Lawns and gardens can often benefit from the laying of mulch. Mulch serves various purposes in lawns and gardens, and many experienced lawn and garden enthusiasts lay mulch to ensure their properties make it through spring, summer, and fall unscathed.

First-time homeowners with little or no landscaping experience may not understand the benefits of mulch, which can be used to strengthen soil and protect properties from the elements. What is mulch?

Mulch refers to a material spread around or over a plant to enrich and/or insulate its soil. Many homeowners prefer mulch made of wood chips, which is both effective and readily available. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that organic mulches, which include leaves, wood chips, compost or grass clippings, can be used by homeowners who want to develop eco-friendly landscapes. Why mulch? Mulching can benefit plants around a property in various ways. Many people lay mulch because the mulch helps the soil retain moisture in the summer when temperatures tend to be at their hottest. This can help plants survive summer heat waves.

Mulch also can be used to suppress weeds. Weeds, which steal moisture plants need to build strong roots and survive summer, need light to grow. When laid correctly, mulch deprives weeds of the light they need to grow. Organic mulches can even provide homes for crickets and a type of beetle that feed on weed seeds.

Mulch also can deter harmful pests depending on the type of mulch homeowners choose. When purchasing mulch, homeowners will have to choose between the aforementioned organic mulch or man-made mulches, which may be made of plastic or rubber. While man-made mulches may repel pests, they also can have adverse effects. Plastic, for example, can heat up in the summer and cause plants to burn. Certain organic mulches can repel insects that can threaten plants. That's because the majority of organic mulches increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in the soil, and they also increase the presence of helpful insects that do not pose a threat to plant life. Those helpful insects help keep harmful insects at bay. Compost is a type of organic mulch that may attract harmful insects. While that does not mean homeowners should shy away from using compost as mulch, they should know that they may need to employ organic insecticides to combat their unwanted guests.