Making Sense of Mulch

Mulching—or covering a garden surface with a layer of mulch material—provides plenty of advantages to your summer landscape. We’re all (sort of) accustomed to the hot, dry summers here in Arizona, and while our native plants can tolerate our desert climate (once their roots have been established), the sweltering sun can prove too much for other plants. If you haven’t yet, now is the time to lay down some material before the summer heat really hits. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you make sense of mulch!


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Benefits of Mulch

The main advantage of mulch is that it acts as a barrier between the sky and the soil, helping to retain soil moisture and keep your garden’s roots cool and comfortable. In doing so, they also block the sunshine that pesky weeds need to grow and spread, reducing their presence in your garden. Another great benefit of mulching your landscape is that it can double as a fertilizer as it breaks down, depending on the material you choose.

Not only are these materials functional, but they also provide an aesthetic benefit! Choose from a variety of different sizes, textures, and colors to find one that best suits your garden style. You’ll appreciate how mulch can make your landscape look tidy and polished--and help to reduce your water consumption!

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Types of Mulch

There are plenty of types of mulch available to sprinkle around your garden, all with different purposes. Even compost can be considered a mulch! Here are three types that we recommend and what they’re best for:

Blommer Cocoa Shells

This product is made of the outer shell of cocoa beans, giving it a rich, chocolatey-brown color that adds natural elegance to your landscape. Cocoa shells help to retain moisture in the soil without soaking up too much water and becoming soggy themselves. Also unique to cocoa beans is that they actually get darker over time, whereas other traditional materials tend to get lighter. Cocoa shells are an excellent mulch material because they organically nourish the soil with nitrogen and phosphate, doubling as a natural fertilizer. Keep in mind—cocoa will emit a sweet smell in your garden that might be attractive to animals. Since cocoa contains the same compounds found in chocolate that dogs can’t tolerate, we recommend using a different type of mulch if dogs will be allowed to roam the area.

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Garden Time Shredded Western Red Cedar Bark

Shredded bark is another common and effective ground cover for your garden. Red Cedar mulch is a popular choice for its attractive reddish color and natural look. It leaves a lovely aroma of cedar while helping to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Garden Time Shredded Western Red Cedar Bark is finely-textured, perfect for creating a light protective layer around smaller annuals and perennials. Cedar is also naturally pest-resistant and doesn’t decay as quickly as other materials.

Garden Time Medium Nuggets

These medium pine bark nuggets are a lovely decorative groundcover for all areas of your landscape. Nuggets are easy to apply to walkways, garden beds, and around your home and patio, helping to retain moisture and suppress weed growth. While pine bark is known for its longevity, it will organically enrich the soil when it eventually does break down. Since nuggets tend to float in pooling water, avoid using them in areas where water tends to pool or flow.

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Mulch Amendments

If you don’t want to use a shell or wood-based mulch but still want to provide your plants some added moisture retention, we recommend using either E.B. Stone Organics Soil Booster or SummerWinds Planting Mix. These amendments can be used as a layer of mulch to help protect your plants from the heat. Plus, as it decomposes throughout the summer, it enriches and conditions the soil, providing your plants with extra nutrients--and it doesn’t require any fall maintenance or clean up!

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How Much Mulch Do I Need?

The first mulching question we tend to get from our customers is “which type of mulch should I buy?”, which is then usually followed by “...and how much of it do I need?”. Finding the right material is only half the battle. Knowing how much of it to buy can also be a challenge if you’re less experienced with mulching!

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First of all, consider how thick of a layer you’re putting down. Generally, two or three inches of finer mulches is appropriate for filling garden beds, surrounding annual and perennial plants, and dressing walkways. Some plants can even get away with just a one-inch layer. Laying it on too thick can attract fungus and be harmful to plants, so surround them with a thinner layer and avoid letting the mulch touch the plant foliage or stems. If the purpose of the mulch is solely for suppressing weeds or grass and you’re not growing plants in the area, go with a thick layer of five or six inches.

Next, you can calculate or estimate how much you’ll need by following these steps:

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  • Using a measuring tape, measure the length and width of each area you wish to cover, multiplying the two numbers together to find the area’s square footage.
  • If you are covering more than one area in your garden, add the square footage for each area together to find the total square footage you wish to cover. Let’s assume, as an example, the total area comes to a total of 100 square feet.
  • Determine the depth based on how many inches of mulch you want to use. In most instances, we recommend a depth of 2-3 inches.
  • Divide the depth by 12 to convert the depth from inches to feet. For instance, a depth of 3 inches, divided by 12, equals 0.25 feet.
  • Multiply the square footage of the area by the depth in feet to find the required cubic footage of mulch. In this case, our equation is 100 square feet x 0.25 feet, which equals 25 cubic feet of mulch.
  • With this amount in mind, you should be able to calculate how many bags of mulch you’ll need to purchase. Depending on the product you choose, most bags range in size from 1.5 - 2 cu. feet per bag.

Covering areas of your property with mulch does wonders to tie the landscape together, all while helping your garden plants survive another hot Arizona summer. If you’re in need of materials or need help figuring out how much to purchase, visit one of your local SummerWinds Arizona locations! We are also offering home delivery and curbside pickup at this time.


About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.