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Oldcastle Lawn & Garden, one of the nation's top mulch manufacturers, shares tips for success

ATLANTA, Ga.-Some homeowners begrudgingly spread mulch, but others understand the amount of time and money this easy DIY practice actually saves. Mulching helps maintain soil moisture and inhibits weed growth, saving homeowners time on watering and weeding. It also provides soil insulation, which helps control soil temperature and saves plant roots from extreme heat as well as freeze. Finally, mulch is one of the most cost effective and easiest DIY projects to give a yard a finished look.

While applying mulch is easy, choosing which type to use can be overwhelming. With so many options today, a homeowner needs a reference guide to decide which type to use. Here's a quick guide for mulching success.

Organic vs Inorganic Mulch

While mulch comes in a number of forms, from natural wood to brick chips, organic mulch has a few benefits that inorganic mulch does not. Organic mulches slowly decompose, enriching the ground underneath with nutrients and helping to loosen the soil. This improves root development and increases water infiltration while also attracting beneficial organisms such as earthworms.

Recycled Construction Materials

Recycled construction materials include anything from land clearing debris, such as trees and shrubs, to recycled wood pallets. In the case of land clearing debris, the whole wood product, not just the bark, is recycled. Other items that may get caught up in the debris and eventual mulch are weeds, seeds, poison ivy and even insect infestations if the material is not properly managed.

In addition, recycled wooden pallets can introduce harmful chemicals into your yard and ground. Since wood naturally absorbs liquid, any spilled chemical may have been soaked up by a wooden pallet that is later turned in to mulch. And some wooden pallets may have been produced from CCA treated wood. CCA (chromated copper arsenate) is a chemical wood preservative containing chromium, copper and arsenic.

Natural Wood Mulch

Natural, or virgin, wood mulch is produced from a variety of trees, each having their own unique advantages. The decision of which type to use depends as much on homeowner preference of smell and color as anything else.

  • Cedar Mulch ranges in color depending on the region in which it is harvested. It is usually aromatic, though some varieties have a stronger aroma than others. The oil produced by cedars serves as a natural insect repellant. Cedar mulch is exceptionally long lasting so it does not need to be replaced as often as other varieties. However, its longevity lessens the amount of rich hummus added to the soil that faster decomposing varieties produce.

  • Cypress Mulch is an aesthetically pleasing, light colored mulch that is also aromatic. It naturally repels insects and has natural fungus resistance. It is long lasting like cedar.

  • Hardwood Mulch is fibrous and knits together well which inhibits soil erosion and weed germination while retaining moisture. Hardwood mulch is often made of oak but may be compiled of a mixture of hardwoods.

  • Pine Bark Mulch is a popular variety that is usually less expensive than other mulches yet still provides the benefits of moisture retention, soil conditioning and weed prevention. Pine mulch breaks down reasonably fast improving the organic content of the soil.

  • Pine Bark Nuggets and mini nuggets are great for topdressing flower beds and interiorscapes. They break down slower than shredded pine bark mulch for a longer lasting effect.

  • Hemlock Mulch is a premium product that is growing in demand. Its rich, brick-red color provides a beautiful contrast to lawns and shrub foliage.

  • Eucalyptus Mulch is another aromatic mulch that naturally deters insects and is growing in demand.

  • Colored Mulch may come in red, brown, black, dark or gold as well as some less popular color choices. Colored mulch is usually made of shredded softwood such as pine.