Mulching provides more than just a tidy look to your landscape. It’s more than aesthetics. The mulch creates an insulated layer above the soil, which helps to regulate soil temperature. This is essential to shielding and protecting the roots of your plants in winter. Mulch slows the evaporation process and retains moisture, leading to healthier plants and less frequent watering. It breaks down over time; introducing nutrients to the soil and improving the soil’s overall texture. A layer of mulch also acts as a safety net to suppress weeds. When people think of mulch they tend to think of shredded wood or bark, but there are actually many alternatives. Let’s take a look at a few below.
Marble chips, river rocks, gravel, and any other type of stone can be applied around trees and in flower beds as an alternative form of mulch. These work to suppress pesky weeds and are an economical choice since they don’t degrade or break down like wood or bark mulch. However, because rock doesn’t break down, nutrients aren’t periodically released back into the soil. Don’t worry, this minor setback is easily remedied by regularly applying fertilizer to the beds. Rocks come in all shapes and sizes so you can achieve just about any look you want. Use them to compliment the stone architectural features of your home or for a contrast in color to the plants in your bed.
Though often found on playgrounds, rubber mulch is a good alternative to add to your beds. It’s made from 100% recycled rubber and usually comes from shredded discarded tires. Why let them sit in a landfill when you can repurpose them in your beds? Aesthetically they can take on the appearance of bark mulch, but also come in a variety of styles. It’s another economical choice that won’t break down over time, so adding fertilizer is a necessity. Rubber insulates the soil better than traditional wood mulch and works really well when used in colder climates. It’s non-porous as well, allowing water to make its way directly to the soil without being absorbed by the mulch. The only downside to rubber mulch is that some forms of recycled rubber tend to release chemicals into the soil over long periods of time. Too much of these chemicals will harm or kill your plants.
Using pine needles, or pine straw, is another common alternative to traditional mulch. It’s relatively inexpensive and releases nutrients into the soil just like bark mulch, so there’s no need for additional fertilizer. The abundance of needles will insulate while also allowing nutrients and oxygen into the soil better than most mulch. The drawback of pine needles is their high acidity. Turn this negative into a positive by pairing the pine straw with plants that like acidic soil; like tomatoes, roses or holly. To reduce the acidity try drying them out before laying them down.