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Mulching Tips for Shrubbery in the Home Landscape

Mulching Tips for Shrubbery in the Home Landscape

dark mulchMulching may be your shrubbery’s best friend, especially during hot, dry periods of summer. In addition to retaining soil moisture, mulches suppress weeds and prevent crusting of the soil surface. Also, as mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soils which acts as a natural fertilizer and great for soil structure.

“In most landscape situations, mulching material should be applied to provide a three-inch depth after settling. However, in a heavy clay soil, reduce mulch depth,” said Mallory Kelley, a. regional home grounds agent with Alabama Extension.
A variety of materials may be used for mulch added Kelley. Some popular mulches include:

  • Pine Straw – Pine needles are long-lasting and do not mat down excessively.
  • Grass Clippings – This material decomposes rapidly and has a tendency to pack down. Place only 1 to 2 inches of fresh clippings on the surface at one time. Do not use clippings from a lawn treated with weed killer.
  • Pine Bark Chips – This material is attractive and is effective in weed control.
  • Plastic Film – Back polyethylene plastic can serve as an effective mulch for long term weed control. It is unsightly but it can be covered with an attractive material such as pine straw. Don’t use plastic in poorly drained areas. It often causes the soil to hold too much moisture and reduces soil oxygen.
  • Sawdust – Sawdust makes an effective mulch with a neat appearance. However, microbial breakdown of sawdust can rob the soil surface of nitrogen. This can be overcome by making several light applications of a nitrogen-containing fertilizer during the growing season.
  • Straw – Straw from grains such as wheat, oats or rye is somewhat unsightly until it settles. It may also contain seed that will germinate, and it can be a fire hazard when very dry.

Other mulch materials include peanut hulls, pecan hulls, hay and newspaper.

Kelley does not recommend using landscape fabrics. “They are good for the first two or three years, but when the mulch you put on top of the fabric breaks down and turns into dirt that dirt allows a place for weeds to take root. With this happening year after year and as more dirt accumulates on top of the fabric, you then have a major mess on your hands and it is almost impossible to remove the fabric once stuff starts growing into the soil that is on top of the fabric.”

Have a gardening question? Call the Master Gardener Helpline. To reach the helpline, dial 1-877-252-GROW (4769).


About Donna Reynolds


  1. Jamarcus Dantley

    I’ve always loved the way mulch looks. I’ve been thinking about getting some for my own shrubbery around my home. I didn’t know that there were so many benefits to mulch, especially retaining water. Thanks for providing a list of popular mulches. I’ll be sure to keep them in mind as I research more.

  2. Charlotte Eddington

    Wow, I didn’t know that there were so many varieties of mulch. My family and I usually use pine bark chips. Not only does it help stop weeds from growing, but it also looks nice. I love the chocolate brown color. It adds a great contrast between our lush green grass and the dark bark. Thanks for sharing your information.

  3. Hey, Donna! Thanks for sharing this article with us. I’ve been trying to take care of my landscape, but it’s been a difficult processes—especially in the heat of summer. I’ll be sure to follow your suggestion of mulching; I’m hoping that will help my yard. I’ll probably use straw because we have many wheat farms around here. Great article!

  4. Blakeley Southern

    Thanks Donna for sharing your knowledge of mulching with us. I live in an area with soil rich in clay and didn’t know until now that I should use less mulch than usually recommended. I guess that makes sense since clay retains moisture and water better than sandy soils. Now I can maintain the beautiful landscape of my yard while saving a few extra bucks!

  5. I’ve always wanted to learn how to use mulch effectively in a landscape design. I think the dark color does a really good to contrast the colorful plants. It looks like there are lots of different kinds, so I’ll have to look at them and decide which will work best for me.

  6. No way! I didn’t know that mulch was that important! Good to know, I’ll keep that in mind next time I am gardening! I think that it would be sweet to put something recycled around the plants, like the peanut hull idea. I would love to make my yard look amazing, but I have no idea what I am doing. Do people hire landscaping services pretty often, or is that a thing only for rich people with huge yards?