Angie's List: How to buy, apply and enjoy the benefits of mulch in your landscape

Mulch saves water, is inexpensive and easy to use

TAMPA - Mulch plays a major role in landscaping. From providing essential moisture and nutrients to fighting off weeds and pests, mulch is an inexpensive and efficient way to spruce up your flower beds, walkways and gardens.

"A well landscaped lawn can add 7 to 14 percent to the value of your home," said Angie Hicks, founder of the consumer website Angie's List . "Mulch is an inexpensive landscaping option and there's added benefit because mulch will help retain moisture in your flower beds which should help cut down on your water bills through the summer."

Mulch is commonly applied to flower beds, around the base of trees and to line walking paths, but it does a lot more than liven up landscaping - it provides these added benefits to your plants:

  • Helps retain moisture around the base of plants.
  • Keeps plant roots warm.
  • Allows water to seep slowing into the ground.
  • Provides additional nutrients for the soil.
  • Mulch is a natural weed suppressor. It won't completely rid your yard of weeds, but it's a great option if you prefer not to use pesticides.

Landscaper Gregg Pulley said mulch will last up to a year on your beds. "Typically mulch lasts about 9-12 months. It breaks down naturally releasing nutrients down into the soil. Dyed mulch tends to hold a little bit better than regular hardwood mulch it holds its color a little bit more. Every month or two a homeowner can fluff up the mulch a little bit just to turn it over and re-release some more color. Dyed mulch usually holds up a little bit longer then a hardwood mulch or cypress or any other type of mulch."

As Pulley said, there are several options for selecting mulch.

  • Types of mulch: You can choose between coarse, shredded and fine consistencies – the consistency will determine how fast the mulch decomposes – generally, the finer the faster.
  • Brown is one of the most popular colors of dyed mulch thanks to its natural look and ability to blend in with most landscapes. It's great for mulching flower beds and around water features and patios. Average price: $33.50 per yard
  • Black is another popular choice for dyed mulch, and it's often used to add contrast to flower beds and to make colorful flowers stand out. Average price: $33.50 per yard
  • Red mulch is the color to use if you want your landscaping to really stand out. Average price: $33.50 per yard
  • Gold is another popular choice for dyed mulch. Gold-tinted mulch is often referred to as "mock cypress," due to its similar appearance and consistency. Average price: $33.50 per yard
  • Hardwood mulch is screened to create smaller particles called "fines." It has the consistency of coffee grounds and it composts quickly making it a good soil additive. Average price: $29.50 per yard
  • Cypress mulch comes in a blond or gold tint. It's durable mulch that is known to hold its color longer than other varieties. Average price: $46 per yard
  • Rubber tire mulch is great for landscaping and playgrounds. It's made out of recycled tires that have been stripped of all wires and cut to ¼- or ½-inch pieces. Rubber tire mulch is low maintenance and absorbent to impact. Average price: $8.50 per bag
  • Picking out color: Some dyed mulches like red or black can be used to add contrast, or make flowers and plants stand out in a landscape, but there is no real benefit to choosing one color over another.
  • Should I buy mulch in bulk or by the bag? Mulch can be purchased bagged or bulk. Customers can save a considerable amount of money by purchasing mulch by the yard, but a delivery fee might apply. One benefit to having it delivered is you can have the mulch dumped in a convenient location to minimize trips with the wheelbarrow. If you own a truck or trailer, you can buy mulch in bulk and pick it up yourself – cutting out the delivery fee.
  • How much mulch? Mulch is usually sold by the cubic yard. A quick way to estimate how much mulch you'll need: take the length times the width to find the area and then divide by 100. One yard will cover 100 square feet at 3 inches deep.
  • What is the cost? Prices vary depending on the company and geographic location. Expect to pay anywhere from $20-$50 per yard, depending on the quality of the mulch. Buying mulch in bulk may be cheaper if you need large volumes. Bagged mulch is often easier to handle, especially for smaller projects.
  • Avoid the mulch volcano: The biggest mistake you can make when spreading mulch is piling it high around the base of a tree. Even if you think it looks nice, be warned that it can cause serious damage. Excessive mulch can saturate the tree roots with water which can cause rot and fungus problems, and block oxygen from reaching the roots. Keep mulch piles to 3 inches or less.

Hicks adds, "Mulch is certainly a project that you can do yourself, especially if you just have a few flower beds that you'll be tackling. If you have a lot of flower beds you may want to consider hiring a landscaper – you're back may really hurt come Monday!

Call around and get estimates from at least three landscapers so you can see what they would charge to spread the mulch." Hicks suggest saving some money by splitting mulch and delivery with your neighbors.

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