Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Key Benefits, Types, and Methods of Using Mulch in California Landscapes

It’s almost insane how many ways mulching adds to the success of California landscapes. It is easily one of the most useful practices one can do in the garden. Mulching is a great way to control weeds, retain moisture and protect your soil. It also hides and protects drip lines, keeps dust down, provides a safe, relatively clean walking surface, and looks better than bare ground. Mulches can prevent erosion on slopes, and organic mulches improve soil structure.

Saves Time and Money

One of the most important benefits of mulching is it saves time and money! By reducing weeds, especially annuals, by up to 90%, landscaping labor costs are reduced significantly. Mulching can reduce or even eliminate the need for costly and toxic herbicides. And mulch can significantly conserve soil moisture, reducing the cost of irrigation. Many California Coast gardens use surface-mounted drip irrigation and mulching serves to visually cover up and protect drip lines, which are vulnerable to damage and weathering, thus saving on costs to repair or replace.

Promotes Healthy Landscapes

Mulching promotes healthy plants and garden areas by reducing competition from weeds by preventing their germination. The decomposition of mulch also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, improving soil by adding organic matter that feeds beneficial organisms. Mulching reduces soil compaction and insulates plants against temperature extremes. A 2-inch mulch layer can cut summer soil evaporation by 20% and lower temperatures in the top 4 inches of soil by 10 degrees. There is a notable improvement in establishing young plants and trees when mulch is used.

Reduces Soil Erosion

Another benefit of mulch is how it reduces soil erosion. Covering the soil simply helps keep soil in place when exposed to rain and wind. This is especially true on slopes, by deflecting the impact of raindrops, which in turn reduces stormwater runoff and creek erosion.

It Just Looks Good

Mulch is often the finishing touch for planting areas. In addition to the functional benefits, it just looks good! A clean, uniform mulch layer helps to really tie the garden together.

Mulching with a Multitude of Materials

There are a wide variety of materials that can be used for mulching. The style and design of your individual garden or landscape will inform as to which types might be best for you. Bark and wood products are the most common types of mulches on the Central Coast. But there are many others, such as stone – from colorful rocks and boulders down to a wide variety of gravel and even decomposed granite. An under-layer of sheet mulching can be employed using newspapers, cardboard and even plastic sheeting. Living mulches (e.g. Dutch white clover) are cover crops planted around crops or between crop rows, adding nitrogen to the soil while discouraging noxious weeds.

We want to call attention to Recycled Organic Mulches. These can include chipped or shredded wood chips, compost, simple fallen leaves or pine needles, or even grass clippings. We also favor chipper mulch from local tree trimming operations. Our endorsement of these recycled materials stems from the fact that these materials are not only potentially an attractive ground cover and mulch, but they are by-products that don’t have to be shipped long distances, and mulching with them contributes to maintaining their usefulness in another form (good for sustainability).

Consider Flammability

With all the benefits of mulching, also comes an issue of organic mulch’s combustibility and wildfire safety. In areas of many California communities, there is a real need to consider how to reduce hazardous conditions, and how mulching can play a useful role and not contribute to wildfire danger.

An in-depth study conducted at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension of landscape mulch types analyzed their relative combustibility, flame height, rate of spread, and temperatures. They demonstrated a wide range of variability in mulch type combustibility, suggesting the need to consider flammability when choosing mulches. In general, it is obvious that the least flammable mulch types should be used closest to vulnerable homes and structures, and the study recommends “not using any organic mulch within five feet of a house located in wildfire-prone areas.”

How Much Mulch?

Planting areas should be mulched as needed to maintain a 2- to 4-inch layer. Plan on refreshing your mulched areas periodically. An annual inspection usually keeps you apprised of how often additional mulching is needed. Keep mulch at least two to three inches away from the stems and trunks of plants to avoid moisture-related fungus and bacteria problems. When mulching individual trees planted in lawns, create a circle of mulch about 2 feet in diameter for each inch of trunk diameter, even out to the edge of the canopy of mature trees if possible. If irrigating mulched areas with overhead irrigation, make sure that the water penetrates the mulch layer. Mulch can absorb the water and prevent its ever reaching soil.

We Love Mulch!

Mulching covers and cools the soil, conserves moisture, suppresses weed growth, slows erosion and adds nutrients as it decomposes. It also hides and protects drip lines. Plus, it looks good. What’s not to love?

Fertigation: Fertilize and Irrigate All in One

Fertigation: Fertilize and Irrigate All in One

Set it, forget it. Give plants the nutrients without all the hassle.

We’re all familiar with irrigation. It’s been a means of maintaining landscapes and growing crops for thousands of years. Applying controlled amounts of water helps supplement natural rainfall and contribute to soil moisture from groundwater.

Fertigation combines fertilization and irrigation, serving as a nutrient delivery system for landscapes. It can be used via drip irrigation, spray nozzles, and heads.

Madrone Operations Manager Erik Gorham has provided fertigation services for almost a decade. He uses the EZ-FLO products to treat a wide variety of landscape issues. To start the process, our trained Madrone team first installs a dispensing system in the valve box connected to the main line of a pre-existing sprinkler system. The unit then feeds both drip and sprinkler zones by micro-dosing the landscape with every irrigation. “You really can forget about it, because part of our landscape maintenance program includes filling the unit with fertilizer every four to six weeks,” Erik shares.

We use Red Frog Compost Teas as part of our organic fertilizer program. The compost tea improves soil and plant health by improving nutrient availability and retention in the soil. “Biology feeds the plant,” explains Erik. “Typically, what plants need is in the soil. But if your soil is depleted, the worm castings offer an excellent soil amendment that is safe around children and pets.”

Savings on labor and energy costs can quickly offset the initial investment in a fertigation system. A homeowner who lives in an area affected by drought or water restrictions may prefer fertigation because they can better manage the nutrients and water supply going to multiple parts of the growing area as well as increase water efficiency. It also gives them the ability to add nutrients directly into the root zone that may be otherwise difficult to access.

Erik sees it as an affordable investment to every landscape. “You chose your plants carefully. Help them mature more quickly and stay healthy by using this easy fertilizer system all year round.”

Meet the Team: Tyler Ellison, Landscape Designer

Meet the Team: Tyler Ellison, Landscape Designer

Madrone extends a warm welcome to Tyler Ellison, who recently joined our landscape design team. With his functional and pragmatic approach, he fits right in! He is detailed yet practical in his designs, ensuring his fresh ideas are both buildable and unique. He loves meeting new friends, listening to their needs and experiences, and working alongside them to create a space they can enjoy and call their own. We look forward to tasting his homemade mac & cheese!

How did you end up at Madrone?
After finishing both the Landscape Architecture and MBA programs at Cal Poly SLO, I was looking to join a Central Coast landscape design company. I worked for around two years for a landscape architecture firm in San Luis Obispo. I have always been a designer and “maker” – so I jumped at the opportunity to work for a design/build company.

What is your favorite thing about working at Madrone?
My favorite thing about working for Madrone is people—both in and out of the office—and the diversity of opportunities it brings me as a young designer.

Sometimes I use Sketchup to help visualize design features and the feel of a space.

What do you enjoy most about your team/department?
I enjoy the unique strengths of each individual, and the various perspectives they lend to design and installation. Their feedback and crititique is a welcome challenge and completely necessary for any young creative.

What do you enjoy most about being a landscape designer?
I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their dreams for a space, and collaborating with them to design a space that is functional, unique, and beautiful.

I enjoy the sketching process starting out any new design.

I love the bold statement of a gold Bougainvillea, but also the softness of a variegated thyme along a path. I would consider Platinum Beauty Lomandra to be my favorite and most versatile landscape planting element. I unambiguously dislike Bradford Pear trees—massively overplanted, messy, susceptible to disease, and structurally weak, to name a few characteristics.

Photo of Platinum Beauty Lomandra from a favorite breakfast spot in Yountville, California.

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work?
Since my first art show in early 2020, I have continued to paint and sell art through an online portfolio, ellisondesigns.com. I love people, plants of all types, exploring new places, live jazz, brewing craft ginger beer, and developing a line of custom reclaimed wood furniture.

Give us a fun fact about you!
If landscape design doesn’t work out, you will find me opening a food truck that serves made-to-order macaroni and cheese and a variety of crunchy and savory toppings.

Meet the Team: Tommy Pritchett, Maintenance Crew Leader

Meet the Team: Tommy Pritchett, Maintenance Crew Leader

It’s a great day to meet the team! Today we catch up with Tommy Pritchett, who works hard every day leading his maintenance crew!

How long have you worked at Madrone?
2-1/2 years

What is your favorite thing about working at Madrone?
Working outside.

What do you enjoy most about your job/specialization?
All the different things I see on a daily basis.

What is your favorite, and least favorite, plant and why?
Chondropetlum is my least favorite – it’s hard to trim.

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work?
Riding motorcycles, fishing, and hunting.

Moisture Manager: Greener Plants AND Lower Water Bills

Moisture Manager: Greener Plants AND Lower Water Bills

Paso Robles Youth Arts Academy’s lawn curb strip was slowly dying off. After four weeks of Moisture Manager treatment by Madrone Landscapes, the curb strip is green again!

Beat the Summer Heat with Moisture Manager Application

As summer temperatures soar, we often start to see burnt plants and grass. Your first instinct may be to solve the problem by increasing the frequency and volume of watering, but that really won’t help address the issue, and you may run afoul of water shortage contingency plans.

If you’re looking to conserve water and keep your lawn and plants green, Madrone’s Operations Manager Erik Gorham has a quick, affordable solution for you: moisture management.

Moisture management begins at the roots. Most of the moisture in your soil is lost to evaporation before the plant can utilize it. An application of a moisture manager helps reduce the amount of water needed by forming a thin film around turf and plant roots. That film attracts and captures water molecules and then stores them on plant roots and soil particle surfaces. These droplets are then released into your lawn.

The product applied to the lawn is a proprietary treatment that comes as a liquid or granule. It’s kid- and pet-friendly and free of toxic ingredients that may cause runoff or contaminate groundwater. “I’ve applied a granular using a whirl spreader and then immediately irrigated the treated area,” describes Erik. “One to two weeks later, I’ve seen improved turf color and increased seed germination.”

As a company that focuses on the effective use of water conservation, plant health, and aesthetics, Madrone’s landscape maintenance teams can work with you to develop a year-round soil moisture management program. If we’re having a dry winter, Erik likes to work with an owner to establish an application schedule where our full-service crew visits two or three times a year to help manage moisture levels in the soil and break the drought cycle in plants.

Homeowners and property managers alike will appreciate our detail-oriented staff, saving on your water bill, and a beautiful year-round landscape.

Meet the Team: Tanner Jannsens, Landscape Construction Project Manager

Meet the Team: Tanner Jannsens, Landscape Construction Project Manager

Tanner Janssens started with Madrone in his early 20’s, and has grown his skill set over the years, and matured as a leader. He has a great attitude for getting things done and is one of the sweetest guys we know.

How long have you worked at Madrone?
6 years

What is your favorite thing about working at Madrone?
I like to build things and make things beautiful.

What do you enjoy most about your job/specialization?
I get to work with great people and I get to see some pretty amazing places on the central coast.

What is your favorite, and least favorite, plant and why?
Ceanothus is my favorite. I like how in the springtime you can look up in the hills and see the blue and white flowers.
I don’t know if I have a least favorite – oh wait, poison oak.

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work?
Hiking, hunting, biking. Salmon Creek is a favorite local hike. Out of the area, it’s Dinkey Wilderness.

Give us a fun fact about you!
I often find arrowheads when I’m out hiking, which can really annoy my friends who aren’t as lucky. Once I found an obsidian spearhead in the Dinkey Wilderness.