Mulch for perrenial garden??

ATekk(6nj)May 10, 2011

Hi everyone,

I posted in the soil,compost and mulch forum but no response after a week so thought I would try here.

I recently expanded an old flower bed and redid with a complete revamp of shrubs including boxwoods azaleas holly and rhododendron. This is for the front yard so I wanted more evergreen structure for year round appeal. I will be adding a lot of perennials into this garden but am not sure what to use for mulch.

If this were fall I would start chopping some dry leaves and be very content but unfortunately none is to be found in May haha. I would like to use a decorative mulch (root mulch from the nursery so more organic looking but still pleasing to the eye as the bed is still very sparse. I have read that hardwood mulches may inhibit perrenials from spreading and growing their best. I would prefer to use something more eye appealing for the front yard (backyard I will try to stick with leaves, dried grass etc). Any experience using regular hardwood mulches etc in perennial beds? I am just being too paranoid about it? What other options am I missing?

Thank you!

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I use shredded hardwood in my perennial beds to supplement the shredded leaves and I've had no problems with it. In a new or significantly rehabilitated bed such as you've described, weed problems tend to be worst in the first couple of years. I would put a few layers of newspaper down under the shredded hardwood to help keep it to a dull roar. It's easy enough to plant perennials through newspaper and it will rot away long before most perennials make a big expansion (1st year sleep, 2d year creep, 3d year leap really is true). I reapply mulch annually, but do not put down the shredded hardwood until most of my perennials have emerged in the spring. This also has the advantage of allowing some self-seeding to occur.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 4:36PM
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I don't think that you need to be concerned. I usually use heavy cardboard as I've had better weed suppression with that than with multiple layers of newspaper, and top it with 4-6" of hardwood shavings from a woodshop. I have perennials like thyme, Dianthus, Veronica "Georgia Blue" and sandwort/Arenaria montana that spread and bulbs like daffodil that multiply, and various bulbs and perennials like Allium, Siberian iris, and Cimicifuga AKA Actea that seed without issues. I renew the mulch every three years or so.

I've used hardwood chips in two large beds and had daylilies and chrysanthemums spread and Cornus alternifolia/Pagoda dogwood seed in those beds.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 6:16PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i use whatever the tree guys bring me.. the price is right.. free .. though HARDwood last longer .. soft woods rot pretty fast.. and make a wonderful soil topping ...

i like the natural color that fades to gray ... i would like to knock on doors and slap people who use colored mulch ...

you found wrong info .. it will not inhibit perennials from spreading .... it will inhibit annuals from reseeding if it disallows soil contact ...

it should be applied so that a 2 to 3 inch covering is made.. after settling ... and it should be no closer to plant crowns than an inch or two .. the idea is NOT to smother the plants.. its to cover bare earth ....

below is a pic of some of my hardwood mulched beds ...


    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 7:30PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Finely shredded hardwood mulch = the 2nd best thing you can do for your garden. The first would be compost, of course, but that's not a mulch.

I have read that hardwood mulches may inhibit perrenials from spreading and growing their best. The exact opposite is true, IMO. I would stop reading that source. HOWEVER, there are some low-growers like creeping phlox, veronica, lamium, candytuft, that are tricky. You want to leave a few inches around these for expansion. With any plant, mulch is for around it, not ON it.

ken, LOVE your yard!! OMG it's really great! I could feel my blood pressure going down as I looked at it. Only thing wrong with it is that it's in MI. Go bucks!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 11:10AM
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hostaholic2 z 4, MN

Ken from the looks of your lovely yard you don't spend very much time sitting in that big chair. lol I'm right there with you on the colored mulch! EWW!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 12:39PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

I mulch with composted yard debris. Cheap by the truckload here from the same places you can drop off excess yard debris.

It starts out black and turns grayish.

I have tons of perennials.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 5:41PM
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Hijack warning:
Ken, I've never seen a long shot of your garden. Would you be willing to post more?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 7:28PM
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brit5467(7b/8a Coastal VA)

Wow Ken !! What a spread !!! So much land. I'm envious.

As for mulch, I've had questions, too. Every year I say I'm gonna get mine down before the weeds start but don't want to do it until plants start to emerge.

Then I buy more plants and I wait because I don't want to put it down until I get planting done as to not have to fight with it falling in the newly dug holes.

By the time I know it, like now, my garden is almost in full bloom and it's so difficult to get in there and work, putting it down around the plants. But I know I need to mulch (even tho I've still not got everything planted..LOL).

So when IS the best time to do it? I mean, I know I need to now...but for future reference -- when should it be done?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 10:03PM
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Thank you all for all your help!

Ken, your landscaping is beautiful. I can imagine the nice evenings sitting around the fire pit.

You all have convinced me that I am going to go with some root mulch. A nicer hardwood that decomposes quicker and is much more natural looking than the dyed mulches. I should be getting a very nice large order from Bluestone Perrenials this week so will order some mulch after that gets planted.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 10:13PM
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I typically do most of my mulching from early to mid April. I'm in southern Maryland. I'm assuming you're in the tidewater and guessing that late March/early April is mulching time for you.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 8:41AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

thx my peeps ...

now.. here is how i think of it ..

compost is a covering.. which ... as it breaks down is a soil additive .. which builds your soil ... it also a very short lived mulch ... usually disappearing in a year .... which is why it must be added every year ..

mulch ... is a soil COVERING .... which is much longer lived .... which cools the soil and maintains moisture ... as well as covering the soil surface to reduce weed germination ....

either can be applied anytime .. but it is much easier .. when the garden is small ... like early spring ... or late fall once it dies down ....

if you do NOT want to be doing it every year .... then you move from soft wood.... toward hardwood .... bark being somewhere in the middle ... but most important for longevity ... is the size of the particles ... bigger stuff last longer because it takes longer to breakdown ....... which is one reason ground compost disappears so fast ....

whatever you do.. whatever it is.. its a plus all around ... but until you define what your goal is..then its all speculative as to what to do next ... or what to use ...

if you want to improve your soil.. go the compost route ...

if you want to increase how carefree your garden is.. go the mulch route ...

as you can see from the link.. size matters .... and then compare with this link:


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 8:58AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I prefer leaves, which I spread in the fall, obviously, and I have some bags of it for use in the spring where needed. I also use straw - I normally have a bale of left over from barricading potted plants against the house over winter and don't want to waste it, so I use it as mulch. Wood chips/shredded wood bark works just fine, too, as does compost and lots of other organic materials. Use whatever you have available and you find attractive (especially important if it's an area where the mulch will be visible...don't overlook this point).

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 9:23AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Our soil here is clay so I've been mulching with compost for fifteen years. DH doesn't know that if we used bark he would not have to do it every year and I'm not telling him!

I strongly dislike digging/planting through bark even with gloves so I got him on the compost bandwagon when we bought the house 17 years ago and am glad.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 12:24PM
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For me,
The hardwood mulch works well...There is too much space to be putting it down every year, and if it kept some of the perennials down, so much the better...less frequent dividing.

My problem (and you are probably sick of hearing about it) is that voles are harder to detect with mulch. But the roses willbe mulched sincethey are inspected every day anyhow. Hardwood mulch did not cut down on my daylily spread. At least DD is buying a house and looking to get lots of landscape plants from Momma, so I will make her help divided them.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 2:54PM
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I too have the vole problem; I think that it's time to get another cat, since when we had one we had fewer vole problems. Although prevailing wisdom is to not walk on garden beds, I do periodically stomp on my beds to collapse vole tunnels. I try to do it around the time the ground is freezing in the fall in the hopes that the voles won't retunnel before hard freeze and again in spring after thaw but before the plants start actively growing so that roots that have been tunneled around are in good contact with soil again. However, we have so much snow most years that even the gardens that haven't been mulched have vole problems as does the lawn. My gardens right around our main door almost looked like they had been plowed after the snow melted and my Annabelle Hydrangeas had all the bark nibbled off many of the stems. Not sure if that was voles or the mice that use the vole tunnels. So for me, the vole damage probably isn't any worse due my mulching.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 5:27PM
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terrene(5b MA)

In the fall I let the leaves fall and blow into the garden beds and lay there as mulch over the winter. This usually works well, except this past winter we had so much snow on top of the thick leaves, and for the first time I had significant vole damage in the gardens. The leaves probably exacerbated this problem, although there was damage in the lawn as well. During Spring cleanup, I usually end up raking out some of the leaves along with stalks and garden debris.

In the front garden, which is semi-formal, I use a mixed mulch with wood chips, some leaves, pine cones and needles, and compost. It looks like a natural, organic mulch. In the back garden or woodland gardens, which are more naturalized, I use leaves or leaf mold.

In a formal bed, I would go with a uniform mulch, like Pine or Hemlock bark, or aged wood chips, etc.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 8:34PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

The year I let the leaves pile up and actually raked them off the lawn into the beds is the year the slugs ate everything under the leaves to the ground during winter. They were nice and insulated and happy.

My garden is small and my plants are many, we composted the entire front two days ago with one $15 scoop of compost in the truck.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 10:21AM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I get the cheap stuff from the county- it looks decent and is double ground. A mixture of everything. It also breaks down nicely to amend the soil over time.

I never really stop mulching some part of the yard except when it's super hot or cold. Eventually everything gets mulch over a two year period. But I have a big yard and lots of beds.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 2:51PM
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My climate in western WA is wet except for our summer season of July-Sept so 3-4" mulch takes care of my established plants except for occasional heat waves. I apply in November & March, then patrol & pull seedlings I don't want.

Type depends on if you want self sown perennial seedlings. Fine texture allows seedlings including blown in weeds...Coarse prevents it. I prefer finer near perennials & more coarse under shrubs, but it depends on what is free or cheap at the time. I usually use a mix for bottom layers & top with something uniform so no one knows what's underneath.

Bottom layer just 1-2":
-especially in new gardens w/lots of bare soil use hay sweepings from feed store at the bottom
-used coffee grounds
-homemade compost with blend of manures (old & cold only)
-shredded leaves
-lawn mower shredded garden clippings
-dried grass clippings
-guinea pig bedding (basically sawdust + manure)

Favorite top 2" layer:
free irregularly shaped wood chips from tree trimmers (off Craigslist if someone gets too much - sometimes they've even bagged it up for you already)

Another top layer if you have to purchase:
dark fine texture soil amendments made from a blend of shredded wood green/white bags (soil PEP) or blue bags (Garden Gro Mulch) at Home Depot. FYI: seedlings sow well in this

Easiest way to keep up through growing season:
Snip & drop when cutting back things because it dries up & blends in pretty well. Takes just a few minutes with scissors to do it & you don't get dirty or sweaty working just one plant at a time. If a lot of clippings toss on the lawn for mower shred. If clumps are made spread out to dry a bit & tuck small amounts under larger plants where you can't see it much. If plants have viable seeds you can put them where you want more plants or bury a shovel depth down elsewhere in the garden.

After mid-spring I can't see much ground as everything is lush from the rain except for new gardens like this one. Here's a pic from July 2010 of spring planted new garden around existing snowball bush, cherry & apple trees. The mulch top layer is scattered wood chips not more than 1" deep.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2011 at 1:54PM
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