Mulching Tales, or Cheap Landscaping Redux

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Two years ago I posted about how we mulched the front of our house with a truckload of free mulch that we got a tree company to dump in front of our house. Over time, here and on Pinterest, a lot of people have expressed concern about using mulch (either at all or untreated mulch specifically) against the foundation of the house.

Honestly, before we put the mulch down, it had never occurred to me that it might be an issue. Pretty much every house in my neighborhood has mulch in front of it; it was clear the front of our house had been mulched by someone else before we moved in….it just seemed to be a thing people do.

But I’ve spent a lot of time googling in an effort to get to the bottom of this, and, it turns out, mulch is an incredibly controversial topic. Who knew? Really, I guess most anything can be an incredibly controversial topic on the internet. Anyway, here are my takeaways:

1. Most people who claim to be experts on these things say that it’s not really the fact that you mulch with wood that’s an issue; it’s that you’re creating a layer of stuff that will hold in moisture and make a bug/termite friendly environment. Termites enjoy wood, but they can’t live any time at all without moisture. So it doesn’t really matter if you mulch with treated wood or untreated wood, pine straw, bug resistant cedar, recycled tire bits, etc. The fact that you’re piling a layer of anything on the ground makes it more likely that termites will find right by your house a fun place to live. (Here’s a popular on google article with more info)

2. Lots and lots of people mulch anyway, and it’s generally okay. Thinner layers of mulch are better.

So, to sum up, we’ve decided that we’re personally comfortable with a thin layer of some kind of mulch and keeping an eye on things. And we got up close and personal with two years worth of mulch this past weekend, and I can report that it is definitely not swarming with termites (or bugs in general). But, of course, your mileage may vary; proceed at your own risk and all that.

With all of that out of the way, here’s what’s going on in our own personal mulchland this year:

Our stockpile of free mulch is long gone, and things were looking pretty sad and neglected in the bed in front of our house. The right time to deal with this in Georgia is April or early May when it’s still nice and cool. But we waited until nearly the end of May when it was nice and hot so that we could make yard work even less pleasant than usual.

Here’s the before pic: old mulch and lots of weeds (and hedges that desperately need trimming, but that part’s not happening in this post).


We decided to go with pine straw for the front bed this year, because it’s much cheaper to buy than mulch, easier to spread, and we weren’t up for dealing with another mountain of free tree service mulch just now. And then I had the brilliant idea to rake up all the old, not so pretty these days, compost-y mulch from the front bed and transfer it out back to the garden, where, if you’ll recall, things were looking like this a few weeks ago:


I.e. weedy. We’d been dealing with the grass and weeds in the garden area by just going at them with the weed whacker periodically, but that wasn’t a good long term solution. We needed to kill the grass and cover it up with something, but it didn’t need to look particularly good since it’s not hanging out right in front of our house. Two year old mulch was perfect, we thought!

The process was pretty straightforward. We raked up all the old mulch, pulling out most of the weeds as we went, and then transferred it in wagon loads out to the garden. We bought a roll of landscape fabric to put under all the mulch out there:

landscape03s landscape02s

BTW, Dave really loves that Gorilla Cart. We bought it last year to our replace our wheelbarrow (which was old and rusting through and had a broken handle). It works really well for yard work, and it can double as an all purpose wagon for hauling kids and stuff as well (we used it when we walked to the fireworks last year).

We bought eight bales of pine straw at Home Depot for $3.67 each, and it ended up being pretty much the perfect amount for the front bed (we still need to do the other side and some other areas). Spreading pine straw is SO FAST compared to mulch! It’s the best! Well, that’s what I think right now. I’ll update later when I’ve had more of a chance to compare how it holds up compared to wood mulch. Anyway, it’s looking much better now:

front garden bed mulched with pine straw

I had it in my head before that I much preferred the look of wood mulch to pine straw, but now I’m not so sure. Here it is with the wood mulch, two years ago:

Putting aside the fact that our hedges were trimmed then and our azaleas were blooming, I think I like the pine straw a bit better (of course, had we used expensive mulch instead of free, it would have looked a lot different). Incidentally, learning how to take care of the azaleas is another thing on my list. They’re all alive, and they bloom sort of messily and enthusiastically every year, but I’m sure there’s something I could be doing to make them look more….on purpose. Anyone? Azalea experts?

And here’s how the garden area is looking now:

mulched garden bed

The beans are just ridiculous, by the way. They’re hogging all the sun from the corn. CORN! It’s supposed to be taller than beans no problem! I’m really good at growing beans, historically (and not much else).

There is, as always, much more to be done. Like right now we have this sad pit where the bean teepee is supposed to go (MORE beans, God help us):


And the blueberry bushes next to the driveway could use some of that pine straw treatment:


Look how hard they’re working to make nice berries for us!








Mulching Tales, or Cheap Landscaping Redux — 12 Comments

  1. we mulch and then just leave a little blank right next to the foundation. it looks a little weird at first when the mulch is new, but as it fades and dries it looks fine. 🙂 and i love the pine straw and i bet it smells nice, too! and i want to learn to take better care of my azaleas as well- so pretty when they bloom but after that it’s a gnarly untamed beast.

  2. I have never once been told about all these mulch controversies. Who would have known. We’ve always had mulch to the house and never had an issue with moisture.

  3. I did not know mulch was so controversial. Geez. Landscaping and lawn care are the worst. I actually like that the pine straw is darker.

  4. Loving those berries up there! And your garden looks so awesome Gretchen! You hit on so many key points up there! We will be doing a light mulch this year too!!! Wishing you many more exciting garden adventures! Nicole xo

  5. I love mulch and have heard about the issues but I can’t stand the look of flower beds with out it, so mulch it is for us too. AndI love dark mulch, don’t understand the colored mulch 😉 Your flowerbed looks great now

    • yeah, I don’t see how you could get away with no mulch without spending your whole life weeding, either!

  6. I think you took care of the azaleas, they love pine mulch/needles. The acid is wonderful for them. I have heard the mulch controversy too, I just try and keep a thinner layer along the foundation. Looks great!

  7. Whaa? I had no idea mulch was so controversial! We put mulch down in the front yard this year (there was a TON of it when we moved it, but it was looking a little naked where we planted the new shrubs. In the rest of the front yard we’re going with periwinkle as a weed hiding / choking out solution. So far so good! Love that you managed to reuse the old mulch!

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