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Mulch IS the Answer!



By Elizabeth Takakjian

Do you want to keep weeds down? Retain moisture? Stop erosion? Well then, mulch IS the answer. Besides doing all that, applying mulch is a great time saver when applied correctly. Let’s look at why and learn about a number of different types for your garden.

Time Saver – Following a few simple guidelines will help you realized the time saving value of mulch.

  • Before laying down any mulch, clear the area of weeds.
  • A thick, 2”-4” even layer of mulch is needed to block out sunlight and prevent weeds. Hint: If the area is prone to heavy weeds infestations, lay down a layer of newspaper or landscape fabric before applying mulch.

Yes, there is an initial time investment when adding mulch to your garden and yard, but once it’s done you’ll enjoy a new gardening experience that requires less weeding and watering leaving more time for weed free gardening enjoyment.

Organic vs. Inorganic – Both discourage weeds when applied correctly.

  • An organic mulch will break down over time, enriching the soil. Grass clippings and shredded leaves decompose quickly, in a season or two, while shaved wood and pine needles will take a bit longer. All of these mulches should be renewed each year to keep the weeds away.
  • Wood chips will generally last two to three years making them great for pathways.
  • Inorganic mulches like shredded rubber, often used in play ground areas, or crushed stone, attractive in rock gardens and pathways, can last indefinitely but do not nourish the soil. Black plastic blocks water penetration while geotextiles allow water penetration. Both are unsightly so they are usually covered over with a 2” layer of mulch – either organic or inorganic.

Spring Weed Blocker – In the spring laying on mulch will block weeds.

  • After the soil warms in spring and your plants emerge adding a layer of mulch will deter weed growth.

Winter Protection -In the winter a good layer of mulch will insulate, prevent erosion, and enrich the soil.

  • Apply an even layer of mulch to properly insulate the soil and prevent weed problems. Straw, shredded leaves and pine needles are effective mulches for woody plants.
  • In a home vegetable garden or raised bed garden, a three inch layer of mulch will prevent wind erosion from blowing away your topsoil and insulate the soil. I like to use a mixture of shredded leaves and grass clippings because as it decomposes over the winter it will also enrich the soil. Come spring you’ll find the ground beneath the mulch easy to work and ready for planting, just push the mulch aside so that the soil will warm a bit quicker and when the plants emerge put it back in place adding more as needed to retain moisture and block out weeds.

Elizabeth Takakjian is a Program Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program, as well as a Master Gardener. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 325 or at


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