What About Mulch – The Good and The Bad

Pine straw is available in two sizes; round bales of longleaf pine and square bales of pine straw.

Pine bark is another common mulch in our area.

Bark mulch that is not size specified and was applied several months ago.

Pine bark nuggets

Color infused pine bark mulch

A light layer of new pine straw freshens the landscape

My friend Libby said to me “Floyd you need to do a blog on bark.” Well since August and December are the months I like to apply mulch, what time could be more perfect. I am biased on mulch types. I much prefer pine straw over bark for several reasons. Pine straw gives a more finished look, to me, and a bale can go a long way. I also think it is a better weed deterrent. Bark, on the other hand, especially pine bark which is the most common, can contain weed seeds, it washes easily and fresh bark as it decomposes takes nitrogen out of the soil. Now that being said, let me at least give you some information on both pine straw and bark.
First, pine straw, if you do not have a place to rake it and use it for mulch, you will have to purchase it. Today, I bought a square bale of pine straw from Lowe’s for $3.77 and a round bale of longleaf pine straw at Home Depot for $9.99. According to some folks when spreading, the longleaf roll covers more area than the same amount of the square bale that is generally harvested from short needled pines. Frankly I am not sure that 3 square bales are not going to cover more than one roll of longleaf pine straw. I do think the longleaf pine straw is more attractive initially when spread. The choice is yours but apply a two to three inch layer if you are mulching a previously un-mulched area. To freshen an area, lightly cover the old mulch.
Bark is the other common mulch in the metro area. There are several types of bark mulch from different types of trees. Cypress hardwood mulch, red cedar aromatic mulch and finally pine bark mulch, which is the most common and readily available type. You can buy it in bulk and in bags. Pine bark mulch comes in different sized pieces from the large nuggets to fine pine bark that is use as a soil conditioner. For the best look avoid using the nuggets and buy just the bags labelled mulch. Also there is colored (dyed) pine bark mulch. Please DO NOT use this product, as the color will eventually leach into the soil, and it is also ugly. Expect more weed seeds for the nuggets and unsized bark and less from the regular sized pieces. Also if you are doing a new area two to three inches is best, and to refresh old mulch that is decomposing, add a light fresh layer over the top.
Mulch is good stuff and helps prevent moisture loss and reduces weed growth. So I use it to mulch my shrubs, trees and perennials. Now is the time to freshen it so the garden will look good until we have a frost.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

2 thoughts on “What About Mulch – The Good and The Bad

  1. Thanks for the great information. Our community is so very lucky to have you…great advice and knowledge. Highest regards…Libby

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