I've been seeing a lot of red, lately - and in places it doesn't really belong. If you happen to like red roses, red lilies, red cannas and red callas, I am perfectly fine with that. In fact, red is one of the most popular colors in bridal bouquets and floral arrangements. Where I am seeing red and it doesn't belong is as a color of mulch. Colored mulches have become popular, for whatever reason (marketing, I imagine). Appearance is certainly one aspect using mulch in your landscape offers, but that is not the only reason, nor is it the most important reason.
Mulch is one of those things that is truly a mystery to most people. You know you need it, but you're not quite sure why. I've already given you a clue to one of the reasons in a recent post - mulch helps conserve water. As the Grand Canyon demonstrates, water can have a dramatic impact as it washes through a landscape. Mulch disrupts and slows down the flow of water, helping to preserve the structure of the soil and also improving the water absorption. After the water has stopped - from either rain, sprinklers or irrigation systems - mulch shades the soil beneath, slowing the evaporation into the air, again - reducing the need to water more frequently.
The next benefit mulch offers is adding organic material to the soil below. In the wild, plants sprout and then flower and go to seed, finally to drop their leaves and go dormant or die. That cycle of life and death produces organic material for the remainder of the growth cycles. Decaying plant material is the first stage in creating fertile soil and plants actually become the soil.
Now, there are many different types of mulch available, ranging from the bark and wood of different trees, to byproducts of other agricultural processes (manure, cocoa shells, rice hulls, straw), to various stones and even recycled tires. The question I have is this - if you are trying to mimic nature by applying mulch in your gardens, wouldn't it be best if you were as close to nature as possible? This is why I see red - have you ever seen red or yellow tree bark? Some would have you believe the colored mulch is actually beneficial. What compounds were used to color the wood chips? What happens when that leaches into the soil? The same goes for rubber mulch - suggested to be a permanent mulch and it keeps tires out of the landfills. Well, those tires do contain compounds that will accumulate in the soil and are not beneficial.
While stone mulches are natural and uncolored, I am not a big fan of them. They are mostly decorate and they are much longer lasting than some of the organic mulches, they also are difficult to keep looking neat. As a result, many use weed killers to get rid of the unwanted plants that have sprouted up. Stone also retains heat, so in areas exposed to direct sunlight, it actually can raise the temperature of the surrounding area, increasing the need for watering. In some applications it can make sense, so choose wisely.
Landscaping can increase your enjoyment of your home and also provide a little oasis that helps treat storm water, improve air quality and even calm your nerves. To have all this doesn't need to have a negative impact on the environment, if you just apply some common sense and learn from what nature already is telling you.