The benefits of nature’s remains

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The shredded bark and pieces of wood that are scattered throughout the flower beds are something more. In fact, discarded pieces of wood, commonly referred to as “mulch,” have quite a few benefits.

Mulch not only protects the ground and surrounding vegetation, but also serves as a water filter for plant life and runoff.

Meteorologist Kristen Curry spoke with Denise Delaney, a gardener with the Austin Watershed Protection Department, to learn more about mulching practices. You can read the interview below to find out more.

Kristen Curry, KXAN News: Denise, what is mulch and what are its important qualities?

Denise Delaney, Austin Department of Watershed Protection: Mulch is a type of organic material that you put on top of the ground to protect it in many ways. This is very common in landscape design, you see it everywhere. But one benefit is in terms of water quality as it prevents erosion and prevents soil from being washed out. It also helps control weeds because weed seeds need light. So if you have mulch on top of these seeds, they won’t germinate and you’ll have fewer weeds. It also helps to reduce compaction. And it helps keep the soil temperature even. There are so many benefits to this.

Kristen Curry, KXAN News: Are there specific types of mulch that we should look for? For our yards and flower beds?

Denise Delaney, Austin Department of Watershed Protection: We recommend that you use organic materials such as bark mulch or shredded hardwood mulch in most cases. Or, if you can find pecan shells, something organic. They are usually packaged at the places where you buy the plants.

Kristen Curry, KXAN News: How about mulching time?

Denise Delaney, Austin Department of Watershed Protection: [January] great time to do it. You want it to be about two to three inches deep. Sometimes this shredded mulch gets tangled. So you might have to go in there and beat it up a little with a rake. You want water to be able to seep through the mulch and into the soil.

Kristen Curry, KXAN News: How often should we remulch? Should we do it once a season? Once a year?

Denise Delaney, Austin Department of Watershed Protection: Well, after you do it the first time, check it out again in six months and see how it goes. Some mulches break down faster than others. So what you will need to add to this and also depends on the many conditions that are around it. But you don’t have to do it more than once a year to complete it.

I know that with the disposal of the Christmas tree, you can go and collect it. Now that the mulch is going to be pretty rough, you know, it’s going to be Christmas trees, I would use this mulch like in an outdoor natural area, more than maybe right in your front yard. I’m not saying you can’t do it, just that it will be a little different from what you know you get in the nursery.

Kristen Curry, KXAN News: When mulching, do you go straight up to the tree trunk and flower stem? Do you leave the small room or is she just all over the beds?

Denise Delaney, Austin Department of Watershed Protection: I’m so glad you asked this because it’s very important to keep it three to five inches away from the base of the plant, be it a tree or a bush, because when the mulch stays on it and gets wet, the bark can rot. And it basically cuts off the plumbing of the tree. And you don’t want it. It can accumulate. Just go down, just pull it away from the base of the tree or bush, make a small base and maybe to help catch water. Many people just mulch right around the ring of the tree, but you want to get as far as possible to the drip line because those tree roots compete with what’s growing under the tree. A tree is much happier if there is mulch underneath so it can get all the water and nutrients.

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