Revere mulch

You view mulch as optional or boring? To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

No matter the climate zone or garden type, mulch is universally recommended. The stated context is as a ‘protective layer’ over soil and covered by plants. That is vital in dry climates, and so is its unheralded capacity as a visible design element.

Cut bark or gorilla hair fills our California beds, and gravel or bark defines our paths. These meek materials’ utilitarian capabilities combined with inventive supplanting of lawn and groundcover create a hefty conservation snowball effect. Relative ranking of the water-wise merits, derived from scientific studies and on-site observations, is:

  1. Retains 35-70% more moisture than bare soil
  2. Improves water efficiency up to 25% by inhibiting competition from weeds
  3. Offers no-water design alternatives to carpets of greedy grass
  4. Limits erosion, especially on slopes, as well as soil compaction so plants get more water
  5. Increases overall plant performance by up to 67% as measured in height, diameter, and leaf size
  6. Moderates temperature as much as 10° so roots are cooler when it’s hot and warmer when it’s cool
  7. Conditions soil by providing nutrition and encouraging beneficial organisms and worms

Hailed as “icing on the cake,” “gardener’s best friend,” “unsung hero,” “secret weapon,” and even “birth control for weeds,” this unexciting substance, especially in organic form, has proven a top sustainable gardening principle. Check out these exemplars on varieties and application:

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