Designing a succulent garden comes with many factors to consider, but the most important, perhaps, is maintaining moisture control in the soil. Mulching a garden is a great way to help maintain moisture and otherwise protect soil integrity, but what is the best mulch for a succulent garden, and how do you know which is best for you?
The best mulch for a succulent garden are pebbles, gravel, rocks, and stones. Determining the best for you depends on why mulch may be needed. Climate and plant species can also influence your choice. A succulent garden can thrive without mulching; however, using mulch comes with many benefits.
Each mulch type functions a little differently and provides a unique look. Let’s look at some of the best mulch options and the things you should consider when choosing the right one for your succulent garden.
Pebbles, Gravel, Rocks, and Stones: The #1 Choice for Succulents
These options are actually considered inorganic mulch since they do not decompose and supply nutrients. But they will work to retain water provided they are not too large and spots of soil are still left exposed.
Using stones, pebbles, etc., is a very popular mulch choice for succulents, favored by nature herself. Rocks and gravel of all kinds act as mulch for succulents in the wild in many areas across the globe. They can look truly stunning when used in gardens and pots, and they contrast naturally with succulents and make the plant’s colors really pop.
Since they don’t break down the way other mulch options do, you won’t need to reapply pebbles and rocks continually; however, they still come with a bit of work. It can take a keen eye to get something to look as pleasing in reality as it does in your mind, and dead leaves often put a blemish on your display.
So many people adore this mulch option because pebbles and stones offer such variety in sizes, shapes, and colors that gardeners can get really creative with their designs. If you choose to use rocks or pebbles in your display, be cautious in using black or darker colored stones. The dark colors take on more heat when exposed to direct sunlight, which can be hazardous to the soil these stones cover or even burn and damage nearby plants.
Bark/Wood Chip Mulch
This is a popular choice favored by many gardeners. Wood chip mulch is great for retaining water, it’s natural, and it comes cheap. It’s also easy to apply and move around to make way for new plants if necessary.
Wood chips usually weather nicely, maintaining a pleasant up to the day you replace them. These materials generally last a year or two before they start to decompose–which is better than other organic options–and will need to be replaced at least annually.
Straw and Hay
Typically used as mulch in vegetable gardens, straw and hay can help protect succulents in a dry spell if there is nothing better available. However, it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing choice and should be avoided if you live in an area with frequent rain. Straw tends to retain too much water to be beneficial to succulents, and instead, it may cause plants to rot.
Considered “nature’s favorite mulch,” composted leaves are not only effective, they’re free. They aren’t ideal for more formal presentations, but plants love it. Leaves are very effective as mulch; however, they do retain enough moisture to keep the surface soil wet, so some maintenance will be required on your part to prevent over-saturating the soil.
As many newspapers have converted to organic dyes for printing, newspaper mulch has been growing in popularity. The newspaper has been used for decades in many ways to retain moisture, and it can control soil temperature and suppress weeds just as well as other organic options.
Properly Mulching Succulents
Succulents are ideal house plants since they require little care, and they are a great choice for a beautiful, low-maintenance garden in warm climate areas. These plants store water in their leaves, allowing them to go so long between waterings and survive in areas prone to drought.
Conversely, too much water in the soil for long periods of time will rot the stems and roots of succulents and cause the plants to die. For this reason, you must be thoughtful in your choice of mulch, as some options will keep the soil too moist for too long, which will harm your succulents in the long run.
Should You Mulch a Succulent Garden?
A succulent aficionado may quibble with you over the need to use mulch with succulents, as it is a somewhat controversial topic in the niche in the botany world. Some proclaim exactly what has been explained above: mulch will cause the soil to remain too moist, thereby leading to rotting and death of the plants.
Although others will tell you that sparse amounts are acceptable, however, the succulents should be planted in a way that allows for natural drainage. This would require planting them on a slope, in a raised bed, or another way that encourages water to go away from your succulents.
This is not for nothing, as there is merit and expertise behind these assertions that make them worth considering. The common theme in both ideas, however, is soil moisture control. But this is why there is also a large group of people who feel that mulch is not needed for succulents and should be avoided entirely.
However, there is no hard and fast rule for deciding whether or not to mulch, but the fact remains that there are many benefits for most plants that come with mulching, succulents included. And if you decide to go ahead with mulching, the “best” mulch may depend on factors like the climate you live in, the type of succulents you have.
Additionally, you must think about what you want the mulch to accomplish. Do you need help with moisture control, or are you just trying to create a “finished” look? Will your garden need protection against extreme weather conditions? Determining the purpose of using mulch will help you choose the best mulch for your succulent garden.
Organic vs. Inorganic Mulch: Which Type Is Best for Succulents?
Mulch is made from a variety of materials, both natural and synthetic. Some synthetics are made with plastics or fabrics, many of which can contaminate soil when they break down. But several of these options are not meant for succulents and may cause you more trouble in your garden than they will provide you assistance.
In general, organic, natural mulches are best. They work as a natural part of the ecosystem to provide nutrients and protection for your garden. Since mulch material can be sourced from a wide range of places, you should research where the material for your organic mulch came from. It’s possible to find weed seeds or traces of harmful chemicals in some organic mulches that can then contaminate your plants and soil.
4 Benefits of Mulching Succulents
Assists Soil With Water Retention
This is the number one benefit of mulching and typically the main reason why many gardeners and nurseries choose to use it in the first place. By providing a layer of mulch atop the soil, you create a barrier of sorts that decelerates water evaporation in the soil. This will also prevent the soil from over-drying and becoming hydrophobic.
Soil that has become hydrophobic has essentially lost its ability to absorb water. And if the soil isn’t taking in any water, the roots of any plant in that soil will not be getting any water either, resulting in dehydration or even death. Exposed soil has the potential to dry up quickly, and mulch will help it stay cool and remain moist for a longer stretch of time.
Helps Protect Succulents Against Extreme Weather
Mulch will help protect soil from extreme weather, from frost to heatwaves. If soil is left exposed with nothing to protect it on a hot day, it will become hot and dry, but even a thin layer of mulch covering the soil will help keep soil cool so succulents can get through the hotter weather.
The same protective blanket can be provided in colder weather, as well. Granted, most succulents do not tolerate frost at all and face a high risk of death when exposed to frost or snow–with or without mulch. However, some succulents can tolerate frost, and mulch will help these plants survive cold winters by preventing frost from penetrating the ground and attacking the plant directly.
Puts Supplemental Nutrients Into the Soil
Succulents will grow sufficiently and happily with proper water and sunlight and without the aid of decomposing mulches or other fertilizers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or don’t have to provide any additional nutrients to the soil. In fact, many professional growers believe that using natural mulches–such as wood chips or leave–actually do help succulents excel in growth compared to those that are grown without any mulch atop the soil.
Helps With Weed Control
Weeds can happen anywhere at any time. These incessant, pesky plants can be difficult to suppress and control, but mulching your garden can assist in doing just that. Mulch makes it difficult for the weeds to germinate and thus spread, helping to keep your garden free from these intruders.
It is unnecessary to use mulch in a succulent garden; however, succulents can still benefit from mulching. The most popular mulch for succulents are rocks/pebbles, but determining the best mulch for a succulent garden will depend greatly on what you want the mulch to do for your garden. Mulch can help control moisture in the soil, protect plants from harsh weather, add nutrients to the soil, and suppress weeds from growing.