Finding a quality mulch can be relatively easy. With a few simple questions and observing the final product, it can be pretty straightforward to find a good mulch (and avoid the bad ones) for your garden.
A naturally colored mulch should be a deep or dark brown. When you break open a few pieces of the mulch, you should see a darker tint; if it’s still white or has a green-ish tint, the mulch may not have been made correctly (or could contain wood that’s not good for your garden soil and plants).
Dyed mulches should (obviously) reflect that color of the dye. It’s still important to break open a few dyed mulch pieces. If it’s white, it is likely made with a white wood and could be harmful to your garden. For more information, please see our dyed mulch blog post.
Garden mulches should be relatively small in size so that it can replace soil nutrients over time. Larger mulches--you typically know it when you see it--are cheaper, but may not be fully cured or processed. These larger sized mulches are great for walkways or forest floors; for your garden, it’s better to find something that will break down more easily to help replace your soil’s nutrients.
A good mulch should have a woody, earthy smell. If you get a scent of alcohol, rotten eggs, or vinegar, it’s likely that the mulch contains wood alcohol and could harm your plants.
Mulch should spread evenly and easily. If the mulch is clumpy or you have to spread it multiple times, it may not be made correctly.
Asking questions about how the mulch is made is really helpful. All mulches should be cured to kill weed seeds and allow the material to start breaking down so it can feed your soil.
Additionally, the starting wood for a mulch has a large impact on its value to plants and soils. if you can find an informed person, ask where they get or source their wood. Here are some of the potential options:
White wood: A porous wood that is frequently used in dyed mulches because it holds the color well. “Recycled” wood from construction, pallets, or crates is often used but may contain lead paint, chromated copper arsenate, and other potentially harmful contaminants.
Mixed wood: Branches from tree trimmings and storms often used for non-dyed or natural mulches. This most closely mimics nature.
Hardwood: Sometimes mixed wood is marketed as hardwood. Pure hardwood mulches last the longest on your garden. We have a blog post on hardwood vs “other” mulches—they are hard to find (and likely aren’t worth the extra money!).
That’s it! As mentioned, buying a quality mulch around Manassas, VA doesn’t have to be hard. And, with a few simple observations and/or questions, you can help ensure that you buy a good mulch for your garden.