Whether you’re planting hydrangeas, ferns or roses, the types of crops you choose are, of course, one of the most important aspects of your garden’s appearance. However, they aren’t the only significant aspect. Everything from soil to fertilizer to mulch can affect how your plants grow and how your garden looks overall. Mulch provides many benefits to gardens, so if you’re just starting one, it’s worth knowing the basics of the landscape material. Here’s a guide to help you understand what mulch is and how you can use it in your garden:

What is Mulch?
In basic terms, mulch is simply ground cover for gardens and landscaping. It’s often made out of wood chips, but there are a variety of organic and inorganic mulches you can choose from. Other organic materials used in mulch often include pine needles, straw, bark, grass clippings, leaves, hay and more. Inorganic materials are things like white rock and recycled rubber. The type of mulch you choose will depend on many factors, such as your personal preference, where you live and what types of plants are in your garden. It’s always a good idea to do some research about what others typically use in your area, but don’t be afraid to do a little experimenting to find what works best for you.

What Are the Benefits of Mulching?
Mulching actually provides a number of perks to your garden – especially when it’s organic. Why? Organic materials can add nutrients to the soil, while inorganic mulch won’t. Another of the main reasons gardeners use mulch is to prevent the growth of weeds. Because it covers the ground, it keeps sunlight from reaching the soil and nourishing the unwanted plants. Protecting the soil from sunshine provides another benefit as well: It helps your garden retain moisture during the hottest months of the year. Mulch also has an aesthetic appeal. Many people use it to make their garden look well-kept and picturesque.

How Much Mulch Should You Use?
The amount of mulch you use will depend on the plants you’re growing and the type of material you’re using. A general rule of thumb, though, is to cover the ground with 2 to 3 inches of the material. When placing mulch around your trees, try to keep it about six inches away from the base of the trunks. If mulch completely covers the surrounding space, it could cause the trees’ roots to rise closer to the surface of the ground (searching for sunlight and nutrients), which makes them more likely to become damaged.

When Should You Mulch?
When to mulch is largely about personal preference, though most people like to lay a covering over their gardens during the fall to protect the ground from freezing temperatures during winter. Many people also mulch at the beginning of summer to insulate the soil and keep it moist and nutrient-rich. One thing to keep in mind: If you mulch in spring, it’s important you don’t cover areas where your expecting new plants to grow. Seedlings will have a hard time breaking through the ground cover, so you may not get as many plants in your garden as you hoped. Wait until all of your seedlings have broken through the soil before mulching to make sure you don’t cover anything important.

Is there Any Mulch You Shouldn’t Use?
Most gardeners recommend staying away from composted materials, as these are better suited to creating nutrient-rich soil but do not provide ground cover. You should also never use mulch that smells sour, as that could mean it has fermented which can affect the health of your plants.