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It’s May and Time to Mulch in Southwest Florida!

Reasons to Mulch

The afternoon sun is definitely getting warmer and there are dozens of other things pressing on your schedule. However, mulching is essential to your gardens, flower beds and other landscaped areas. Buy why you may ask? First, mulch helps your soil maintain moisture, thereby reducing the need for irrigation and watering. Secondly and equally important, a properly mulched bed will limit weed growth. That’s significant, as we all want to limit the use of herbicides as much as possible. And mulching is a great way to accomplish that!

And there are countless other reasons to mulch, including:

  • Mulching limits soil compaction, enabling a better oxygen mix for your plants
  • Organic mulches provide valuable nutrients to your soil as they break down
  • Mulch helps maintain soil temperatures throughout the year (warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer)
  • It adds beauty to your landscaping while offering a contrasting backdrop for your foliage
  • Mulch is an ideal way to recycle yard waste
  • Protects plants from trimmers, lawn mowers and other lawn & garden equipment
  • Mulch can prevent fertilizers from leaching away from treated soils
  • Mulches provide ideal cover for areas in which grass and other vegetation won’t grow
  • Mulch helps to prevent soil-borne pathogens from touching plant surfaces

Types of Florida Mulch

There are two main types of mulch you’ll find locally: Organic and Inorganic.

Organic Mulch

Organic mulches originate from previously living materials such as:

  • Compost, which can be a great food for earthworms
  • Grass clippings where chemical sprays have not been used
  • Leaves, which are high in nutrients but tend to decay quickly (and should be aged for up to nine months before using)
  • Pine Needles/Pine Straw provide good insulation (typically sold in bales and tend to knit together thereby preventing wash away)
  • Pine Bark, ground or in nuggets (offer limited nutrient value as it breaks down)
  • Melaleuca mulch, originating from invasive Melaleuca trees, must be treated at high temperatures to kill the seeds before using
  • Cypress derived from byproducts of wood and bark when NOT sourced from Florida’s wetlands
  • Eucalyptus when properly sourced from Florida’s Eucalyptus plantations
  • Utility mulch derived from public utilities and tree companies as they clear trees and/or branches from utility lines and right-of-ways

Advantages and Benefits of Organic Mulch

We strongly believe that organic mulch is the preferred mulch for your gardens, flower beds and other landscaped areas. The long-term nutrient value, weed control and moisture-retentive qualities of organic mulches are just what your garden needs. Plus:

  • Organic mulch is “green” and environmentally friendly (i.e., from natural materials)
  • Many organic materials attract earthworms, which benefit soil health
  • Organic mulches add beauty to your gardens and other landscaped areas

Disadvantages of Organic Mulch

Despite the benefits, there are some negative aspects to organic mulches. Along with the earthworm, the materials can also attract bugs, ants and other undesirable visitors. (Note that it’s not the mulch itself that invites termites; rather, termites are attracted by the moisture retained by the mulch.) Other disadvantages include:

  • Some organic mulch materials may become fire hazards during the dry season
  • The source of organic mulch components may be hard to determine and thereby inadvertently introduce invasive materials to your garden (i.e., as in utility mulches)

Inorganic Mulch

In contrast to organic mulch, inorganic mulch is derived from nonliving sources (and sometimes include “synthetic” mulches). These include carpet remnants, pea gravel, lava rock, marble chips and synthetic fabrics, such as black plastic sheeting. Others include plastic bark and rubber nuggets.

Advantages of Inorganic Mulch

Like organic mulches, inorganic mulch slows weed growth and moderate soil temperatures. Likewise, these mulches are favored in some cases as they can carry over to the next season and eliminate the need to re-mulch. And we’ve all seen how rubber nuggets can absorb impact on playgrounds, walking paths and other recreational areas.

Disadvantages of Inorganic Mulch

Unfortunately, inorganic materials are not always environmentally friendly and can have some negative affects when (and if) they ultimately break down. There is definitely no long-term nutritional value to the underlying soils. Likewise, long-term sun and heat exposure can render the materials unattractive. Lastly, rocks and gravel may actually retain heat which counters the intent of mulching in the first place.

How and When to Mulch

Choosing the Mulch that’s Right for You

Your choice of mulch should be based on the types of plants, trees and shrubs you have in the areas in which you plan to mulch. Additional factors such as the desired look, budget and one’s environmental perspective should also be considered.

How to Mulch

Hopefully by now you’ve cleaned out your garden area and flower & landscaping beds and fertilized as needed. For more information on pre-mulching, see our March blog, “It’s Already March and Time to Fertilize Your Garden & Landscaping Beds.

Remove any remaining weeds or other debris such as branches and foreign matter. Cultivate (or till) the ground to aerate the underlying soil – and level as much as possible.

Ideally, mulch to a depth of 2-3”. Too little mulch will negate the benefits of mulching while too much will make it difficult (when applicable) for plants to emerge through the mulch. Likewise, excessive mulch will block rainfall and irrigation sources. Note that with coarser materials, mulch thickness of 3-4” may be advised, however, never exceed 4”.

Additional Mulching Tips

  • Keep mulch 1-2” away from trunks and stems to prevent the potential growth of damaging fungus
  • Don’t mulch to the edge of curb, sidewalk or body of water
  • Don’t much around citrus trees, as excess moisture can promote root rot
  • Monitor your mulched areas throughout the year and break up any dried clumps or matted areas that may formed
  • Add clean mulch where needed to maintain your beds

We suggest that you clean out your beds and plan to mulch annually. Following this practice, you’ll continually improve your soil health while having your neighborhood’s most enviable garden and flower & landscaped beds.

Mulching around Trees

Mulching around trees involves several special considerations. To mimic your trees’ natural environment, mulch around the base to a minimum drip line of 8’ diameter (and more if possible). Likewise, avoid piling mulch against the tree trunk or shrub base. Often called “volcano mulching” or “pyramid mulching,” this practice can hold excessive moisture and encourage rot. It can also create an enticing habitat for unwanted rodents. And for similar reasons, avoid a “moat” around the base as well.


A little time spent choosing the right mulch for your garden and flower & landscaped beds – and mulching to maximize the value of your mulch – will ensure that these areas remain beautiful throughout the rest of the year. And of course, we are always happy to answer any additional questions you may have!

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