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Can Mulch Be a Weed Barrier?

If there’s anything we’ve learned from Jurassic Park, it’s that life finds a way – even when we don’t want it to. Weeds are the bane of every landscaper’s existence because they’re just so darn persistent. Using harsh chemicals seems like an easy solution, but they can prove fruitless, expensive, and dangerous for the environment as well as those around you.

To avoid these complications, you may consider mulch as a natural solution for controlling your weed problem. However, it’s worth asking if organic material can win the never-ending war against weeds?

As you might suspect, the answer isn’t as complicated as a simple yes. Mulch in no way repels weeds. However, when used to create a natural barrier, it does prevent the growth of weeds. To fully understand this, we need to understand why weeds grow in the first place.

Organic Substitute for Weed Killer

Weeds are just like normal plants, but they’re less picky. They’re looking for nutrient-rich soil and plenty of light. Mulch can help combat both of these needs by creating a layer that prevents seeds from reaching the soil they need to germinate and blocking out the light the seedlings need for growth. Simple enough! Mission accomplished, right?

Not exactly. Anyone who has used organic mulch before has watched it deteriorate from pristine beauty to a faded shadow of its former glory. As the mulch decomposes, it turns from the perfect natural barrier into the perfect breeding ground for weeds. Over time, the mulch becomes a nutrient-rich soil and no longer acts as a barrier against the light — creating weed heaven.

How to Prevent Weeds From Growing Through Your Mulch

Landscaping your yard can be a challenging, but rewarding achievement. It takes hard work and patience to clear the area and put in the plants of your choosing. After all that hard work, weeds are one of the last things you want to see sprouting through your beautiful landscaping.

Not only do weeds steal nutrients from the soil that your other plants depend on, but they also take away from the overall appeal. Although these weeds seem relentless, there are preventative measures to minimize the chances of their growth.

1. Get Rid of Existing Weeds

The first step to having a great landscape is to clear the area of existing weeds and mulch. It’s important to get rid of the old much because it can begin to rot once it’s buried, affecting nearby plants and making the soil harder to work. Weeds can be manually pulled out of the ground, but make sure to take out the roots while doing so.

Consider pulling weeds after it rains. After it has rained, the ground will be softer and you can have an easier time getting the roots out.

You can also use a glyphosate product, such as Roundup, to kill undesired weeds; however, be careful with how you use it to prevent it from spreading to your plants. Vinegar is a cheaper, eco-friendly alternative to glyphosate products. Vinegar does not kill all weeds, but it does work well on younger plants.

If you try any of these methods, keep in mind that they will only be effective if they kill the roots of the weeds. This process usually takes a few days, and you may be better pulling them out by hand.

2. Prevent the Growth of Weeds

Once you have cleared the area of pre-existing weeds, you can move on to the prevention stage. Weed growth prevention is important to slow or stop the growth, which will help protect your landscaping for a longer period of time. Preventative techniques include physical barriers and pre-emergent products.

These physical barriers can be layers of plastic, paper, or cloth that lie between the soil and mulch. When choosing a barrier, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you being environmentally conscious?
  2. Do you have a long-lasting barrier?
  3. Do you need more airflow for your soil?
  4. Does your soil have easy access to water?

While plastic barriers work quickly to kill the weeds in the ground, it has other risks for long-term use with your landscaping. Due to plastic’s lack of permeability, you need to make sure that your plants are getting enough water through the soil. This could be done through drip irrigation, which provides water directly to the desired plants.

One inexpensive way to create a barrier is to use old newspapers or cardboard. Although these will break down faster, they are a more eco-friendly option.

Here are the steps to creating a physical barrier:

You may also want to consider pre-emergent products as another form of weed barrier. While glyphosate products work from the surface of the plant, down to the roots to kill existing weeds, pre-emergent products work in the soil to prevent weed seeds from germinating.

3. Use Mulch to Stop Weed Growth

With or without a barrier, using mulch correctly will help decrease weed growth. By covering the ground in 2-4 inches of mulch, weeds will not have sun exposure. The better you are at maintaining that same depth of mulch, the better you will be at preventing weeds from growing through.

So how do you prevent your biggest asset from becoming your worst enemy? Regular maintenance. 

Keeping your mulch dense and fresh will make sure weeds never find a foothold. But, what mulch is the best for your landscape?

How to Choose the Right Mulch

Choosing the mulch that is right for your needs is as simple as understanding the pros and cons of your mulch options.

Grass clippings and straw: This combination can function as nutrient-rich mulch with a sort of self-sustaining availability. As your lawn grows taller, your mulch availability increases as well. However, the potential drawbacks to using clippings as mulch are that they don’t last very long, they’re susceptible to wind, they don’t look that great, and they may contain seeds which could compete with other plants. Clippings are a great option for your lawn but less so for aesthetic arrangements like bushes or flowerbeds.

Rocks and pebbles: These serve as a very low maintenance option that look beautiful, but their inorganic nature can serve as a double-edged sword. When creating the mulch bed, the initial investment is considerable, and the labor is very physically intensive.

Rocks and pebbles’ incredible durability can also present hazards to people and vehicles if they get displaced out of the bed because they do not break down over time like organic mulch. No one likes stepping on a rock or seeing a fresh dent in their car from a stray stone. Furthermore, if you ever decide to remove them in the future, you’ve got your work cut out for you. If you decide to utilize this type of mulch, pebbles are best to minimize these cons.

Wood mulch: The final option is the blend between natural and durable. This offers a natural solution that gives nutrients to the soil, resists weather, and looks great. This is an incredibly popular option for a good reason. Wood mulch’s jack-of-all-trades qualities make it perfect for every mulch bed. 

Gaston Mulch and Soil Provides Fresh Mulch to Stop Weeds

Stop letting weeds be a thorn in your side. When searching for the right mulch, choose a reputable supplier. Gaston Mulch and Soil has mountains of fresh mulch to add the finishing touches to any landscaping project. So, whether you are installing a new landscape or refreshing your existing one, we have the best quality mulch for your needs. Order today.