Different Types of Mulch for Your Garden

Mulch can be divided into two major categories: organic and inorganic. Organic mulch is, as the name suggests, composed of plant matter, paper, manure, and other plant and animal products. Organic mulch decomposes over time, breaking down into the soil. Inorganic mulch, such as rock or rubber, does not break down. Let’s look at the types of organic and inorganic mulches commonly available to gardeners:

Wood Mulch

By far the most popular type of mulch, wood mulch in the form of wood chips, shredded wood, or tree bark are available at most garden and hardware stores, and may even be available through local municipalities or parks. Cedar and eucalyptus mulches are particularly well-suited for water retention and for keeping pests away from your perennials.

We recommend aged hardwood mulch, applied in a light layer, around your flower beds. Well-aged wood mulch is an ideal choice for flower beds, as it adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Softwood mulch, usually made from pine, can add a bit too much acidity, and doesn’t decompose quickly. Using freshly ground, “green” mulch from a municipality or your own wood-chipping endeavors may release too much nitrogen into your soil, so don’t place fresh mulch directly near flowers. Commercially-available wood mulch has been aged and dried, and may even be colored for aesthetic appeal!

Bark Mulch

Bark mulch is made from tree bark, usually from waste materials in manufacturing. Bark mulch can be applied just like any other wood mulch, but it tends to last longer. It’s perfect for soils that dry out too quickly, and you won’t need to replace it as frequently.

Grass Clippings for Flower Beds

Your mower likely has a “mulch” setting, but is it smart to use grass clippings as mulch for flower beds? Using grass clippings as mulch provides your garden with water conservation protection from heat. Plus, the decomposing grass will release nitrogen into your flower beds. Never use grass that has been treated with herbicides, and avoid using grass if your grass clippings contain weeds. Grass as mulch also requires some amending. To complement the nitrogen of cut grass, try including some carbon-releasing material in your home-grown mulch, such as shredded leaves, hay, or newspaper. Create mulch using two parts of your carbon-releasing organic amendment for every one part of nitrogen. Then, apply in a thin layer.

Cocoa Chip Mulch

Cocoa bean hulls have picked up popularity in recent years for their pleasant, chocolatey scent and attractive color. This unique type of mulch is excellent for flower beds, as they provide nutrients, protection, and water retention. Cocoa hulls decompose very quickly, so don’t apply them thickly or water excessively to avoid mold.

Recycled Paper as Mulch

Need a heavy-duty weed combatant? Cardboard or shredded newspaper can be an effective weed suppressant, especially during the winter months. However, we don’t recommend using paper as your sole source of mulch: it may blow away! Instead, use it as a bottom layer, then apply a top dressing of organic mulch.

Straw as Mulch

Straw breaks down more slowly than grass clippings or leaves, and provides plenty of protection against heat and cold. It’s a favorite among vegetable gardeners and fruit growers, too, as straw keeps mud off of dangling produce. For flower beds, straw isn’t the prettiest choice, but it certainly works, and may be perfect for protecting tender bulbs over winter.

Recycled Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is usually made from shredded tires, and doesn’t decompose. While rubber mulch is a popular choice for walkways and playgrounds, but isn’t suitable for flower beds: chemicals and dyes from the rubber may leach into the soil.

Tips for Mulching Flower Beds

So, what is the best type of mulch for flower beds? And, how can you make the most of your annual mulching? Here are a few tips from our experts on mulching flower beds:

For springtime mulching, wait until the heaviest rainy season has come to a close. Remember, mulch prevents water loss, so mulch in the rainy season can keep your soil from drying out appropriately.

Measure your garden, and think through how much mulch you’ll need. Most commercially available mulch is labeled by cubic foot or yard. Weed before you start. While mulch can prevent weed seeds from taking root, it won’t smother existing weeds.

Use a rake or trowel to even out the surface of the flower bed before you start mulching. Remove old wood, leaves, and dead plants before mulching.

Choose an organic mulch for your flower beds, such as wood chips or bark. Wood mulches provide a slow release of nutrients as they break down, and you won’t need to pull the mulch later in the season.

Colored mulch can stain your walkways during overwatering, so spread mulch on a day when no rain is expected. After 24 hours, the mulch should be fully dried and the colors won’t bleed.

When using wood mulch, spread a layer two to three inches thick on your beds.

Get as close as possible to the base of perennials and shrubs, but don’t mulch up the sides of their stems or trunk. Mulch piles can create a breeding ground for pests.

Worst Types of Mulch for a Flower Garden

At the end of the day, the best kind of mulch for a flower garden is the one that works for your garden! We recommend an organic mulch that protects your plants and adds nutrients to the soil, and most gardeners prefer wood mulch or cocoa hulls for aesthetics and ease of application. However, straw, grass, hay or paper may work for thermal protection and certain types of gardens. Inorganic mulches, such as tarping or rocks, have their place in the landscape, too, but avoid rubber mulch or anything dyed with inorganic coloring.

How to Take Care of Your Flower Beds

Once you’ve finished mulching, your flower beds will be ready for another year of floral performance. Here are a few tips for maintaining your mulch, and for keeping your beds looking fresh:

If mulch develops mold, use a hand rake to turn the mulch, allowing the moldy parts to become exposed to airflow. Most molds that grow on mulches won’t injure your plants, but mitigating the mold is easy and quick.

If weeds sprout through the mulch, simply pluck and discard them. Some weeds are inevitable, but your new mulch will keep their numbers low!

Your wood mulch will likely fade over the spring and summer. For a fresh appearance, turn the mulch regularly.

When you re-mulch your bed in fall or the following spring, clean out some of the old mulch, and pull any large chips that aren’t decomposing quickly.

Once you begin mulching, stay on top of it. If using compostable mulch, you will likely need to apply mulch yearly. Going without could cause damage to your plants’ roots. While mulching isn’t the most entertaining garden chore, it goes a long way in protecting your plants and keeping your garden happy!

12 Fall Landscaping Mistakes to Know and Avoid

Fall Landscaping


Fall landscaping mistakes

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to keeping your landscaping top-notch. For instance, autumn is great time to plant trees, but a terrible time for pruning certain shrubs. Don’t wait until spring to find out that your fall garden maintenance did more harm than good. Read on to learn what not to do in the garden this fall.

Letting Leaves Pile Up


Don't let fall leaves pile up

Leaf raking isn’t purely for aesthetics. Just because no one rakes the forest floor and the trees seem to do fine, don’t assume your lawn will fare as well. Matted leaves left on your lawn all winter can suffocate grass and compromise airflow. Making things even worse, snow mold, a lawn fungal infection, can fester beneath the fallen leaves, leading to ugly dead areas

Forgetting About Spring


Plant spring bulbs in fall

After a long winter, who wants to wait until April for the first spring flowers? Don’t forget to take steps now to make sure your garden gets some early color next year. These cool fall days are ideal for planting bulbs like snowdrops, which look great arranged in small clumps, and crocuses, which are lovely along a walkway or even scattered randomly throughout the lawn. In early spring, when these bright flowers pop up from beneath the snow, you’ll know that warm weather can’t be far behind.


Pruning Yews, Boxwood, and Spring-Flowering Shrubs


Don't prune certain shrubs in fall

Although they take pruning well, yews and boxwood shouldn’t be pruned after late August. Pruning too late stimulates new growth that won’t have a chance to harden off before the deep freeze arrives. This won’t kill the shrub, but you’ll have plenty of winter injury to remove come spring. Shrubs that flower in spring, such as forsythia, azaleas, and lilacs, should be pruned immediately after they stop flowering. If you prune too late, the shrub won’t produce flowers next year.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Storing Tools Without Proper Cleanup


Clean tools before winter storage

Tools make the hard work of gardening a little easier, so you should show them a little love before you store them away for the winter. Maintenance will help them work more effectively and last longer, and you’ll save the expense of having to replace them. Start by cleaning them—for hard-to-remove bits of mud and debris, a wire brush ought to do the trick. Use steel wool or fine sandpaper to take care of rust spots, and a file to restore the edge on shovels, pruners, and lawn-mower blades.

Related: The 12 Fall Home Maintenance Tasks You Can’t Ignore

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cutting Down the Entire Garden


Don't cut down entire garden in fall

It’s tempting to go for broke and level the entire garden in the fall. A clean canvas can be so appealing! But there are thousands of creatures that need to ride out the winter in the hollow stems, peeling bark, and other nooks and crannies of our gardens. Leave them a little sanctuary. As well, native bees, butterflies, birds, and pest-munching insects benefit from the “dead” gardens of winter.

Photo: istockphoto.com



Not Aerating the Lawn


Aerate lawn in fall

Compacted clay soil needs to loosen up a bit from time to time, and that’s where core aeration comes in. This is commonly done in the spring, but at a cost: Weed seeds love the holes left behind by the aerator. Head off a weed assault by aerating in the fall, when the grass is still growing and weed seeds are minimal.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Not Protecting Young Trees


Protect young trees from winter frost

Young or thin-barked newly planted trees like maple, linden, and ash are susceptible to winter damage from temperature fluctuations and little critters that prey on their delicate flesh. By late November, protect young trees with tree wrap, starting from the bottom up, or with the plastic tube that may have come with a tree from a nursery.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Dividing/Transplanting Ornamental Grasses


Don't Divide and Transplant Ornamental Grass in fall

Warm-season grasses like miscanthus, pennisetum, and panicum require warm soil temperatures to establish good root systems. As air cools in the fall, these grasses enter dormancy. If you want to move or divide any of these warm-season grasses, wait until spring so they’ll have ample time to establish.

Photo: istockphoto.com



Pitching the Leaves


Mulch fall leaves

Take advantage of fallen leaves by packing them around new plantings as extra winter insulation. Better yet, mulch them by lowering your lawn mower and going back and forth over a pile of leaves until it’s reduced to small bits that can be sprinkled over the lawn and garden beds. The leafy mulch will make the soil lighter and make earthworms and beneficial microbes happier.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Forgetting to Feed the Lawn


Fertilize lawn in fall

If you fertilize just one time a year, opt for the fall. The cooler temps of fall are conducive to root growth, so a fertilizer application now when the grass is actively growing means a stronger lawn next year.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Storing the Lawn Mower As Is


Clean mower before winter storage

After the final cut of the season, empty the gas tank by running the mower until it stops. This is important because any fuel left over the winter can gum up the carburetor. Before you put the mower away for the season, drain the oil, replace the air filter, remove the blade for sharpening, and clean the undercarriage.

Photo: istockphoto.com


Not Continuing to Pull Weeds


Weed in the fall

After a frost or two have hit, you may be inclined to put your feet up and stop weeding completely. But those weeds are hanging on, determined to muscle through the cold weather and return in the spring. Don’t let them win! Give them a yank while you still can. Come spring, you’ll be glad to have one or two fewer weeds to deal with.

How do I keep my lawn alive in a drought?

After an unusually cool and rainy spring, much of New Hampshire is now experiencing a moderate drought. In response, many municipalities and public water systems have implemented voluntary or mandatory outdoor water use restrictions. Those with private wells also have to be cautious with how they use water. Recent rains certainly help, but they won’t entirely make up the deficit.

Maintaining a lush, green lawn throughout the summer typically requires supplemental irrigation, and watering is certainly the first thing that comes to mind in countering drought stress. Fortunately, when outdoor watering is not an option, or can only be done on a limited basis, there are some other simple maintenance practices you can apply to help your lawn survive periods of drought.


A typical lawn in New Hampshire is composed of a mixture of cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue and perennial rye. These grasses naturally go dormant during periods of hot, dry weather, essentially stopping active growth. Dormant grass will often look brown and dead, but the roots and crowns of the plants are still alive and will be ready to resume growth as soon as growing conditions improve.

If a drought is severe enough, grass may be killed but, typically, plants have enough reserves to break dormancy whenever temperatures cool and rainfall resumes. A resilient lawn should be able to go dormant in the summer without much harm.

Mower Height

Mowing grass higher in the summer, especially during a drought, is an extremely important practice. Grasses produce deeper roots when they are allowed to grow to taller heights, enabling them to access water that is deeper in the soil profile. Taller grass is also better at shading the soil surface, keeping it cooler and helping to conserve soil moisture. Aim to set your mower deck at a height of 2.5 to 3 inches.

Also be sure to keep your mower blades sharp; they will make cleaner cuts that heal better and cause less stress to the grass than the ragged edges caused by dull blades.

Water Efficiently

As stated previously, lawns can usually survive intermittent periods of drought. If you are in a position to be able to water the grass during a drought, try to do so in the most efficient way possible. Start by only watering when it is absolutely necessary, when the grass begins to wilt. Wilted grass will have its leaf blades folded in half lengthwise. They will have a bluish-gray color and footprints will remain visible for a while after they were made.

When it is time to water, aim to do so early in the morning, between sunrise and around 8 a.m., so that grass blades will dry out quickly in the sun. Watering in the late afternoon or evening will often predispose grass to fungal infections. Also, early morning watering will help conserve water to a certain extent. When sprinklers are run at mid-day, much of the water will evaporate before it can percolate into the soil and reach plant roots.

It is also critically important to apply the correct amount of water. Watering deeply and infrequently is far more effective than watering lightly multiple times a week. A good approach is to try to apply about a half inch of irrigation a couple of times a week. The length of time that a sprinkler system needs to be run to reach this desired amount of water varies greatly.

Measure how much water you are applying at a time by using a rain gauge or a straight-sided can. You can expect that it will take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes to apply a half inch of irrigation. Keep in mind that water should only be applied as fast as it can be absorbed by the soil.

Puddling or runoff are clear indications of water being wasted. If a full half inch of water cannot be applied at once without runoff, then it may be necessary to run the sprinkler for a few shorter intervals during the watering session to achieve the desired amount of irrigation.

Skip Fertilizing

Applying excess nitrogen fertilizer during a drought can sometimes do more harm than good. Grass will often respond to nitrogen fertilization by putting on lots of new green growth, which can be of detriment to the plant. New growth is tender and less drought-resistant than mature grass blades. Instead, wait to fertilize until early fall when nutrients can be taken up efficiently and promote healthy growth.

Most soils in New Hampshire are deficient in potassium (potash), so make sure to look for a fertilizer product that supplies a sufficient amount of potassium. Grass tends to be more drought-resilient when potassium levels are adequate in the soil.

Suspend Herbicide Treatment

Typically, herbicides should not be applied during a drought. Herbicides, including those that target only broadleaf plants, can be stressful even to lawns when they are actively growing. During a drought, grass is already stressed, and the added strain of herbicide applications can actually end up giving weeds a competitive advantage. Many herbicide labels instruct that products should not be used above a certain temperature or during periods of drought. Another issue is that weeds do not take up herbicides as effectively during drought conditions, thus limiting the efficacy of the application.

Consider a Lawn Alternative

Finally, if you’re not happy with how your dormant lawn looks every time there is an extended dry spell or drought in the summer, you might consider replacing all or part of it with drought-resistant perennials. Establishing a wildflower meadow is one option, or consider planting a drought-tolerant groundcover or two. While it is necessary to water a newly-planted wildflower meadow or garden perennials, once they are established, these plantings require very little supplemental irrigation.