Seeking Landscape Nirvana? Tales from a Landscape Material Girl
Fall is a good time to mulch. It not only beautifies your yard space, but prepares for winter's cold and blustery blast. As an avid gardener for over 30 years (a landscape material girl), I've used just about every mulch material and here are my thoughts, based on my personal experience, with the ones I've used so far:
Pine Straw: Pine straw has gained strength in the market the past few years. Pine straw, or pine needles can be gathered up from your own yard, or purchased in bales. I had some beautiful pine trees in a former yard, and would rake up the needles and use it in some of my flower beds. I quickly learned that pine straw was not my favorite mulch. First of all, it looks like heck after about three weeks, and if you just rake it up out of your yard it looks like heck to start with because it's already faded and full of leaves. And it might start out fluffy, but like Southern big hair in high humidity, it flattens out. Like a pine pancake. And like a Southern woman's home hair dye, the color fades quickly. Also, the resin coating on it prevents it from breaking down and actually amending the soil, so for me, pine straw is an all around disappointment. I know, I'm hurting the feelings of all you pine straw lovers out there, but a girl's entitled to her opinion.
Gravel, a.k.a. rocks: Gravel is moving into the Southern landscape market right now. I lived in the desert Southwest for about 30 years and with the low water requirements and very little rainfall, we had xeriscape in our front yard. Xeriscape is a fancy way of saying rocks and gravel with some drought tolerant plants. The backyard was our little piece of paradise, a lush oasis of grass and flowers. Now gravel is not bad in the desert Southwest because it doesn't rain much and there are not many trees. We also had plenty of sustained wind in the spring to blow any leaves away from our gravel and over into Texas, so cleaning was never a problem. Then we moved to Tennessee, and bought a house with a swimming pool. The flowerbeds surrounding the swimming pool were filled with pea gravel. I was excited. I expected good things. Landscape nirvana. However, I soon figured out that gravel in the South is not your friend. The main problem was that the underlayer of landscape fabric had degraded, so weeds could grow in abundance. The second problem was that it stayed wet all the time and looked dirty. The third problem was that there was no sustained spring wind, and Texas was very far away, so the wet leaves just stayed put. I couldn't amend the soil around the poor plants that were in that area, bless them. Oh, they needed some amendment, but alas, it was not to be (may they rest in peace). Hope of landscape nirvana faded. The pea gravel had to go. I shoveled it out of that huge area for months and realized that when the landscape fabric had degraded, it allowed the gravel to work its way into the soil below, so that had to come out too. Oh, the selling points of gravel make it seem attractive. The promise is landscape nirvana. Low maintenance they say! Reduce costs by never having to mulch, they say! My experience with it is this: at some point, gravel is going to cause disappointment. And work. Lots of hard work.
Well, by now most of you have figured out that I'm a hard core mulch girl. And not just because I work at a mulch manufacturing company, either. I was a mulch girl long before I came here just from years of gardening experience. If it's possible to love a landscape material, then I'm in love with mulch. What's to love? First, even though you might love it, you don't have to marry whatever mulch you pick this year. Like a Southern woman's need to change her hair color, you can change your mulch. Feelin' racy in the spring? Get red. Feelin' natural in the fall? Get pine bark or hardwood mulch. Feel like making a statement? Go black. The possibilities are almost endless. Mulch can create long lasting beauty in the landscape that lasts until you change your mind. Which is nice.
Second, mulch decomposes and benefits your plants by becoming organic matter that the earthworms can work into your soil. And if you want to amend the soil around your plants, go for it. Simply pull the mulch back, go to town with your amendment and put the mulch back in place. Third, mulch applied at about a 3" depth provides excellent weed control, which creates less work and more enjoyment in any yard. And really, isn't that what we want?
Fall is a great time to improve your landscape. From this landscape material girl, with whatever mulch you choose, may you experience your landscape nirvana!