professional mulching services, instead of going the DIY route.


Photo Courtesy of Tom Valenzuela at Mission Landscape

First of all, 3 inches of mulch, even for a small backyard, fills the back of an entire large truck. Even if you own a truck, you might not want a skid-steer dumping a heaping scoop of mulch into the back of it.

If you're purchasing packaged wood chips at a big-box store, it usually means a lot more bags and trips than you may imagine. It's a lot of plastic and fuel waste, and there's still the matter of the physical labor.

With a professional landscape crew, the mulching process goes like this:

  1. The crew either picks up the mulch at the yard and brings it to your home, or it is delivered by the mulch company.***

  2. The mulch is shoveled into wheelbarrows and wheeled to the planting areas.

  3. The mulch is applied to the planting areas at 3" depth.

  4. The area is swept, hosed off, and blowers are used to leave a clean, beautiful space.

Approximate pricing varies by type of mulch and the size of your yard, but you can expect to pay around $850.00 for a small yard (500 square feet) and around $1250.00 for a larger yard (1000 square feet).

It's undoubtedly worth the investment, in your soil and in your home's aesthetic. With the recent news of California's alarming drought conditions, this is a good time to start planning ahead for how you will get your plants and trees through the summer with minimal watering.

Call us at 626-879-7070, contact us through this website, or email if you'd like us to help!

Playground Wood Chip Mulch From Apollo Wood Products, Made From 100% Virgin Wood

**Photos Courtesy of Apollo Wood Products and Mission Landscape.

***There is no price difference between having the mulch delivered by the supplier or picked up by the installers. The trailer/truck that is needed to bring the mulch uses a lot of gas, and you would be paying the same delivery fee either way. I prefer to have the mulch delivered, as it saves from the labor of having it unloaded by hand.

*The title of this blog post was taken from a little book called Soil First Aid Manual, Copyright 1981 by Rodale Press, Inc. I picked it up at a used book sale years ago, and it's become one of my favorite reads.

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