So you've removed your lawn... Yay! So now what?
All too often I've seen lawns replaced with vast areas of mulch instead of dense plantings of natives or other sustainable plants. Yes, we must plan ahead for mature sizes of trees and shrubs, but that doesn't mean that you need to lay down only mulch while you wait for your trees to grow. Look at this example:
Sad case study
|A too-much-mulch landscape.||The same landscape from the other end.|
Removing lawns is a great idea and mulch is certainly recommended between plants to reduce weeds, keep in moisture, and to improve the soil, but mostly mulch landscapes are not a reasonable answer for several reasons. It is not maintenance-free, it is not an inviting ecosystem for pollinators and other wildlife, and the dyed cypress mulch used in this landscape is not a sustainable product. Whole cypress forests are being shredded to feed our need for mulch. The dye is completely unnecessary, some say it's harmful to the environment, plus it fades to a tired-looking pink. There are more sustainable mulches to use such as arborists wood chips, pine needles, leaves (shredded or not), and more. See my post, Follow the Yellow Mulch Road.
Mulch is not maintenance free
|Most mostly mulch landscapes end up like this one: Messy!!|
Mostly mulch landscapes are weed magnets and need regular care to stay reasonable looking. Mother Nature will sow her seeds on the top of the mulch, deep-rooted weeds will come up from the bottom--yes, even through weed barrier cloth, newspapers, or cardboard.
Attractive and sustainable alternatives to mostly mulch
|Muhly grass covers a non-lawn area beautifully.|
|Bob Chabot, gardener at the Jacksonville Zoo, explains how he plants this savanna with Florida natives so thickly that the kids are not tempted to walk through it. Yes, there's mulch, but it is not the dominant feature; the plants are.|
The choices for attractive non-lawn landscaping are endless and
so much better than endless mulch.
so much better than endless mulch.
|If you buy bagged mulch, you need to remove it from the bag|
for it to work. This bag sat like this for months.
It was along one of our frequent walking routes.
Mulch is not bad
Mulch is necessary for most landscapes where you have a planting design. It keeps down weeds, it keeps in moisture, it reduces temperature fluctuations, and it eventually enriches the soil.
Choose a mulch made of plant material, chipped wood, pine needles, sawdust, dead leaves, but as mentioned above, not the cypress mulch.
Do not use chipped rubber because it releases toxins into the soil and doesn't enrich the soil.
While stones or gravel are widely used as mulches in more arid climates, they don't work particularly well in Florida, because our annual rainfall averages from 50 to 60 inches. With that much rain, weeds will grow in the rocks and soil will form. You're better off with a plant-based mulch that needs to be renewed every couple of years until your trees and shrubs drop enough of their own mulch.
|Cypress mulch is the least sustainable choice.|
|Underground critters often push up weed barrier cloth making|
a mess and causing it to be less effective.
A note on weed barrier cloth or geotextiles:
I have changed my mind on the use of weed barrier cloth (woven or non-woven) in the landscape for a number of reasons:
1) Weeds still grow on the top of the mulch or rocks or whatever.
2) Roots of both the desired plants and the weeds grow into the cloth to use it as a nice growing medium.
3) Animals that tunnel in the soil will find the edge or the seam and push it out of their way. And there is a surprising amount of underground activity.
4) It's a real pain in the butt to remove it.
It's not cheap and it's pretty much ineffective. So why use it?
I've used several different types over the years and some are rated to last 30 years in the landscape. To that, I say baloney.
|A failed weed barrier effort.|
I hope you are listening to your own landscape, because advice from others, including me, goes only so far. You are the one who knows your landscape the best.
Green Gardening Matters,