Use Mulch. Save Water.

Mulch mimics what grows ends up on the forest floor and creates an environment healthy for plants. Among other things, it shades roots from the sun, insulates from heat and cold, retains moisture, protects from damaging rain, encourages worms and microbial action near the surface, and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

It also will save you money on your watering bill.

With all the choices in mulch available, its hard to know which is right for you. Below we compare 5 of the most common types and let you know how to use each one.

Hardwood Mulch
Rich in Nutrients and has a pretty Dark Brown color that looks lush and healthy. If you're not sure what to get - this is the best all around winner. Apply this twice a year in March and November after the leaves fall. Hardwood Mulch lasts about 6 months. It's the best all-around Mulch. Great Dark color for aesthetics. Apply 2" - 4" thick.

Cotton Bur Compost
Very rich in nutrients. Good to mix with other mulches. Dark Brown to black in color. Great for re-establishing neglected beds. Use it when needed. It lasts about 2 - 3 months.Initial Bed Prep Mulch. Great first layer, then cover with other mulches. Great for "jumpstarting" mulching for organic programs. Apply 1" thick.

Cedar Mulch
Garden with Mulch

Medium Brown and long lasting. May reduce bugs and snakes and vermin for the first month or so. Apply in March or April. This lasts about a year. Tends to stay put, so it's great for slopes. Also, helps repel bugs for about a month. Apply 2" - 4" thick.

Cypress Mulch
Tan when new, but weathers to a Silvery Gray. Long lasting, but has a tendency to float away. It lasts more than 2 years, if it doesn't float away. Re-apply when needed. Good for herbs, junipers and Xeriscape plants. Doesn't support fungal growth. When aged, the silver color goes well with cacti. Apply 2" - 4" thick.

Pine Bark Mulch
This is a poor mulch, but very decorative. It doesn't provide many nutrients, helps hide slugs and snails and isn't a good insulator. It also loves to float away in storms. This can last more than 5 years, but if not contained will definitely float away. Each piece is like a little boat. Re apply as necessary. Decorative use only. It's really a mulch that doesn't mulch well. Adds interesting and natural texture to low maintenance areas. Apply 2" - 4" thick.

Stained, Colored or Artificial Mulch.
No. Just No.

How to Apply Mulch:
  • Mulch anytime. the "When to apply" column is meant for scheduled yearly mulching.
  • Do not remove old mulch.
  • Don't rake leaves in Fall. simply mulch over the top of them.
  • Don't mulch up to the plants themselves, taper down to nothing right where the stem or trunk comes up.
Expanded Shale
One More Thing:
If you are redoing a bed, try adding Expanded Shale. Expanded Shale is a wonderful product for clay soils. It aids in drainage, helps retain water, and creates healthier soil. It also only needs to be mixed into the soil once and lasts hundreds of years. If you have clay soils, be sure to get some.