Mulch is the top layer of organic material that protects your garden beds. Adding a 3 to 5-inch layer of mulch in the spring will help slow evaporation from the soil, lessen drought stress on your plants and protect young, shallow roots from the baking heat come summer.
Over time, depending on the mulch you use—compost, rotted leaves, wood pieces or otherwise, the organic material decays into the ground and enriches the soil in differing ways.
Oh, and mulch keeps weeds from growing. A heavy application smothers the light so certain weed seeds can't germinate—a heckuva reward for one spring project. Here, we've cracked open bags of the most popular mulches at for an up-close look.
Your standard bark-mulch is a by-product of our lumber and paper industries. These are often aged, dried, and sometimes color enhanced to add interest to your yard. Hardwood is good for most applications, while softwoods, like pine should only be used for larger plants, like trees and shrubs.
Composted Animal Manure
Your garden bed will love some good, composted animal manure, but like a fine wine, aging is best. Fresh manure can burn your plants. Pig manure, as well as dog and cat waste, should never be used on vegetable gardens. These types of manures have the possibility to transmit disease or parasites, like roundworms, even when composted.
Landscape Plastic or Fabric
If you really want to start from scratch, you can place down landscape fabric or plastic. The plastic doesn't allow anything through, like air or water. It is good for short term and is generally cheaper, but landscape fabric will last longer. Either way, we recommend placing a layer of organic mulch on top of this layer.