Q: Every year, it seems I go through the same routine: I have yards of mulch delivered and spend lots of time spreading it around. It looks great for a while, then it gets matted down and turns a rather dreary color. Before I put down new mulch this year, do you have any alternative landscape suggestions?

— Bob, Telford, PA

A: Roger Cook replies: The color of old mulch is the least of your problems. Mulch takes nitrogen out of the soil and can rot plant stems where it comes into contact with them. If you don't remove the old mulch before putting down the new, you can smother plants and kill them. In fact, you can add so much mulch over the years that it provides an avenue for termites to invade your home or causes rot wherever it touches the siding or trim.

My long-term answer to your question is: ground cover, ground cover, and more ground cover. Some suggestions would be vinca, Baltic ivy, spreading juniper, microbiota, ajuga, bear berry (Arctostaphylos), pachysandra, lowbush blueberry, yellowroot (Xanthorhiza), or any number of perennials. If they find your habitat to their liking, they'll save you a lot of labor and expense and will look a lot better than a barren mat of mulch.
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