The second thing that I believe is imperative to a successful and easy to maintain landscape, is to mulch the beds. Mulch will keep most weeds from sprouting, hold the moisture in the ground, and keep the beds looking nice. Mulch's will also add valuable nutrients to the soil as they decompose. I most often use hardwood mulch for my landscaped beds, leaves in my perennial beds, and straw and grass clippings in my garden and fruit bed. I have the advantage of always having shredded leaves on hand, because we collect them from clients lawns in the Fall, and I usually keep a few truckloads for myself. These leaves have gone through several shredders, so they are cut into very small pieces. I also keep mostly the "dry" leaves like oak. Maple leaves tend to stay wet and mat together, so they aren't as desirable to use as a mulch. I can apply these leaves in the Spring and they last through the next Spring. I also have lots of grass clippings at my disposal, so I usually lay newspaper in the paths of my garden, cover them with grass clippings, and then add a light layer of straw. This also lasts the whole season. I add the straw on top of the grass clippings mainly because it dries out better, and looks nicer.
The bark mulch that I use is always hardwood. I never use colored mulch's for one reason. When you look at a landscape that has colored mulch around the shrubs and perennials, what do you notice first? That's right, the mulch. I believe that when you look at a landscape, the first thing that you notice should be the plants. There should never be anything used in a garden that will take your eye away from the plants. I also don't like the idea that colored mulch's tend to float and move around in the rain.
Hardwood mulch matches the soil color closest, and decomposes nicely. The orange mulch is cypress, which does not decompose quickly, so people tend to just keep piling it on year after year. I have often tried to dig a hole in a landscape with this kind of mulch, and don't hit soil until I am 6 inches down.
The colored mulches, red, black, and even aqua, are usually ground up pallets that have been dyed. I have often wondered if whatever chemicals were stored on these pallets leaches out into our soils after they have been ground up and made into mulch.
Then there is the free mulch that you can usually get from the city. It is usually made from live trees, so as it breaks down it robs your soil of nutrients. This mulch could be made from anything, walnut trees, trees covered in poison ivy, etc. The only place I use this mulch is on paths in woodland settings.
I also occasionally use rock mulch. It is not my favorite thing, but sometimes it is the best choice, in an area of high traffic or for people who don't want to mess with a landscape once it is done. One thing that you should never do with a rock mulch used around plants is to put weed fabric under the rock. What happens when you use this fabric, is the plants roots grow partially on top of the fabric, and partially underneath the fabric. it is a nightmare if you ever want to change it. There is nothing harder when installing a new landscape, than removing fabric that is all entangled with roots from the plant material. It also can not be healthy for the plants. The only time that I use fabric under rock is if I am installing a rock strip along the side of a building.
If you do use a rock mulch in your landscape, make sure that you "plant" a few coffee cans in the beds. You can then put the lid on the can and cover it with rock. Then, in the Spring, pull the rock away, take the lid off the can, fill it with soil, and plant your annual flowers. In the Fall, remove the plant, put the lid back on, and cover with the rock.
Plastic mulch's are sometimes used under rock, but I don't recommend it under mulch. The plants will do the same thing that they do with the fabric, and if you don't poke holes in the plastic, they won't get any water either. Fabric used under bark mulch is also a bad idea. As the mulch decomposes and turns to soil, you get weeds sprouting and trying to grow down, while the plant roots are attaching to the fabric. You don't want to know how hard it is to pull up fabric with 2 inches of soil on the top, and the shrubs roots growing on top and underneath the fabric.
So mulch's are the second "must" for a successful landscape. Tomorrow, the third and last thing that you need to know to keep your landscape easy to maintain.