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Q. Is there an all-purpose mulch I can use throughout the different areas of my garden?

A. Looking in garden centers today, with choices ranging from white stone to shredded cypress to cocoa shells, it appears the selection of mulch materials is never-ending. One of the best mulches for garden beds originates in your own backyard. It’s compost. The decomposed organic matter in compost will return beneficial nutrients to the soil in a very usable form. Compost also lightens heavy clay soil and allows better penetration of water and oxygen in addition to increasing the ability of plants to develop healthy roots. Compost is best applied 2 to 3 inches thick once soils have warmed up, after weeds have been removed and after garden beds have been watered well. Keep all mulch several inches away from the trunks of trees, and avoid spreading it over crowns of plants.