GARDENING: Neil Fisher gives us the lowdown on mulch options
PROBABLY the biggest mistake most gardeners will make is, either not mulching their gardens, or if they do, using the wrong type of mulch, both to the detriment of the garden. Many plants will tolerate the full blast of our hot summer sun, providing their roots are kept cool and moist.
As the root zone begins only four centimetres beneath the soil surface, plants can be badly damaged if the soil becomes hot and dry beyond this depth.
The best time to mulch new plantings is right after you plant your plants. Around established plants, mulch is best applied in late summer and early spring. This is when plants are beginning to grow and before weed seeds start to germinate.
Though we may not have the hundreds of mulching varieties that are found in other parts of Queensland, what we do have can be regarded as the very best and the very worst choices for our gardens.
The following are some of the mulches with a proven track record for Central Queensland:
Creek Stones – This my favourite mulching material as with it you can not only provide the traditional mulch uses but also use it to become a landscape features of the garden. Creek stones are permanent and are best used for permanent plantings such as foundation plants. A 50mm layer of small rocks will provide good weed control. Do not use them around acid-loving plants since the rocks may add alkaline elements and minerals to the soil.
Cypress Mulch – is a natural termite resistant mulch obtained from the Western Queensland White Cypress. The mulch has a honey tan colour that is long lasting and smells fantastic in the garden. Cypress mulch is easy to apply and spread in the garden and is stable in windy areas making it a landscapers favourite.
Forest mulch or Chipped Green Waste – This is the mulch that is produced by the chipping of the green waste from our domestic trees and shrubs and is a very readily available locally-produced product. This potential green waste is being turned into a benefit for our gardens. I find using forest mulch to be very beneficial in landscaping as it quickly matts and works well in controlling water run-off. Rockhampton residents are able to get free forest mulch from the Lakes Creek landfill.
Hard wood chip – This mulch is usually produced as a by-product at sawmills. The larger size of this mulch has an advantage over lighter mulch of being less likely to be blown away. The disadvantage is this much can cause nitrogen draw down.
Hoop pine bark – This is relatively new to Central Queensland, but has adorned some of South-East Queenslands most attractive landscaping projects. The best attribute of the hoop pine bark is its ability to absorb small amounts of moisture without becoming rotten, making it ideal for those exposed landscaped areas, of which we have an abundance of around Central Queensland. It is best used at a depth of 75mm.
Red wood chip – Is a long lasting mulch that add a contrasting colour accent to any formal garden. Coloured mulches are great for brightening up that dull spot in your garden or highlighting a feature plant or artistic piece and providing a strong colour contrast to the foliage.
Refined pine bark – Pine bark has long been a favourite much for those gardeners who want a neat, completed appearance to their gardens. However, up until recently, all that has been available to local gardeners has been mixture of sizes, where it is not uncommon for some pieces of bark to be over 300mm in length. Now, the refined bark will give the garden enthusiast an even sized mulching with pieces averaging 25mm.
Straw mulch – When planning to cover a large area, this is by far the best value for money, as a bale of straw will only cost a couple of dollars and should be able to cover a minimum area of 6 m2. Clean, fresh straw will eventually break down over a period of around six months, so it is well advised to use a minimum depth of 150mm to provide full protection for the plants. It is also advisable to give the straw a light dampening-down after laying.
Sugar cane mulch – This is the very best mulch available. This is the harvested tops of sugar cane plants removed prior to cane-cutting. It is guaranteed to be totally weed-free, because, unlike other straw mulches, there are no seed tops to contaminate your garden. It is best used at a minimum depth of 100mm and watered lightly after being placed on the ground.
Tea-Tree mulch – This mulch is by product of the tea-tree oil industry. Most of the tea-tree mulch sold in Central Queensland being from the Byfield area. Tea-Tree Mulch is dark brown in colour and very fragrant. In the garden this mulch is quiet easy to spread yet it will stays in place. I have found this mulch ideal for sloping gardens as well as spreading around existing gardens.