While the true stars of any garden are the flowers, shrubs, perennials and other plants within it, there are other aspects of the garden that makes these stars shine much brighter. Accessories like garden statues, accent lighting, pavers, trellises, fountains, birth baths and even benches add to the allure of a garden and make it a serene and peaceful spot. Decorative mulch also adds a "finished" and tidy look to the garden and adds to the visual appeal of the space. Many novice gardeners don't realise that while mulch is decorative, it also helps keep plants healthy.
Why Add Decorative Mulch to Your Garden?
Not only is mulch much more aesthetically pleasing to behold than plain dirt, topping the garden with it serves several important functions. Decorative mulch helps minimise one of the most frustrating problems found in the garden: weeds. While weed seeds can quickly take root in soil, mulch provides a barrier between seed and soil so seeds can't germinate. When mulch is applied atop underlying weeds or seeds, it keeps sunlight from infiltrating. Without sun, weeds can't take root and grow.
In Australia, where high temperatures in some areas can exceed 45°C and rainfall can be scarce, decorative mulch is essential to keeping plants healthy. A hearty layer of mulch over topsoil helps the soil retain moisture necessary for plants to survive and thrive. Decorative mulch also blocks the harsh sun's rays from penetrating the soil beneath. This means water evaporates much more slowly. Mulch also keeps sun from burning plants' sensitive roots. Last but not least, some types of decorative mulch (especially organic cedar mulch) have insect-repellent qualities. The more protective mulch a garden has, the less likely it is to develop an insect infestation. Especially in herb and vegetable gardens, using mulch to repel insects is much safer than using chemical garden pesticides to keep bugs at bay.
What to Expect When Shopping for Decorative Mulch
When you begin your search for the perfect mulch, you will quickly realise that there are options galore. Decorative mulches come in colours ranging from natural light brown to deep red and dark black. Which colour to choose depends primarily on personal preference. Some people prefer a natural look, others like the contrast of a dyed mulch.
When shopping, you will also find two types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches are made of natural ingredients including wood bark or chips, leaves and manure. When organic mulch breaks down, it deposits beneficial nutrients in the soil beneath it and maximises the microbial activity that's essential to plant health.
Inorganic mulch may be made of plastic, pebbles and gravel. While these mulches are appealing because they are long-lasting and retain their colour, they do not have the soil-fortifying benefits of organic mulch. Additionally, plastic mulch retains heat. When the mercury rises, it can actually burn plants. Whether to opt for organic or inorganic depends on where a garden is and how hot the temperature gets.
Once you have selected a decorative mulch colour and type and mulched up your garden, if you really want to make your plants thrive, consider mixing compost in to recharge organic decorative mulch from time to time. Nutrients in organic mulch eventually break down and leach into the soil (which is beneficial). Compost will soak into porous organic mulch and help it retain its beneficial properties longer.