Mulching – Timing and Products


Weeds are a given.  They’re a true guaranteed item in a field of gardening and lawn care variables.  In lawn care, common sense turf practices and herbicides can be used to create a relatively weed free part of the landscape.  In landscape beds, we turn to mulch.


The key to mulch effectiveness is to apply it BEFORE weeds such as crabgrass, foxtail, goosegrass and prostrate spurge begin their growth, not afterwards.  Oh sure, if it is applied after they have popped up, some will be killed in a smothering action, but it’s best to think before not after.


Many products can be used for mulch – each with pros and cons:

Wood chips – usually colored and bagged in a variety of colors, but can be purchased in bulk

Stump grindings – usually free, obtained after a tree stump is ground out

Corn cobs – usually colored and bagged in a variety of colors

Pine straw – best if obtained after a pine tree is removed

Cocoa bean hulls – wonderful aroma, but pricey

Cotton seed hulls – interesting texture and pricey

Rubber pellets – available in various colors, but add excessive heat to the landscape bed


Preemergence herbicides such as Preen, Barricade and Balan can also be used in combination with mulch.  These are best applied before the application of the mulch, but can also be used over top of the mulch if it has already been applied.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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