Fall mulching guide for Atlanta homeowners

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When summer winds down and the evenings get cooler, yard work should move to a top spot on your to-do...

When summer winds down and the evenings get cooler, yard work should move to a top spot on your to-do list. Mulching your flower beds, patios and landscaped areas in the fall keeps the soil warm during winter months. Mulch protects plant roots from freezing or being pushed to the surface as the soil expands during the cooler weather. Adding a fresh layer of mulch in the fall means you'll have healthier plants when spring rolls around.

When to apply mulch

Plan to spend a day laying down mulch in October or November, or just before the weatherman calls for the first freeze. The ground should be cool but not frozen. Start by covering the ground with weed barrier paper, newspaper or landscape cloth. Use ground staples to secure the barrier to the soil.

Then, add a 2- to 3-inch deep layer of mulch to your landscaped areas. Using too little doesn't provide enough insulation from cool weather. Using too much mulch makes it difficult for moisture to penetrate the barrier and nourish plants.

Choosing your mulch

There are two categories of mulch: natural, organic mulch and manmade, inorganic mulch. Within each category, there are several options to choose from. Choose a mulch that coordinates with other landscaping features in your Atlanta yard. For example, if you have a backyard patio with a pea gravel substrate, consider using earthy wood or rock mulch.

Organic mulch

Grass clippings: When mowing your lawn, save the grass clippings. These can be used to mulch around plants in a garden or in small landscaped areas. When first applied, this mulch has a lush, green appearance. After a week or so, the color will fade to a tan-gray color. For the best presentation, replace grass clippings each time you mow.

Bark chips: Head to the home improvement store for bags of bark chips, also called bark nuggets. These smooth-edged, large pieces of wood mulch are great for covering large landscaped areas. The smooth texture makes them a safe option to use around children's play areas and in yards with pets.

Shredded wood: For a more rustic appeal, use shredded wood as mulch. Although this is one of the most inexpensive mulch options, it does come with a few hazards, such as splinters when walked on with bare feet. Also the color of the mulch fades gradually. Plan to rake shredded wood mulch once a month so it discolors evenly.

Nut shells: Get into the recycling movement by choosing shredded walnut or pecan shells. The dark brown mulch is great at retaining moisture and is inexpensive in the south where pecans are harvested.

Pine needles: For a woodsy appeal, use pine needles as mulch. This ground cover looks natural when placed around the bases of evergreen trees. The small, slender size of pine needles makes them stay put better than larger mulch options. Use pine needle mulch on slopes and around acid-loving shrubs.

Rocks: For a long-lasting, natural mulch, consider rock. Larger lava rock with a red tint coordinates well with brick homes, while gray pea gravel looks classic near homes with a white exterior. Rock comes in a variety of sizes and colors to coordinate with nearly any landscaping style.

Inorganic mulch

Recycled rubber: Have you ever wondered what happens to recycled tires? Some of them are ground into small, irregular-sized bits and sold as mulch. The spongy ground cover is soft enough for children to play on and lasts for years--unlike organic options that will decompose over time.

Recycled glass: If you have a small area to mulch, consider using recycled glass. The smooth pebbles come in a variety of colors that glisten like jewels, making them the perfect artistic accent to a garden or decorative planter.

Recycled plastic: Like recycled rubber, plastic mulch is a byproduct of waste. This type of mulch is long-lasting and won't degrade over time. Although plastic mulch is available in various colors, choose light hues such as white or cream to deflect sunlight. If the mulch will be used exclusively in the shade, black may be used. Black recycled plastic mulch will fade if exposed to the sun.

Where to use mulch

Although mulching adds a finished look to your landscaped areas, it's functional, too. If you're planting new shrubs or small trees at the end of summer, use mulch to give new plantings a good start. The ground cover protects new roots from the first frost and keeps moisture in place as the plant's root ball slowly crumbles and mixes with the soil.

So, are you ready to get your lawn ready for the fall? Give an Atlanta-area landscaping company a call to get recommendations and a price quote.

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