Knowing Your Mulches—A Beginning

In some areas, beautiful gardens almost seem to grow themselves—they have wonderful light sources, seemingly perfect soil, and moisture that doesn’t quit. Gardens in other regions, however, need a little more help. Los Angeles landscapes rarely lack sunlight; the effort comes in aiding (or combating) the natural soil and using various methods to both increase moisture, and enhance its effect. One of those ways is in the application of mulch.

However—talk to 10 gardeners about mulch, and you’ll probably get 10 different answers about the best type to use, why you should use organic instead of inorganic mulches (and vise versa) and more. Unfortunately, we don’t have the definitive answers for you either! A lot depends on your soil type, what you are growing, and where you are growing it. Still, we can give you a few ideas of what mulch is, what makes a mulch organic vs inorganic, and what some of the benefits are to your gardens.

Organic Mulch

Organic mulches are pretty simple to understand—they are made from items that used to live and grow, and which are now used for other purposes. Some examples include:

  • Wood chips
  • Grass clippings
  • Straw or hay
  • Compost
  • Grass

Of course, this is not a full list of organic mulches—that would take a while—but you get the idea. In your garden, organic mulches are much more effective if you thoroughly weed the area first. Then, lay down enough mulch, about a 5 or 6” layer, to prevent new weeds from pushing through. Some gardeners prefer organic mulches because, in addition to preventing weeds from growing, when the mulch breaks down it also feeds the underlying soil.

Inorganic Mulch

Surprisingly, items that have never been alive can also be used as an effective mulch. These don’t break down and feed the soil, of course, but they do sometimes have other advantages. Inorganic mulch can be created from:

  • Stones
  • Landscape fabrics
  • Black plastic
  • Gravel

Again, other items can be included under the “inorganic mulch” tab, but these are the primary ones. So, when would someone use inorganic items instead of organic in their garden? Black plastic mulch, as an example, can be helpful if you are expecting cold weather—it helps keep the ground warm, captures the heat from any sun and keeps that heat radiating through the night. Stones can aid in irrigation, while also keeping the weed population down.

This article only touches on the very basics of this topic, fascinating as it is for gardeners. We’ll dive into more detail in later articles throughout the year. But remember, whether your garden was professionally designed by a qualified landscape designer, or planted by someone who just loves beautiful things, taking care of it will make it last longer.