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Mulch: Humble but important

By SHERIE BLEILER - Garden Club of Cape Coral | May 11, 2023

Mulch, that bottom layer of your garden. Humble, unassuming. Yet it can do so much for your landscape. Visually, it adds a dark edge between the green grass and the plant bed, making a nice outline to your landscape.

More importantly for me, if you keep it at least 2 inches thick, it limits most weeds from getting a start. Weed seeds often do not make it to dirt level, and when they do, mulch shades the emerging seedlings from getting sunlight. It shades the roots of the plants from the sun’s heat. Rocks actually absorb heat, so using them as mulch cooks the roots, making it more difficult for them to grow.

Mulch allows rain to run through it and holds the moisture from evaporating longer than bare dirt. It is easy to move aside when you add new flowers or some vegetables. Eventually, mulch degrades into black dirt, adding nutrients back to the soil. So although we need to reapply mulch each year, we are building our soil from mostly sand into rich soil, full of nutrients and life-giving microbes.

Recommended mulch in Lee County:

• Florimulch from melaleuca trees

• Pine straw = pine needles

• Chipped wood from tree trimmers

Florimulch is not made from cypress trees, which is huge. Precious cypress trees in Florida have been heavily logged in the past and need not be destroyed for mulch. A great alternative is mulch made from the invasive melaleuca tree. These trees were brought here from Australia for beauty and

to dry up our swamps. Instead, they spread like kudzu, displacing our native vegetation and presenting a fire hazard. As they work to eradicate it from our wetland areas, it is turned into mulch. Lab tests show melaleuca is naturally termite resistant. Termites do not eat it nor do they like living under it. After a couple of weeks, the mulch fibers knit together and tend not to float or wash out. There is even a quote on the bag by Marjory Stoneman Douglas promoting Florimulch for its benefits to the Florida ecosystem.

Pine straw is sold in bales, unless you are fortunate to find some in an empty lot. This is my go-to mulch because it is lightweight. I can easily handle the bales myself. It does not form a crust or wash away in the rain. The needles form a mesh and stay put. It does not significantly acidify the soil and lasts for two years. It more easily allows rain to flow through into the soil. Pine straw is fully sustainable and renewable. No trees are destroyed. Needles are collected after they fall off the tree. They are held together with string, not plastic bags.

Wood chips: Another sustainable and inexpensive way of obtaining mulch is to contact tree trimmers. If they are trimming trees in the neighborhood, they are often happy to dump a pile of chipped wood on your driveway to avoid having to pay to dump it elsewhere. You may also come to Rotary Park,

where there are piles of mulched wood free for the taking. Fill your empty buckets or bins and drive them home for your personal use. Free!

Mulch is more than an attractive addition to your landscape. It is a sustainable way to suppress weeds, preserve soil moisture, keep plant roots cool and add nutrients. Your mulch selection is one part of an eco-friendly yard.

Happy gardening!

Sherie Bleiler is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.