An island planting is a garden bed in the center of the lawn. This bed may feature flowers, low shrubs, a tree, or a combination of these. Keeping island plantings attractive requires more than just tending the plants; you also need to protect the soil.
Island Planting Soil Issues
Weeds are a major concern in an island bed. Not only the well-known weeds like dandelions and crabgrass but also weedy growth from lawn grasses invading the bed. Weeds will likely out-compete most flowers and small shrubs, as well as make larger shrub and tree plantings look messy and unkempt.
Erosion and nutrient loss can also be a problem in an island planting. Since the soil isn't usually protected with a thick mat of lawn grass, the topsoil can be washed away in heavy rain or as a result of frequent irrigation. Wind can also lead to topsoil loss. With the lost soil comes a loss of nutrients, which can make it hard to keep the plantings in the bed in good health.
Mulch can be the key to solving all of the above challenges. A thick layer of mulch makes it difficult for weeds to grow through -- young seedlings die from lack of light long before they penetrate the mulch layer. Combining mulch with vinyl or brick edging around the bed can all but eliminate the incursion of lawn grass.
Another benefit of mulch is that it prevents soil loss from erosion. The mulch itself holds the soil in place so that erosion from wind and water isn't a major concern. The mulch also acts as a soil insulator. It helps maintain more consistent temperatures, particularly in spring when fluctuations are common. Water loss from evaporation is also less in mulched beds.
Tips and Tricks
It's important to install mulch correctly for the most benefits. You can achieve better weed prevention if you first lay down landscaping fabric then cover this with a 2- to 3-inch mulch layer. Raking the mulch periodically prevents weeds from rooting in the mulch surface.
The right type of mulch is also important. Generally, organic mulches are preferred, but you may want to use rock mulch around plants that prefer dryer soils or in unplanted accent areas. When using an organic mulch, opt for heavier types like bark nuggets as these are less likely to blow away or wash out and into the surrounding lawn.
Contact a mulching service if you need more help.