I don’t know if this is the case in the rest of the country, but here in south central PA, you know it’s spring when the bark mulch starts to be delivered and spread. I don’t ever remember seeing this mulch until I moved to PA. Here, bark mulch is ubiquitous. Every suburban house, every shopping center and every institution with landscaped grounds uses this brown mulch.
I have to say that it does make beds and borders look neat and clean and it does a good job of preventing weed growth. There can be a few fungi problems like artillery fungus (Sphaerobolus), stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus), bird’s nest fungus (Cyathus olla) and slime molds (caused by a variety of fungi), but they’re just saprophytes breaking down the bark and living off of it. Personally I’ve never had a big problem with any of them. (This summer I’ll try to capture some pictures of these various fungi if and when they appear).
Over the years of mulching, I’ve learned a couple of tricks that make the job a lot easier.
In years past I wouldn’t put down the mulch until late May. By that time perennials has started to grow and annuals had been planted. There were weeds that needed to be pulled and it was hard to get the mulch around the plants. A lot of time was spent on my hands and knees working the mulch under the leaves of various plants.
One year I spread the mulch earlier (I don’t remember why) but since then, I always try to finish the yard by mid to late April. At this time in the growing season there are few if any weeds to pull. The perennials are just coming up so you can sprinkle the mulch on top of them and they’ll grow right through it. And as far as annuals, I just mulch the beds where they’ll be placed and plant them later, carefully pulling the mulch aside as I plant.
There is one down side to spreading mulch early – the soil won’t warm up quite as quickly. But in my mind, that’s a small price to pay in order to make mulching easier. Also, any effect it might have appears to be minimal.
The other “mulch miracle” that I’ve found is a manure fork. This tool is available in any hardware store. It usually has five tines and is the best way to scoop mulch into a wheelbarrow and the greatest tool for spreading mulch. The tines make it easy to scoop up the fibrous mulch (unlike a shovel) and the fork allows you to place the mulch were you want it or to sprinkle a layer over a large area.
What used to take weeks now takes days thanks to mulching earlier and using a manure fork. Seven scoops of mulch are spread and I have to say it looks nice. Now it’s really spring since the mulch is in place – I guess I’ve become a true Pennsylvanian!