A good mulch is simply the best thing you can do for your outdoor plants as well as improve the look of your property for the season. Some mulch is better than others, but any mulch is better than none.
A good rule of thumb is no bare dirt, ever. Bare dirt, particularly for us in Western North Carolina, means bare clay, which gets hard and crusty when it’s exposed and eventually fills up with nasty weeds of which there are tons.
So, it’s worth investing in mulch. Most people don’t want to though. They will spend good money on plants, then skimp on the mulch. Either no mulch at all or very skimpy on it.
Maybe that’s because it’s too much work to mulch. It’s hard on the back to haul around a wheelbarrow. It would be nice if neighbors got together to have a mulch party kinda like the Amish do with raising barns. It’s a lot easier with multiple hands and multiple wheelbarrows.
We suggest a good sturdy wheelbarrow with a single flatless type wheel. The double-wheel versions are much harder to push around and navigate through beds. Resist the urge to fill it all the way. Go just half full or so, whatever is comfortable, and you’ll last much longer.
The best mulch is all bark, either pine or hardwood. They say the pine lasts longer but I think either is fine. It should smell really good and have a fluffy texture.
There is a lot of mulch available that is from mulch yards where people go to drop off yard debris or stumps. This is a mix of the whole tree (and pallets or whatever) that gets ground up and aged underground for a while to burn off, then sold usually for a little less than all bark mulch. This type of mulch isn’t terrible but doesn’t smell very good or stay in place like the nice fluffy all-bark mulch.
Once you’ve gotten the good shredded all-bark mulch that smells so nice, you won’t want the other type. One interesting thought we’ve heard is that for every dollar you spend on the garden, 90 cents should be on the soil. That makes you think, doesn’t it?
Putting a layer down every year is best, but once plants have filled out significantly in the bed in a couple of years, you can get away with skipping a season here and there. Plants can have the effect of covering the dirt over time, either as a ground cover or as a low canopy from shrubs.
Finally, mulching is just fine to do any time of year, but we suggest the winter months. Not only are the leaves off deciduous plants, but most of us are less busy during this time (including landscapers and mulch yards.) As long as it’s not too frozen outside, mulching might help when you are feeling cabin fever.