Bare dirt?! Let’s get that covered.
My flower gardens and greenhouse floor are covered with cedar mulch and I love it. All garden areas should be covered with some type of mulch (and there are many to choose from) to keep your plants, soil, and garden at its best.
This list of benefits might convince you:
It absorbs moisture and helps to keep the soil from drying out
It reduces soil erosion from rain and stormwater
It keeps weeds down
It keeps the soil warm as temperatures get colder
It looks nice and gives your garden a finished look
You’ll get those benefits from all types of mulches (more on mulch options below).
But I LOVE cedar mulch for some specific reasons. I first started using it as my greenhouse floor, and I wasn’t sure if it would be a good choice. But I needed a floor that was easy to put down, that I could do quickly, and that didn’t cost much. ALL of my energy was going to figuring out how to build the greenhouse, so I wanted a simple floor.
It turned out to be a fantastic choice. If you have the time, money, and resources to create something a little fancier, I think that’s wonderful. I absolutely love brick, stone, and pea gravel floors. But, if you’re like me and just can’t do those, then cedar mulch is a great option. Here’s why:
It breaks down slowly
It’s insect resistant
It smells amazing
Cedar breaks down more slowly than hardwood mulch, and this is a plus when you want a floor that lasts a while. It’s also insect resistant (think cedar chests for clothes storage), particularly termites, some ant species, roaches, mosquitoes, and some beetles. And perhaps my favorite reason is its scent. Imagine opening the greenhouse door on a Fall day and stepping in. The sun has been warming the greenhouse and the doors have been closed; the sweet cedar scent is pleasant, earthy, and strong.
I then expanded the mulch and added it to the border around the greenhouse so it would match. One thing led to another. I added it to the paths between and around my six raised beds. (They are adjacent to my greenhouse and I wanted it to match!)
The raised bed area is connected to my rain garden and so it just kept going. My rain garden has perennial plants and a silky dogwood tree. I purchased bags of mulch and they cost about the same as hardwood mulch.
Now, for all my love of cedar mulch, it’s just not the best mulch for every area. There are some instances when you will want to choose something else.
When to NOT use cedar mulch:
In areas where there will be chickens
In your vegetable garden
The chemical in cedar mulch is toxic to chickens. And since they love to pick at the ground, it’s best to keep it away from those areas. In vegetable gardens, you’ll want a mulch that breaks down quickly (a few months) and adds beneficial nutrients back into the soil.
In addition to knowing when to not use it, I’d also like to share HOW to use it.
If using it around trees and shrubs - especially fruit trees - you’ll want to do the following:
Keep the mulch from touching the trunk of the tree
Add the mulch over top of a layer of compost
When mulch is placed up against the trunk, it retains moisture which can lead to wood decay and fungal growth on the tree. It’s best keep the mulch several inches from the trunk. Adding a layer of compost under the mulch will help keep the tree healthy by breaking down into the soil and adding nutrients that feed the tree.
Lastly, I’ll add one more thing to consider about cedar mulch. I’ve read that along with deterring some insects, it can also deter pollinators and other beneficial insects. I haven’t experienced that in my garden, as it happily buzzes with bees, dragonflies, and butterflies all summer. I’ve found conflicting advice on this, with some folks saying cedar is a great choice for butterfly gardens and some not. I like to present thorough information, so I’ve included this bit.
So, what other types of mulch can be used? For areas where you don’t use cedar, consider the following:
Leaves and compost are great options for vegetable gardens since they will protect the soil, add nutrients, and break down quickly. Pine needles, wood chips, and hardwood mulch make great landscaping paths.
Each of these has their pros and cons, depending on what’s available to you, what your garden area needs, and what aesthetics you’re going for.
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