The benefits of mulch are significant

I have planted a new rose garden and am not sure which mulch is best to use in this garden.

— Gloria

When we talk about mulches, the first choice is between “organic” type mulches and “inorganic.” I’m not talking about pesticide-free and all that, I’m differentiating between organic matter products like bark chips, shredded bark, wood chips, straw, etc. vs. gravels and other rock products. With roses, I’m a much bigger fan of organic mulches. I also like smaller products like small bark and cedar mulch. I think they do a better job of keeping the weeds down, retaining moisture and moderating the soil temperature — all big benefits to a shallowly rooted plant like a rose.

You could also use an even finer product like compost or Soil Pep. They do a fantastic job of mulching but they can sometimes be prone to blowing away if they’re in an exposed spot. Whatever you decide, put down a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer on top of the ground around the plant.

When I’m using an organic mulch, I don’t usually put a weed barrier fabric down under it, but you definitely want to use it with a gravel mulch. As time goes on, an organic mulch will decompose, doing very nice things to the soil under it and to the roses growing in it. A fabric barrier prevents that from happening. You may get a few more weeds (but usually darn few!) without the fabric, but I think the benefits outweigh that.

The cedar mulch in my yard, which is over weed barrier fabric, has been “fluffed” and added to over the past 15 years. I would like to replace it with rock or rubber mulch. Must I remove all of the mulch and residue before installing the rock or rubber mulch over the weed barrier?

— Nancy

I’m afraid you’re going to have to remove it. As time goes by, the cedar mulch under the gravel will decompose, forming a nice organic “soil” that will promote weed growth. Those weeds will come right through the gravel or rubber, which don’t retard weed growth themselves like the organic mulches like cedar or bark chips will. Wish I had better news.

If you have the room, an alternative would be to lay new weed fabric on top of the cedar and then cover it with the gravel or rubber.


I bought two trees at Bookcliff last year, a skyline honey locust and a Washington hawthorne. Both have been in the ground for about a year and are doing well. Last fall I mulched them for the winter with 4 inches of bark mulch. Should I leave the mulch year-round or remove it in spring and summer?

— Joe

I think leaving the mulch around the tree year-round is a great thing. Four inches is a little deeper than I like to see. I’d thin it down to 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep. The mulch will help prevent weeds from sprouting, hold moisture in the soil so you don’t have to water as often and help moderate soil temperatures, which all adds up to a happier, healthier tree.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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