Frankly, we could probably spend all day talking about the different types of bark mulch and their uses. But, for everyone’s sake, we’ll narrow it down as much as possible. Even when we do that, it becomes rapidly apparent that bark mulch is hugely important for our lawns and gardens.
Before we get started, a few basic application rules should be borne in mind for all mulches. Chiefly, if applying mulches for winter protection, then lay them down late in the fall before the soil freezes. If applying a mulch covering in the summer, only apply them when the soil is warm enough to permit active root growth – which means only applying the mulch in mid-spring and not earlier. When mulches are left around shrubs year-round, make sure that they are pulled away from the trunks in the fall so as to allow the proper hardening of the bark. Mulch is important, but using it right is even more important. If you have any questions about how best to apply your bark mulch – or any other type of mulch – do not hesitate to consult a professional.
In any case, bark mulches are optimal for use around trees, shrubs and in garden beds. They are most useful for areas where you won’t be doing a lot of digging – such as foundation plantings or front walkways. The reason why you want bark mulches in these locations, as opposed to somewhere else, is because woody mulches don’t mix particularly well in the soil and it is inconvenient to move them aside to make way for new plants.
Overall, bark mulches – all mulches – reduce soil water losses and suppress weeds. They also protect against temperature extremes. When mulches decay, they provide organic matter that soils need. Large aggregates of mulches improve aeration and make moisture conditions better. As a general rule, wood chips and bark chunks are great for shrub beds or for around trees. Fine mulches – which are commonly bark granules or wood shavings – are terrific for annual or perennial beds. Bark mulches may not be exotic or “sexy” like cocoa hulls or buckwheat hulls, but they are more readily available and, as noted above, are excellent for specific types of plant beds.
By now, you’re probably wondering what the most common bark mulches are. Well, there appear to be 5 types that seem especially popular: Milled Fir; Spruce Logs; Pine, Douglas Fir; and Redwood. Bark chunks, as opposed to bark granules or shredded bark, appear to be the most persistent of the 3 grades of bark mulch. Although they serve aeration and moisture – and organic substitution – functions, bark mulches are also decorative and have an aesthetic appeal that distinguishes them from wood chips or sawdust. They are also excellent at resisting compaction and do not blow in the wind as easily or promiscuously as other forms of mulch.
Bark mulches are easy to find, do not cost a lot of money to employ, and can save the day when you’re trying to gently nurture that spawning garden bed. However, even bark mulches cannot protect your cherished lawn plants and shrubs if additional precautions are not taken. Notably, it is widely circulated that a pre-emergent herbicide should be applied to the area in question before the mulch is laid down. Organic mulches – like bark mulches – must also thoroughly cover an area to a uniform depth if they are to be effective. Wherever there are bare spots, there will likely be weed problems. And, suffice it to say, uneven mulch does not properly insulate the soil that nourishes your shrubs.
And one last point: try to use moist bark mulch rather than drier stuff. The dryer the mulch, the longer it will take to decompose and the fewer nutrients it will deliver to the soil.
As anyone who’s laboured over a front lawn can attest, every little thing you can do to help your lawns and gardens flourish will be returned ten-fold.