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Mulch keeps Nashville landscapes healthy and looking snazzy. Such a small touch adds so much value: It amps up the appearance while taking extraordinary care of your plants while saving you time, energy and money. Mulch keeps roots warm in cold months and cool in hot months. It snuffs out weeds, conserves water and curtails soil erosion. Organic mulch decomposes and nourishes the soil that nourishes your plant roots.

Not all mulches work for every situation. The following overview of five mulches will give you an idea of some of the differences among them.

Photo: pineconesofthenorthwest.com

Pine Needle Mulch

Pine needle (aka pine straw) mulch is collected from the floor of pine forests. It is lightweight and allows water to seep easily through to the soil. In general, it stays in place, an advantage during heavy rainfalls and when used on slopes. The needles form a mesh-like structure that prevents soil erosion. You don’t need to replace this mulch as often as some others, because the needles are slow to decompose. When they do decompose, they will enrich the soil with nutrients. Pine needles are acidic by nature, and your acid-loving plants (e.g., azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons) will thank you.

Pine needles turn gray as they age. Some people find that attractive; some people don’t.

Photo: TrishEllenC

Cypress Mulch

Cypress mulch is made from the bark and the wood of pond cypress trees and bald cypress trees and comes both shredded and chipped. Shredded is usually preferred. It stays in place better and composes faster, and nearly all plants benefit from its nutrients. A distinguishing characteristic is that it repels insects and reptiles in addition to weeds. Cypress mulch is a particularly attractive cover and has a unique, fresh scent when it is newly installed. It weathers to a pretty soft gray that is considered a bonus. The shredded cypress mulch is on the lower end of the cost scale.

The most voiced complaint about cypress mulch is that its source is non-sustainable, and wetlands, such as in Florida, are suffering from the loss. Some manufacturers, however, claim their mulch is only taken from waste cypress.

Photo: Kurt Waller

Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch is made from the bark of the cedar tree and is sold shredded or chipped. Shredded, airy and fine, works best with smaller plants. Chipped, heavy and dense, works best with larger plants, bushes and trees. Cedar mulch takes years to decompose, so it’ll be a while before you have to replenish it. The resins in newly installed cedar mulch emit a really pleasant scent—think of a cedar closet. And also like a cedar closet, it keeps away insects.

Cedar is one of the more expensive types of mulch. Unfortunately, some manufacturers “fill in” with other types of wood dyed to look like cedar. Make sure you know what you are buying.

A problem with cedar mulch is that it takes nitrogen from the soil that plants need.

Photo: Cheryl Adams

Cocoa Bean Hull Mulch

Cocoa mulch is made from the shells of cocoa beans, and when it’s newly installed, the air is filled with the smell of chocolate, particularly after a heavy rain or when the sun beats down on it. It’s a luxurious-looking mulch. The deep brown color looks like soil. Plus, it will never bleach out. It gets darker and richer with age. Cocoa mulch attracts earthworms to your garden ,and they will aerate and fertilize the soil.

The problem is, just like chocolate candy, cocoa shells can be hazardous to your pets (and your neighbors’ pets). Some brands are treated to remove the danger (i.e., theobromine) and the smell that attracts dogs and cats. Regardless, you need to be aware of the risk.

Photo: Swing Set Solutions

Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is 100% recycled rubber, mostly tires. It can be used in various situations, but it is most valued for playgrounds. It’s durable and non-toxic. It’s practically permanent: it doesn’t blow away or decompose, and the color doesn’t fade. Best of all, the kids won’t get splinters and they have a soft place to fall.

It’s heavy, so difficult to spread around. When it is newly installed, it can have an unpleasant odor that might last longer than you’d like. Maybe the major reason you don’t see it around more is because it’s considerably more expensive than any other mulch. You’ll have to weigh that against how long it lasts and its other advantages.

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