Some of the most important considerations in developing a landscape plan are maintenance, time and expense. Currently, many homeowners desire a low-maintenance landscape. This is most easily accomplished with a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic mulch such as pine needles, decayed sawdust or pine straw. Although the area is to appear natural it should not detract from the overall landscape appearance.
Choose a mulch which cannot be easily disturbed by wind or erosion. Define the area with a crisp boundary, i.e. don't have grass growing over into the mulch or mulch spilling over onto the grass.
When designing the area, existing trees should influence the design. Don't be stingy with the mulch and make the area too small by cutting the boundaries close to the tree trunks. Incorporate at least half of the drip-line area on large trees and all of this space on smaller trees. After all, if you're naturalizing an area because of a poor stand of grass under the trees, it's primarily because of too much shade and tree root competition; therefore, a general rule to remember is to naturalize all areas that receive 50 percent shade at all times.
"Free flowing" curves can be easily over-used in these projects. Try not to create boundaries that project too abruptly, as they will not appear natural and create hard to maintain areas.
Before spreading the mulch, try to get rid of all bermudagrass and other perennials, fescue, nutgrass, and broadleaf weeds. It's true that a 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch will control weeds - but not by just piling it on top. Several herbicides are effective for home use for most weeds or grasses.
Over the last few years the use of black plastic has declined, while the use of the various geotextile fabrics has increased. The plastic material simply does not allow moisture to penetrate and also does not promote a free exchange of oxygen. These factors can cause problems for many ornamentals and during a stress period weak plants may die. The landscape fabrics will allow moisture to penetrate and also not inhibit any oxygen exchange. The latest research rates the usefulness of landscape fabrics very high in conjunction with an organic mulch.