Why You Should Mulch Your Central Florida Landscape in the Fall

A fresh layer of mulch always helps your landscaping look its best, and boosts your home’s curb appeal! But while you may typically mulch in spring, mulching in fall provides numerous benefits – including supplying your soil with nutrients that will make those spring flowers even healthier. There’s more to learn, so keep reading!

Mulch Protects, Nourishes and Beautifies Your Landscaping

While fall generally isn’t considered the prime time for mulching, applying a good layer during this season is an easy, economical way to help your plants stay alive and well throughout winter. Although our Central Florida winters are relatively mild compared to much of the United States, the occasional freeze still hits – claiming the more sensitive flowers, shrubs and even trees in your landscape. Instead of spending the money (and time and labor, if you do your own gardening and lawn care) to replace plants, investing in some mulch can pay off!

According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Gardening Solutions program, “Proper mulching is an essential component of any Florida-Friendly landscape. Perhaps most importantly, it is the cornerstone of a great weed-control program. Mulch keeps the soil moist longer after irrigation, too. This gives plant roots extra time to soak up water. Mulch also protects plants’ roots from extreme temperatures by creating a buffer between the soil and the air.

“And mulch isn’t just good for your plants; it’s good for your soil. Organic mulches can add nutrients to the soil as they decompose. This improves your soil’s aeration, structure, drainage, and ability to hold nutrients. Mulch can even help reduce erosion and protect plants from certain diseases.”

Reliable Peat Company recommends laying mulch three inches deep to achieve the greatest benefits in insulation, moisture conservation and inhibiting weed growth. If you’re re-mulching, remove some of the old material that has built up over time before spreading the new. However, replacing the mulch entirely isn’t recommended, as you may damage surface-level plant roots.

As for beautifying, mulching in fall gives your property an uplifted, special look just in time for the holidays. If you decorate your yard, new mulch will enhance the festive effect. Also keep in mind that mulch is the perfect solution to spruce up those “dead zones” in your yard where plants and grass won’t grow – such as areas that are always shaded.

In addition, researchers are finding mulching has significant environmental benefits. According to Susan D. Day, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources & Conservation and Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech, having bare soil on your property will cause erosion and sediment runoff. Mulching can help control erosion. Research by Day and Virginia Tech graduate student David Mitchell found that bare soil lost about five times as much sediment as soils covered with mulch.

Popular Types of Mulch for Central Florida Yards

Most people are guided by cost and color, buying the mulch that provides the best aesthetic look for their landscaping at the most economical price. But as UF/IFAS points out, there need to be other considerations – such as origin, durability and nutrient content. For example, the rich blonde color of cypress mulch has made it a popular choice, but some of this mulch comes from Florida’s endangered wetlands. Because its origin is difficult to determine, the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program does not recommend the use of cypress mulch.

Ditto for so-called “utility” mulch, but for a different reason. It comes from local trees and brush, and can contain weed seeds and insect pests that will infest your grass and plants. However, it may be a good choice for driveways, walkways and natural areas if spread far enough away from cultivated areas.

All organic mulches break down over time. When part of their purpose is to nourish the soil, this is considered beneficial. If the main purpose is to define specific areas or landscaping features, installing inorganic materials – such as pebbles and gravel – can save expense and time. Even this alternative isn’t maintenance-free, as you need to first install a woven ground cloth to keep the stones from sinking into sandy soils, and they need to be regularly cleared of debris to look their best. They also tend to migrate into other areas, and could pose a hazard when you mow the grass. UF/IFAS recommends rock mulch be reserved for use on pathways, in dry creek beds or under downspouts.

Rubber mulches made from recycled tires are not recommended by UF/IFAS. They are generally less effective than organic mulches in suppressing weeds. This material also absorbs heat, leading to extremely high temperatures in the ground beneath. In addition, some UF/IFAS Extension staff are concerned about the possibility of toxic chemicals leaching into the soil as the material slowly degrades.

UF/IFAS lists the mulch options available at most home and garden stores in Florida. This is a partial list. Please click on this link for the complete list, which includes descriptions of each type.

  • Pine bark
  • Pine straw (needles)
  • Fallen leaves
  • Mixed hardwood mulch
  • Melaleuca mulch
  • Eucalyptus mulch

Where to Use Mulch – and Mistakes to Avoid

Mulch is an attractive accent to any yard any time of year, but you need to know some basic do’s and don’ts before heading out to the nursery or home improvement center. Florida-Friendly Landscaping recommends mulching to a depth of 3 inches. Maintain a 2- to 3-inch layer around established trees, shrubs and bedding plants. Coarse materials – such as pine nuggets – may be applied 4 inches deep, but don’t allow mulch to accumulate to a greater depth. Adding more can harm plants if the mulch intercepts rain and irrigation meant for their root systems.

UF/IFAS advises the following. “Mulch to the drip line or beyond. The mulched area around the tree should be at least 8 feet in diameter. In the forest a tree’s entire root system, which usually extends well beyond the drip line, would naturally be mulched by fallen leaves.”

But of course, mulch also provides aesthetics that enhance the overall beauty of your property. Home lifestyle writer Lori Johnston and Susan Day provide the following tips for HGTV.

Consider the entire scope of your landscaping – “Some landscapes have big expanses of mulch with a few shrubs poking around,” Day says. “You want to design your landscapes so your shrubs cover all of the soil and you have complete vegetative cover. Then apply mulch to them, to control moisture.”

Choose a mulch that will complement your house, if possible – For an extra “pop,” choose a mulch that complements your home’s exterior colors. It can also be used to enhance your landscape theme and setting.

Avoid these common pitfalls:

“Volcano mulching” – Piling mulch against the base of a tree is known as volcano mulching, based on the appearance it creates. Instead of protecting the tree, it holds moisture, which encourages rot in the trunk. Volcano mulching a young tree can also create a habitat for rodents, which chew the bark – ultimately killing the tree.

Using a layer of plastic or landscaping fabric between the soil and organic mulch – Contrary to prevalent belief, this practice could cause more water runoff and keep your garden from having a clean, streamlined look. It also can prohibit the nutrients from the mulch to absorb into the soil.

Using bad mulch – Cheap mulch isn’t always a bargain. If you don’t know the source of the mulch material, it could contain weed seeds and/or insect pests. Buy from a reliable source – or have it delivered and installed by a lawn service professional

The Take-Home Message

Although we focused attention on the benefits of mulching your landscaping in fall, most of the information provided here applies throughout the year. Now that you’re thinking about lawn and garden care for fall and winter, our blog post – “Preparing Your Plants for Florida’s Winter Season” – offers more season-specific tips for care and maintenance.

The best way to ensure your lawn, garden and landscaping stay healthy during the winter in Florida is to enlist the help of an expert. Daniel’s Lawn Service & Pressure Washing provides experienced landscape design and lawn care services across Central Florida. Contact us today to schedule your appointment with us! Let our pros do the hard work. It’s what we do best!