Mulch supply companies often talk about how amazing their mulch is. But what does that really mean? What's the difference between good mulch and bad mulch and how can you really tell if mulch is good? I want to go into depth with the different types of mulches to see what makes a mulch good, so that you aren't finding yourself mulching the same spot time and time again.
Hemlock Mulch is one of the most abused terms in the mulch world. True Hemlock Mulch is not actually be made of bark, but of hardwood Hemlock. The distinct brown color should have a reddish tint, but many bad mulches have dyed and over dyed the mulch so that people now associate Hemlock with a fake orange-red color. The easiest way to tell if Hemlock mulch is chemically dyed is to grab a handful of the mulch. If your hand is left a reddish color, that's an indication that the mulch is going to fade very quickly. As the dyed mulch breaks down, the chemicals in the dye will be absorbed by the soil underneath, harming your plants, so it is important to ensure that the Hemlock is not dyed. Good Hemlock Mulch should also be soft to the touch.
Black Mulch is another mulch made of hard wood and not bark. Black Mulch gets its color from the wood breaking down over a long period of time. To create Black Mulch more quickly, some manufacturers will add Pine Bark Mulch to their Black Mulch and dye the mulch to make it black. This method will make the Black Mulch extremely susceptible to fading. After the mulch sits under the sun and in the rain for a few weeks, you will notice that the mulch starts to become bleached white. To ensure that you're getting top-quality Black Mulch, check that the mulch is not inorganically dyed. Like Hemlock Mulch, good Black Mulch should be soft to the touch.
Playground Mulch can be made with many different types of materials. Rubber mulch is a popular choice, as it is soft and made of recycled tires. However, the rubber is extremely flammable, so many homeowners choose not to use it. An organic playground mulch is similar to the Hemlock and Black Mulch. Make sure to purchase Playground Certified Mulch that has been tested for any harmful chemicals, and its softness has been tested to break a child's fall from certain heights.
Pine Bark Mulch is generally a cheaper mulch. As Pine Bark breaks down, it better enriches the soil and so it is good for plant beds. Even good Pine Bark will not last as long as Hemlock and Black Mulches which will last one or two years. Bark Mulch is lighter than the mulches made of hard wood, so it will wash away and move more easily. Pine Bark Mulch is more acidic than hard wood mulches, which can be good for some soils. For this reason, it is also said to repel bugs, but don't be fooled into thinking that the difference is noticeable. The mulch should have a dark brown color and will not be completely uniform throughout.
To conclude, good mulch may be more expensive, but will save you money in the long run, because you will only have to mulch once rather than returning time and time again to the same area. Especially in plant beds, it is important to avoid cheap mulch, because dyes and chemicals can harm the soil underneath as it breaks down.