Mulching How-To

It’s that time of year again and gardeners everywhere are getting the planting itch.  Among your plans for this growing season should be the addition of mulch to improve your soil’s health and keep the weeds out of your garden.  It also improves the view!

If you’ve never used mulch before, the process is very simple.  You’ll want to decide what kind of mulch you want first.  It varies in appearance, texture, and price.  These include pine mulch, cypress mulch, compost, bark, gravel, black plastic, grass clippings, and even shredded leaves.  You’ll receive different benefits from different mulches.  Plastic, for example, will keep the soil warm while bark chunks will aerate it.

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to use, it’s time to prepare the area.  Dig the beds, install borders or edging, and enrich the soil now, if you’re going to.  This is also the time to pull any early weeds and lay down landscaping fabric or plastic.

Depending on what kind of mulch you chose and how you obtained it – whether through a gardening center or from your own lawn – it may not be easily hauled to your garden spot.  Choose an easy means of transportation, whether in a wheelbarrow or bucket, and begin adding mulch to your chosen spot.

The ideal depth is up to you but aim for at least two to four inches.  Avoid shoving mulch right up against existing plants and tree trunks.  You don’t want to suffocate them.  For plants that will be added later, you can create basins in the mulch where they will be planted.  Otherwise, rake the area flat and you’re finished.

Mulch can also be used in the winter by covering pruned plants entirely with it.  This will insulate the plant from the cold.  The next spring, simply uncover it.  Remember, as well, that mulch doesn’t last forever.  You’ll need to renew organic ones every few years since they will have decomposed.  It’s fine to add new mulch on top of the old.

Choosing Mortar For Your Hardcape

When you are at your landscaping supply center loading up on stone for your next outdoor hardscaping project, don’t forget to swing by the accessories and supplies area and pick up the right mortar for the job.  Whether you are installing a new outdoor kitchen, retaining wall, or other hardscape, you will need to choose the right type of mortar for your project.  Mortar is made from Portland cement, lime, sand and water.  The relative amount of each ingredient affects the bonding strength, compressive strength, flexibility, and shrinkage.

Type M mortar has the highest compressive strength and is used primarily for load bearing walls or below grade masonry work such as retaining walls where high compression strength is desirable.  Type S mortar has moderate compression strength, but higher bonding strength than Type M mortar.

Type N mortar has even lower compression strength, but excellent bonding strength and resistance to shrinkage and cracking.  It is commonly used for exterior or interior above grade walls.  You may also encounter type O or type K mortar.  These are low strength mortars typically used for tuckpointing or other masonry repair work.

One other type of mortar is refractory mortar which is specially formulated to be resistant to high temperatures.  It is used to set firebrick that lines the inside of fireplaces.

When choosing a mortar for any outdoor landscaping project, a general rule of thumb is to use the lowest strength mortar that will do the job.  Many landscaping professionals recommend using Type N mortar for most mortar work unless there is some reason that higher compression strength is needed. It’s combination of good compression strength, high bonding strength, flexibility and resistance to shrinkage and weather make Type N mortar a great all round choice.