To mulch or not to mulch, that is the question
What is mulch?
Mulch is a 2- to 4-inch layer of material that covers the top of the soil in your gardens in the spring. Additional mulch is often added throughout the growing season as needed. It should completely cover open soil but should never touch plant stems or tree trunks.
Why do you need mulch?
Mulch is a gardener's best friend especially if you hate weeding. A thick layer of mulch will prevent weed seeds from germinating and growing to compete with your plants for water and nutrients.
Mulch is also water conserving. It prevents soil from drying out resulting in less water needed in your garden. A thick layer of mulch keeps the soil warm through the cool spring nights. In the heat of the summer, it keeps the soil cool. And then in the fall, mulch will keep your soil warm as the temperatures cool down.
Types of Mulch
There are two basic types of mulch, organic and inorganic. Organic mulches such as woodchips, shredded bark or straw gradually decay into the soil. In some cases, it adds nutrients to the soil. Inorganic mulches such as plastic sheets or stone do not decay.
Stone - For formal landscapes, stone is often the preferred mulch. While it is very attractive, it does have some drawbacks. By itself, it is not as effective in keeping down the weeds. It is usually necessary to layer landscape fabric first to allow water to reach the soil while preventing weed seeds from germinating. A top layer of stone is then placed on top. You should also bear in mind that stone will heat up on hot days potentially scorching tender plants. Stone is best used with woody plants such as shrubs or with xeriscape plants that are accustomed to extreme heat.