Locations like the Pacific Northwest are blessed with an abundant supply of bark mulch, a byproduct of the timber industry, for use in landscaped beds. Blessed because, while mulch cover is highly prized for planting beds, few areas of the country have access to such a desirable material for this purpose.
Those that do not have access to bark mulch make do with materials such as chopped pine needles (called "pine straw") or the large, irregular chunks of shredded hardwood bark. Those that can get bark mulch have several high-quality options from the bark of Fir and Hemlock trees, ground to various uniform sizes. The particle size in what is commonly called "medium grind" Fir or Hemlock bark allows two significant things to happen: First, it allows for easy grooming and removal of fallen debris, unlike larger, coarser materials. Second, this particle size "knits" together effectively over the summer season, making it a more stable medium for withstanding the ravages of winter weather.
Some worry that bark mulch carries potential pest problems such as carpenter ants. However, industry representatives are unanimous that it is unlikely insect eggs could survive the high temperatures generated within the stored stockpiles of this organic material.
While some HOAs resist the financial burden of routine bark mulch applications, doing without it is much more expensive for several reasons:
- A good two-inch surface mulch covering does wonders to hold moisture in the soil during dry summers. Maintaining this cover is the single most effective way to ensure plant health while reducing water use.
- Bark mulch adds great curb appeal to a property. Real estate agents often suggest it for marketing a property.
- Bark mulch discourages the spread of moss and the germination of weed seeds.
- Organic mulches moderate soil temperatures and protect it from compaction.
Fir bark, which costs a bit less than Hemlock, constitutes the majority of the product purchased. If the potential for barefoot exposure exists, Hemlock is the better choice for its splinter-free qualities. Either material can be specified in either a "bright" or reddish color, or as a darker brown, more natural color.
While other organic covers such as "garden compost" (recycled yard debris) offer some benefits over bark, they also break down faster, hence requiring more rapid replacement.
Inorganic covers such as rock, cinders or rubber do not offer the benefits of organic materials such as cooling soil temperatures and contributing organic matter to the soil through weathering.
Information provided by Willamette Landscape Services. For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, see Regenesis.net .