“The clear light that belongs to October was making the landscape radiant.” — Florence Bone. 

“Sweet October, fill with praise. Rich and glowing as thy days, every poet’s heartfelt lays.” — Caroline May. 

“O suns and skies and clouds of June, and flowers of June together, ye cannot rival for one hour October’s bright blue weather.” — Helen Hunt Jackson. 

Doing life in the landscape can take on many different descriptions. As the month of October continues one day at a time, our landscapes surely take on different appearances based on who’s making the decisions. Plant selection and placement, proper installation, and curb appeal tend to be at the forefront of this decision-making process. And ultimately, mulches play a major role in curb appeal and landscape effectiveness.

Let’s expand beyond organic mulches and review other choices for mulches that can be as effective, as well as, offering necessary curb appeal. Mulches come in many different forms and shapes including organic mulches (pine straw) that are most attractive in the short term, and mineral or synthetic (inorganic) mulches that offer a more lasting and consistent appearance in the long term.

Advantages of the mineral mulches (stone, pea gravel, etc.) over the organic materials (bark, pine straw, etc.) include their ability to withstand wind conditions and remain intact, their significance in not harboring pests and diseases, and their neutral impact on soil chemistry (do not rob the soil of nitrogen). 

Mineral mulches (fine textured and coarse textured) are used in shrub beds, driveways, walkways, foundation beds, and in steps. Crushed stone and gravel are appropriate mulches for rock gardens and select beds. Some mineral mulches can be custom colored to blend in with features of the home or landscape.

The disadvantages of mineral mulch particles include being thrown by children during play and rotary lawn mowers during mowing (potentially causing injury or damage to people and property), and their tendency to migrate downward into the soil profile over time. The latter can be corrected by using a synthetic fabric placed between the mulch and the soil surface. Also, mineral mulches do not contribute any beneficial organic matter to the soil.

Geotextiles (or landscape fabrics) have been significant in mulches over the last several years. These woven and nonwoven fabrics of polypropylene or polyester are an improvement over the traditional black plastics. They will block weed growth, reduce surface evaporation, and allow water, fertilizer, and oxygen to penetrate downward into the soil.

However, if they are used alone as mulches, geotextiles can be degraded and weakened by the effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. These geotextiles are used more frequently as liners between the mulch and the soil thus enhancing the weed-suppressing ability of the mulch while separating the mulch and soil.

Since several geotextiles are in the market, it is critical to choose the proper fabric. Factors to consider in the selection process include the ease of applying the material to the landscape, the ease with which water penetrates through it, the effectiveness of the material in suppressing weed growth, and the relative cost.

Before any geotextile is placed on the ground, the subject area must be cleaned of all weeds and the surface shaped for effective surface drainage. Most manufacturers suggest that the installer lay the fabric into position and carefully cut small slits where plants are to be installed. 

However, most landscapers who have worked with these geotextiles have found that the application is more accommodating when the shrubs are planted in weed-free soil. The fabric is laid onto the ground and cuts are made to allow the fabric to be worked around the base of each plant. The final step is to apply a 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch on top of the geotextile to improve appearance (curb appeal), reduce wear, and decrease deterioration caused by the sun's rays.

Rubber mulches can be eco-friendly and money-saving alternatives to the traditional bark and wood mulches for landscaping projects, and a form of recycling. Rubber mulches are more durable, cost-effective, and lower maintenance than wood mulches, stone and other traditional landscaping materials. Also, they do not harbor harmful pests like termites, rodents or spiders, and they are resistant to mold and fungus. Available in fade-resistant colors, rubber landscape mulches are a superior landscape solution for your residential or commercial projects.

Rubber mulches are available in several colors including black, gray, redwood, brown, green and blue. They keep their fade-resistant color for several years; will not crack, splinter, blow or wash away; will not compress or decompose; will not harbor insects or diseases; and will not absorb water or freeze. They save trees and provide an opportunity to recycle thus reducing the scrap tire count at landfills. They are non-allergenic and harmless to plants, pets and children without depleting our natural resources and are excellent choices for landscape beds and playgrounds.

Synthetic pine straw is an excellent alternative to natural pine straw which is in high demand and varies in age, color, quality, price, etc. and decomposes readily (about two months of quality curb appeal from initial placement). Synthetic pine straw is made from recycled polypropylene which does not absorb water or chemicals. It is recycled easily from bottle scrap, carpet backing, fiber and yarn.

Synthetic pine straw is an excellent choice for commercial and industrial properties desiring quality curb appeal. Also, it is an excellent choice for homeowners who want an attractive appearance in the landscape and favorable environment for their plants and flowers. The downside of using these mulches in landscape beds under existing trees and large shrubs is the contamination from falling leaves and needles onto the existing mulch surface. If you have selected a mulch different from these falling leaves or needles then clean-up can be problematic, but do-able.

As you match the mulch to the landscape bed, select mulches that are eco-friendly. Enjoy your mulching opportunities.

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.” — Psalm 34:4-7. 

“Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” — Proverbs 4:26-27. 

Seagle is a Sustainability Verifier, Golf Environment Organization (Scotland), Agronomist and Horticulturalist, CSI: Seagle (Consulting Services International) LLC, Professor Emeritus and Honorary Alumnus (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College), Distinguished Professor for Teaching and Learning (University System of Georgia) and Short Term Missionary (Heritage Church, Moultrie). Direct inquiries to csi_seagle @yahoo.com.

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