Once your plants are in the ground and watered, you may think that your bed is finished. But there’s one more important task that deserves your attention: selecting and applying mulch.

Red mulch, gray house

This red-colored mulch is an organic product that’s been dyed to create a punch of rich color to the landscape.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Pea pebble mulch

Some folks like the bright contrast of white pea pebble mulch with their landscape greenery.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Bulk mulch

Mulch sold in bulk is generally nicer on the budget than buying bagged products.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Mulch not only adds an attractive touch to the landscape, it’s also beneficial to plant health. For starters, it helps decrease water use by up to 25 percent. It reduces soil compaction and erosion, increases soil aeration and eliminates the need to mow around trees and shrubs. Mulch also prevents weed seed germination and protects roots from changing soil temperatures, like freezing and thawing, which are often stressful to plants.

The types of mulch are many – selecting the right one depends on your site, style and budget.

Organic mulches include pine bark, pine straw and hardwood chips. These materials decompose over time, which can be an advantage and a disadvantage. Some organic mulches, like pine straw, have to be replaced every year, while others, like pine bark, will last for several years. As the organic material decomposes, you might need to add a layer of fresh mulch to retain the desirable 3- to 4-inch depth. On the plus side, the decomposing mulch adds nutrients to the soil, creating a better environment for plant growth.

Inorganic mulches include rocks, recycled rubber and landscape cloths. Rocks come in colorful forms, crushed gravel, lava rocks and white pebbles. Though they never decompose, the longer they stay in the landscape, the more likely weed seed will blow in-between the material and start to sprout. The contrasting aesthetic of rocks may work well in developing your landscape’s style, but you should carefully consider where rock mulches are appropriate. For example, perennial and annual beds are always changing, and rock mulch can be difficult to move.

Rubber mulches come in a variety of colors and are designed to mimic the look of organic mulches. Of course, these won’t decompose over time, though they may lose their color after many years from weathering.

Landscaping cloths are sheets of woven material that block weeds from coming through. They’re the easiest to install in a new bed because the soil’s bare and you can lay your plants out on the fabric before cutting holes in the material. But be warned: Wherever you cut the cloth, there’s increased potential for weeds to come through.

Many people don’t care for the look of landscape cloth as a finished product, so they add organic mulch or rocks over the material to create a more natural look. When installing landscaping cloth, try placing drip irrigation hoses underneath. The cloth may have a tendency to not allow water permeation (plus, it can hide the hoses from the finished look).

Once you’ve selected the mulch that suits your landscape, proper application will go a long way toward maximizing the benefits of mulch. Not only will you enhance the curb appeal of your home, your landscape environment will be healthier and easier to maintain.