Mulch is typically shredded bark and ground-up wood products that are used to beautify gardens and flower beds and control weed growth. It provides a nice contrast with grass, while edging and mulching your beds can define your gardens and make your property stand out with a neat and fresh appearance. Always a nice look for the spring and summer.
When should you mulch?
Mulch is typically put down in the spring. But I find that a lot of landscapers do it too early. After a winter without work, mulching early in the spring gets the cash flowing and the workers busy. But if you mulch before blooms appear on the trees, your new mulch will get covered by seedlings and pollen. And when heavy winds and rains in April wash the mulch away, you're left with weary looking gardens before summer even starts!
You also want to wait till your first weeds emerge before mulching. Instead of putting mulch down over weeds that are embedded underground, let them bloom, pull them out, and then mulch. You'll have a better weed-free look all summer.
That's why I consider the best time to mulch to be May, not April.
At that time, it's good to use a weed-suppressing product such as Treflan or Preen. Sprinkle that in your beds before you put the mulch down on top of it to suppress more weeds from coming up without harming your perennials.
What kind of mulch should you use?
All the rage right now in Fairfield County is what's known as Sweet Peet mulch. A registered trademark that is often mimicked and called Sweet Mulch, Magic Mulch, Eco Peet, or 100 other copycat names, it's organic, and it biodegrades into excellent topsoil for your plants and flowers. It's also dark and looks very nice. But on the downside, Sweet Peet is made from cow and horse manure. What do cows and horses eat? Weeds in the fields all day. Sorry to say, the seeds go right through them, so adding that manure to your garden means you're adding weed seeds to your garden! Even weeds that didn't come from the cows' diet seem to thrive in this mulch. I recommend using Sweet Peet every third year -- alternating with two years of bark mulch to get better bed soil and weed control. If you mulch with Sweet Peet every year, your beds will become too "composty" with no barrier against moisture or against weed seeds looking for a place to embed themselves.
Some people frown on the cheaper varieties of mulch that are dyed different colors to look like true cedar bark mulch or true hemlock bark, which is twice the price. People tend to think the dyed mulch is an inferior product because it's so much cheaper. But I've been mulching for 30 years, and I can tell you the dyed stuff is just as good as any of the fancier products. It holds its color, does its job, and looks good as long as any of the more expensive varieties.