- All About Garden Mulches
- The Sun’s Effect on Mulch
- Water, Temperature and Mulch
- Popular Questions:
- Which Mulch is Best?
- Types of Mulch
- How Often Should You Replace Mulch?
- When Should You Spread Mulch?
- How Deep Should Mulch Be?
- The Proper Method Of Mulching
- How To Mulch A Garden
- How To Spread Mulch Step-By-Step
- DIY – Install Mulch Like A Pro
- How to Mulch
- Two Types of Mulch
- Pick the Right Mulch
- Tips for Mulching
- The Secret to Spreading Mulch
- Working with Mulch: Tricks of the Trade
- Mulching Tips
- Mulching Tips and Techniques:
- How to Find Free Mulch:
- Some Cautions About Mulch:
- Applying Garden Mulch: Tips For Spreading Mulch In Gardens
- How to Spread Garden Mulch
- Mulching 101: The Ultimate Guide to Mulching
- Types of Mulch and Their Ideal Uses
All About Garden Mulches
Mulch’s purpose is pretty basic: It acts as a barrier, keeping sunlight and some air away from the soil surface. Sounds simple enough, but mulch’s smothering effect brings with it both good and bad news. Consider these positive and negative effects of tucking in your soil beneath a blanket of mulch.
Figure out how much mulch you need with our handy calculator.
The Sun’s Effect on Mulch
Mulch’s purpose is pretty basic: It acts as a barrier, keeping sunlight and some air away from the soil surface. Sounds simple enough, but mulch’s smothering effect brings with it both good news and bad. Consider these positive and negative effects of tucking in your soil beneath a blanket of mulch:
Pro: Without the summer sunrays striking it, soil stays cooler and plant roots don’t stress from the heat.
Con: Slugs, earwigs, cutworms, and other eat-and-run types love cool, moist, dark places. To minimize bugs, use only a thin layer of mulch, keeping it several inches away from plant bases.
Pro: Water in the soil doesn’t thaw on sunny winter days then refreeze at night. That’s good news. The melting-and-freezing cycle makes water shrink and expand, possibly popping shallow-rooted plants right out of the ground — a phenomenon called heaving. Heaving spells the end for plants.
Before you mulch, test your soil; here’s how.
Water, Temperature and Mulch
Pro: The ground warms more slowly in the spring, so perennials aren’t fooled into breaking dormancy too early. You want the ground to stay cold until it really is spring.
Con: The drawback is that perennials might bloom late or soil might not be ready for spring planting. If so, rake back mulch until the soil warms up. Or, if you don’t mulch over winter, wait until plants green up before mulching.
Pro: Water evaporates more slowly from cool soil protected from the wind. If you mulch, you don’t have to water as much, which saves time, money, and a precious resource.
Con: However, heavy rains can make the ground soggy and puddly for days. If beds become bogs, rake off mulch and let soil dry.
Pro: Raindrops don’t hit the soil surface, so soil is less likely to wash away or splash onto plants. This keeps plants cleaner and free of some soil-dwelling diseases.
Con: Without sunlight, some seeds can’t germinate, and sprouts might not have the oomph to push through the mulch. This prevents weeds, but it thwarts some good seeds, too. Mulch after seedlings are up and have some girth and vigor.
Everyone asks how much mulch to apply and when to apply it. There are no right answers. It depends on several factors, including your soil, amount of rainfall, type of mulch, and how weedy the ground is.
Here are some guidelines:
- For most mulches and soils, start with a layer 3-4 inches deep. Use newspaper as a decomposable barrier to keep weeds at bay.
- If the soil is dry, water it before applying mulch to pull weeds easier.
- Apply mulch just about anytime, remembering that if you mulch early in the spring, the ground might be slow to warm. If you mulch only in the winter to prevent heaving, wait until the ground freezes. Mulch could delay freezing of the ground, causing roots to go dormant later than normal and possibly damaging them.
Know what a weed looks like with our ID guide.
Which Mulch is Best?
Sort through the mulch options and choose the right security blanket for your flowerbeds.
Dark-color mulches will absorb and retain more heat from the sun than light-color ones. This is an advantage in cooler regions but a disadvantage in hotter climates.
Light-color mulches (particularly decorative landscaping types, such as white stones) reflect light and heat and can dangerously overheat surrounding plants.
Some mulches won’t stay put. Gravel and stones creep onto lawns (and make tempting throwables for kids). Cocoa hulls blow away. Small bark chips can wash downstream in a heavy rain. In general, mulches with heavy or large pieces are more likely to stay put. Those that form a mat, such as leaves and pine needles, are usually stable, too.
Organic mulches, such as grass clippings, leaves, manure, and compost, improve the soil. Stones and plastic don’t. Black plastic, unless it’s porous or perforated, grows a smelly, slimy coating. It also turns brittle and breaks into little pieces that escape the garden. Cheap landscape fabric is not worth it — weeds and roots will tangle in it.
Types of Mulch
Bark Choose from shredded, chipped, chunks, or nuggets. Usually pine, cypress, or hardwood. Attractive and long-lasting, especially the large nuggets, but might look too chunky around dainty flowers.
Cocoa Hulls Hulls add nutrients. Fresh hulls carry chocolaty aroma. Might compact and mold.
Compost Turn under at end of season to improve soil. Texture is too fine to suppress aggressive weeds.
Grass Clippings Turn under at end of season. Can heat up or mold if too thick. Use 1-2 inches if fresh, 2-4 inches if dry.
Hay Loose layer can be about 6 inches deep, will settle down. Might contain weed seed.
Landscape Fabric Use at base of flowering shrubs. Cover with thin layer of attractive mulch. Get good-quality fabric, or weeds and roots will tangle in it. Best type is bonded, not woven.
Leaf Mold Leaves composted two to three years. Turn under at end of season to improve soil.
Leaves (fresh) Shred before using if you want them to break down faster.
Newspaper Use layer 5-10 sheets thick. Disguise with thin layer of attractive mulch.
Manure Turn under at end of season. Adds nutrients. Store-bought manure looks and smells less like the real thing.
Mushroom Compost used manure left after mushroom harvest. Can turn over at end of season to improve soil. Might contain pesticide residues. Texture is too fine to suppress aggressive weeds.
Peat Moss Use 1-2 inch layer near acid-loving plants. Soak in warm water before using. Never let it dry out completely or it will shed water. Use Canadian peat; Louisiana peat might be dangerously acidic.
Pine Needles Regional product. Last two to four seasons. Pine trees provide ready supply.
Plastic Use at base of flowering shrubs. Get a kind that lets water pass through. Top with more attractive mulch.
Sawdust Breaks down quickly. Depletes soil nitrogen, so sprinkle soil with blood meal or other nitrogen source.
Straw Loose layer about 6 inches deep, will settle down. Lasts one to two seasons. May deplete soil nitrogen.
Wood Chips Byproduct of timber industry. Quality varies. Recycled woods from pallets and construction might contain toxins that kill plants and contaminate soil. Don’t use chips if they smell sour; this indicates the presence of harmful acids. Rid fresh chips of acids by letting them decompose in a compost pile or pit before using.
Learn more about which mulch might be right for your garden.
Improper mulching is one of the biggest mistakes that new gardeners make. But don’t panic, because I’ve got your back! In this post, I’ll tell you why mulching is good for your garden, and show you how to spread mulch step-by-step. Plus I’ll give you tons of garden mulching tips to help you feel confident that you’re doing it right.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Dig It Apparel®. I was also provided with a pair of the gardening gloves mentioned in this post at no charge. All opinions and text are my own.
Mulching is good for your garden, and gives it a nice, finished look. The main benefits of mulching are weed control, and it also helps the soil stay cool and retain moisture during the hot summer months.
Mulching benefits your garden soil as well, because it adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, helping to build rich, fertile soil that plants love. But, believe it or not, there is a right way to spread mulch, and a wrong way.
Before I jump into the steps for how to spread mulch, let me answer a few commonly asked mulching questions first…
How Often Should You Replace Mulch?
Well, that depends on the type of mulch you use. Lightweight organic mulching materials, such as leaves, straw mulch, or grass clippings, break down much faster than hardwood mulch does. Lightweight organic mulches will need to be replaced at least once per year, and sometimes more often if they decompose quickly.
Wood mulch will need to be replaced every 2-3 years. They do tend to fade though, so if it’s not time to replace your garden mulch, you can just fluff it up using a rake or your hands to refresh the look.
When Should You Spread Mulch?
Another common question I get is when to mulch. Spring and fall are both great times for mulching in your garden. I personally prefer mulching the garden in the spring so that it looks fresh all summer long. Otherwise, if I spread mulch in the fall, it’s covered with leaves and debris and looks faded after the winter.
The best time for spring mulching is after the ground has thawed, and while the ground is still moist. I recommend waiting until the plants have started growing though. Otherwise, you could accidentally bury something that hasn’t popped out of the soil yet.
If you don’t get to it in the spring don’t worry, you can spread mulch in the garden anytime summer through the fall.
How Deep Should Mulch Be?
Mulch should be 2-3 inches deep. Anything less than 2 inches, and you won’t get the benefit of weed protection. On the flip side, heavy mulching (more than 3 inches) can prevent water from getting to the soil, and also bury the base of plants.
Use your hands when mulching around plants
The Proper Method Of Mulching
This is where we need to talk about mulching techniques, and how to avoid improper mulching. If you have an area where there’s soil only (with no plants), then you don’t need to worry. But, if you’re mulching around a tree or garden plants, then proper mulching is important.
The most common mistake people make is to pile the mulch around the base of plants and trees. This is very bad for the plant. Plants and tree trunks partially buried like this can end up having major issues with pests, disease and rotting.
It’s important to keep the mulch away from the base of the plants, so that there is plenty of air circulation around the stem. So, as you’re mulching plants, make sure that none of it is touching the stem. It’s easiest to do that if you use your hands when mulching your garden plants.
If your garden is covered in leaves from the fall, you don’t need to remove the leaves. In fact, it’s better for your garden if you leave them there, they break down really fast and feed the soil. You can just spread mulch right over the top of the leaves.
Avoid burying stems when mulching your plants
How To Mulch A Garden
- Bow rake
- Weeding tool
- Gardening gloves
I highly recommend wearing gardening gloves when working in the garden, especially when you’re spreading mulch. Gloves protect your hands from splinters and cuts, and keep your hands and fingernails clean. I especially love Dig It® gardening gloves! They are crafted specifically for women, so they fit my small hands perfectly. Plus, they have reinforced pillow-top protection built into the fingertips to protect your fingernails, so I can really dig in without ruining my manicure!
How To Spread Mulch Step-By-Step
If the soil in your garden is dry, then water it well before mulching your beds. It’s best to spread mulch when the soil is damp rather than dry, plus it’s easier to pull the weeds. Here’s how to spread mulch in your garden step-by-step…
Step 1: Remove established weeds – Don’t worry, you don’t need to remove every single tiny little weed you see. You just need to worry about removing the large weeds that are growing in the garden. Tiny weed seedlings will be smothered by the mulch.
Step 2: Edge the garden beds – In addition to removing weeds, it’s a good idea to edge your garden beds to remove any grass that’s creeping in before covering your garden with mulch. That will give your garden a nice clean look, and keep the grass from taking over.
Remove weeds and grass before mulching
Step 3: Spread the mulch – Use your hands to spread it around the base of your plants (be sure to wear gardening gloves!), making sure that none of it is piled around the stem. You can use a bow rake to spread mulch in larger areas, and in between the plants.
Step 4: Water after mulching beds – This step is optional, but if the mulch is totally dry, then it’s a good idea to wet it down after you’re done spreading it. This will weight it down and help to keep it from blowing away in the wind, and also ensure that it comes in contact with the soil so it can smother all those weeds.
Mulching is good for your garden and looks great too
That’s easy, easy peasy. Now that you know when and how to spread mulch in your garden, you’ll enjoy all of the benefits that a freshly mulched garden has to offer. Now you can just sit back, relax and enjoy your gardens.
More Garden Care Posts You Might Like
- Beginner’s Guide to Mulching Your Vegetable Garden
- How To Test Your Soil At Home Using A Soil Test Kit
- Choosing The Best Mulch For Vegetable Gardens
Share your tips for how to spread mulch in the comments section below.
DIY – Install Mulch Like A Pro
Spreading or installing mulch may seem like a simple task. However, for those who have never done it, here are a few tips that can make you look like a professional.
Prepare for delivery
1. Clean up leaves, sticks and debris from your installation area. Remove weeds by hand or spray with Roundup. Prune bushes and trees.
2. Pick a site for your mulch delivery. Off road driving is risky for you and the truck.
3. Edge along beds and paved areas.
Use a square shovel (i.e. a square transfer shovel) and insert the blade vertically along the edge between the garden bed and the grass to form a crisp line between the two. Form a narrow trench 3-4 inches wide and 2 inches deep.
- For larger beds, use a mini-tiller along the edge of the bed. A leaf blower can be used to blow the dirt back into the bed–more than one pass may be necessary.
- Very large projects may require the use of a bed edger (available from most rental stores).
- Along paved areas such as driveways, curbs and sidewalks, dig a trench 4 inches wide and 2 inches deeper than the bottom edge of the concrete. This allows the mulch to rest against the side of the pavement rather than spilling onto the paved area, giving you a nice clean edge.
Installing the mulch
1. Use a pitchfork instead of a shovel to make moving the mulch easier.
2. Load a large wheelbarrow with mulch. It will carry more material per trip, speeding installation.
3. Dump the mulch in small piles in your work area.
4. Spread the mulch with a steel tine rake, but you can also use your feet to kick or spread the mulch into place. Mulch should be spread to a depth of 2-4 inches.
5. Leave a space a couple of inches away from tree trunks and plant stems. This will help keep the plants healthy and free from disease and insects.
6. Use a leaf blower at the end of the installation to blow any dirt or mulch back into the beds, smooth out the top of the mulch and clean and smooth your edges.
7. Enjoy the beautiful results!
How to Mulch
Mulch does a host of things that your plants want and need, such as shading roots on hot days, preventing moisture from evaporating, and stopping weeds from taking root. But it’s important to learn the differences between mulch materials, and how to properly spread mulch.
Image zoom Andy Lyons
Two Types of Mulch
There are two basic kinds of mulch: Organic and inorganic. Organic materials—wood, bark, compost, grass clippings, and leaves—will decompose and improve the soil. They last a few years, after which you’ll need to add more. In addition, organic mulches are easy to spread and do no harm if mixed into soil, as will happen when planting annuals or shrubs, for example.
Stone, by contrast, is meant to be a more or less permanent mulch, to be put in place atop a layer of landscape fabric, and then left alone. It’s the lowest-maintenance option but not easy to plant in. So the key question to ask yourself is: Will I be doing any gardening that requires digging and moving mulch aside to plant ornamentals? If the answer is yes, you will want to stick with an organic mulch.
Related: Grass Growing Up Through Mulch
Pick the Right Mulch
Every kind of organic mulch has pros and cons. For example, bark nuggets are widely available but can float away in heavy rain. Cocoa hulls have a distinct aroma (some like it, some don’t) but are relatively expensive, and toxic to dogs. Shredded bark or wood is the most common landscape mulch—it’s inexpensive and easy to apply but doesn’t add as many nutrients to soil as some other mulches.
You can also use waste from your yard as mulch, such as grass clippings, leaves, and compost. Compost adds a lot of nutrients but isn’t good at deterring weeds. If you composted it yourself at home, it’s not a good idea to mulch beds with it, unless you know that the compost got hot enough to kill weed seeds. Otherwise, you might end up with more weeds, not less!
Grass clippings are effective as mulch but don’t pile them too deeply or they can get soggy and mucky. And be sure never to use clippings as mulch if the grass was treated with herbicides. Leaves are an excellent mulch if they’re shredded first. Pine needles are long lasting and an excellent mulch around acid-loving plants like azaleas, because pine needles acidify soil.
Tips for Mulching
Although the process of mulching seems simple (you just put it over the dirt, right?), there are some things to keep in mind. These are some of our best mulching tips.
- Calculate how much mulch to buy. There’s nothing more frustrating than choosing the mulch you want and not having enough.
- Not too thick, not too thin. Spread mulch about 2 to 3 inches thick. Anything thicker could harbor pests, but at the very least is wasteful and unnecessary.
- There’s no perfect time to apply mulch to beds. Your plants will welcome mulch any time of the year. If you apply mulch in late fall or early winter and you live in a cold climate, wait until the ground freezes before mulching.
- Mulch trees and shrubs properly. Mulching around trees and shrubs is a great way to prevent injury from mowers and trimmers. As with beds, spread mulch 2-3 inches thick. Do not pile mulch against the trunk like a volcano—this can encourage pests and diseases.
The Secret to Spreading Mulch
- By Kelly Roberson
Working with Mulch: Tricks of the Trade
What’s so hard about mulch? You shovel some around your plants and bushes, and that’s it, right? Not exactly.
There are a few tricks of the trade to getting the most out of your mulch delivery. Apply too much, or in the wrong place, and you could choke out your plants. Skimp on the mulch, and you don’t derive any benefits – because the point is to improve nutrition, weed control, and moisture retention.
To help get the best look and the best results for your landscaping, here are a few tips for how pros install mulch.
- Do not place mulch directly against plant crowns or tree bases. Mulch placed directly in contact with stems or tree trunks may retain excess moisture around the base of the plant. Overly wet soil can foster a whole host of diseases, including crown rot. High piles of mulch can also become a bit of a varmint hotel, attracting predatory insects and bark and stem-eating rodents. Give the base of your plants and shrubs a little bit of room to breathe.
- Mulch applied too thickly anywhere can cause problems. In fact, it can cause a whole cascade of problems. A wood mulch when piled more than three inches high will start to rot much faster than usual. It can create a thatch-like mat that keeps water from penetrating through to the soil below. Therefore, the plants you were hoping to protect are suddenly deprived of the moisture they need to live. Mulching too deeply can also cause the soil to remain continuously damp, but not nourished, contributing to root and stem rot problems in addition to depriving plants of needed oxygen. Apply a mulch layer no more than one to three inches thick.
- Thoroughly water newly installed wood or bark mulches. Many good quality mulches are stored in large piles that reach high temperatures. When the mulch is spread or bagged, the high-temperature tolerant microorganisms that inhabit the mulch die as the mulch cools. If the mulch is allowed to dry out or remain dry, nuisance fungi can colonize the mulch and create a water-repellent surface.
- Add a source of nitrogen to garden soils before applying wood–derived mulches. Soil microorganisms that decompose organic materials such as wood-based mulches are effective competitors for limited soil nitrogen. So, if you fail to apply some nitrogen to the soil under your garden mulch, you could unwittingly be setting the stage to deprive your plants of needed nutrients. This may cause temporary nitrogen deficiencies especially in annual and perennial plants. Yellowing of leaves often indicates a nitrogen deficiency. Lightly incorporate a source of nitrogen such as bloodmeal, urea or a high nitrogen lawn fertilizer before applying mulch, and your landscaping will be good to go.
Make the work you do on your landscaping count. Do the job right the first time; take the time to occasionally water and rake your mulch, and you will enjoy the effects all season.
Mulching is one of the best things you can do for your garden. A generous layer of mulch over the soil surface will suppress weeds, retain moisture, and provide and soil enrichment as it decomposes.
Mulch also helps protect the soil from erosion, moderates the soil temperature, and makes the garden look neat and tidy. Mulching has some disadvantages as well. It can smother your plants, tie up nutrients, add unwanted chemicals, grow fungus, and slow water penetration.
Keep the mulch a few inches from the plants, so they are not smothered.
I reached out to my gardening friends and asked if they would share their advice and experiences with using mulch in the garden. This resulted in a collection of seasoned knowledge of various mulching methods for vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, and landscaping. Discover mulching methods that will work in your garden and heed some mulch warnings too.
Mulching Tips and Techniques:
- 5 Ways Organic Mulch Help Your Vegetable Garden – Grow a Good Life
- 7 Ways to Prevent Soil Erosion – Tenth Acre Farm
- Buckwheat as a Cover Crop and Weed Suppressor – Schneiderpeeps
- Gardening Basics: How to Apply Mulch – North Coast Gardening
- Mulch and Compost – Homestead Lady
- Mulch: A Winter Blanket for Your Garden – Niki Jabbour, Rustic Magazine
- Mulching Flower Beds – Sensible Gardening
- Mulching in the Garden – Tenth Acre Farm
- Our New Vegetable Garden and Mulching Techniques – That Bloomin’ Garden
- The Theory Behind Back to Eden Gardening – 104 Homestead
- Using Wood Chips in a Vegetable Garden – Learning and Yearning
Laying a soaker hose beneath the mulch provides water directly to the soil. The mulch prevents moisture from evaporating.
How to Find Free Mulch:
- How to Use Free Mulch in Your Garden – The Prudent Garden
- Save Your Leaves: Don’t Throw Away Gardening Gold – Empress of Dirt
Garlic bed mulched with shredded leaves – FREE
Some Cautions About Mulch:
- 5 Things You Should Know About Wood Chip Mulch – Reformation Acres
- Are You Killing Your Trees With Mulch? – Learning and Yearning
- Sour Mulch: I Learned This One the Hard Way – Learning and Yearning
- Why I Hate Landscape Fabric – North Coast Gardening
Bush beans mulched with straw
I hope you gained some knowledge from these experienced gardeners about which mulch you should use in your garden.
The most important point to understand is there is no one method that fits all gardens. Each type of mulch has pros and cons, making it suitable for some situations and not others. Regardless of which method you choose, you should mulch. So which mulch is right for you?
You May Also Like:
- How to Build a Square Food Garden
- Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Mapping the Garden Beds
- Simple Seed Germination Test
- How to Save Bean Seeds to Plant Next Year
- 7 Tips for a Low Maintenance Vegetable Garden
Applying Garden Mulch: Tips For Spreading Mulch In Gardens
Mulch has value in the garden beyond the visual. Mulching helps control weeds, conserve moisture, increases tilth as it composts and adds nutrients to the soil. Spreading mulch in gardens is a fairly fool proof process, but there are a few things to note along the way. A few tips for spreading mulch will allow your plants to grow healthier and protect them from damage.
How to Spread Garden Mulch
There is a wide variety to choose from with mulch application, from organic to inorganic. Recycled rubber and plastic are now being ground into inorganic mulches for landscape use. Similarly, oyster shells are common mulch in some areas and continue the reuse cycle. Natural mulches such as bark are more familiar forms used in home landscapes. Applying garden mulch simply means adding a layer of material over existing soil which will provide a variety of benefits.
Spreading mulch in gardens isn’t the same as frosting a cupcake with wild abandon. There is finesse to the practice and some tips for spreading mulch to prevent rot and allow late-growing plants to penetrate the area can be helpful. When to spread mulch isn’t as important as how to spread mulch.
You can mulch any time of the year. It’s common to add mulch in springtime when rains start to help it break down and impact the soil condition. Also, there are fewer plants sprouted in spring, which makes the task easier; however, you can mulch at any time. Your choice of mulch and the area to be covered will determine the depth at which you layer the material.
Mulch Application Depths
Materials that won’t break down quickly are excellent choices for ornamental beds, around trees and along permanent plantings. Bark is a classic example. Fine bark and bark chips should be applied at a depth of 2 to 3 inches around plants. Large to medium bark can be applied up to 6 inches deep. The bark won’t break down in one season and shouldn’t need to be replaced each year.
Mulches that break down quickly are excellent for vegetable and annual beds, where frequent turning brings the mulch into the soil for quicker composting. These should be spread 1 to 2 inches around the base of plants. Some good examples of these are leaf litter, straw, grass clippings or cocoa bean hulls.
Inorganic mulch such as black plastic is laid in one layer on the soil surface to warm the ground before planting heat-loving veggies. Remove the plastic or cut out holes for the plants. It is wise to remove the plastic in summer, as the excess heat can burn roots.
Applying Garden Mulch
While mulch has numerous benefits, too much of it can be a bad thing. In areas with disease problems or where insects overwinter, mulch should be pulled away from plants in spring and composted to kill disease and larvae. Keep mulch at least 3 inches away from the trunks and stems of plants to prevent mildew problems and hiding places for pests.
Very light, dry mulches need to be spread at double their recommended depth to achieve that number after settling. Select light colored mulch in summer and dark in winter. Light deflects the sun and dark will store any solar heat.
So many common things make excellent mulch. Even newspapers layered at a depth of 8 pages will make a quickly composted carbon adding mulch. Keep watch for arborists in your neighborhood and ask them for a load of wood chips, or seed your veggie garden with rye grass as a living mulch and springtime green manure.
Mulching is easy and its use will increase your crop yields, minimize pest and disease issues and lower your water bills along with a host of other benefits.
Mulching 101: The Ultimate Guide to Mulching
By Jane Milliman
Mulching. There are few gardening tasks that will make such a large impact on your yard. In one fell swoop, you can suppress weeds, increase moisture retention, stabilize soil temperature and make your garden and yard look beautifully buttoned up. The types of mulch you can choose from are endless, but not every mulch is appropriate for every situation. Before you transform your space with a fresh layer of mulch, take a moment to consider a few basic mulching tips on how to mulch so you get it right the first time.
Types of Mulch and Their Ideal Uses
A trip to the local garden supply store will quickly show just how many varieties of mulch are out there for your garden landscape. It’s easy to stand in front of a shelf full of mulch and wonder, “what kind of mulch should I use?” Knowing the best type of mulch for your garden needs will save you time and money.
There are two main types of mulch: organic mulch and inorganic mulch. This wording doesn’t refer to the use of chemicals, but rather to the base ingredient of the mulch.
Organic mulch is comprised of natural, plant-based products. Not only do organic mulch types provide all the benefits of mulch – weed control, moisture retention, erosion control, soil insulation and improved appearance – they also break down over time to enrich your soil with organic matter. Some popular organic mulches include:
- Pine bark – a cost-effective mulch choice for flower beds.
- Pine needles (pine straw) – available in bales or can be raked up from underneath your own pine trees.
- Straw – another inexpensive option.
- Cedar – the longest lasting organic mulch available.
- Leaves – a popular (and free!) choice for mulching your garden beds in the winter.
- Rocks, gravel and pebbles, which can be found in all colors and textures, giving you endless design options.
- Plastic sheets – often used as a mulch to eliminate weed growth in a vegetable garden.
- Landscape fabric – an alternative to plastic that allows both air and moisture to pass through.
- Rubber – it has the look of traditional bark mulch, but it lasts much longer.
The large chunks of dark wood don’t compact or break down as easily as finer mulch types. Pine bark draws in moisture and allows water to reach the soil easily. Acid-loving plants will thrive with pine mulches. The downside is that the nuggets are very light and can easily be washed or blown away.
This lightweight mulch option compacts down into a nice mat of mulch which helps the material stay in place. It’s perfect for large areas and acid-loving plants.
The light bales are easy to transport, and because it decomposes quickly, it’s often used in vegetable gardens or as a cover for newly seeded lawns. Keep in mind that strong winds are not a friend of straw – if dry, it will blow everywhere.
It’s a natural insect repellent and has a pleasant fragrance. Cedar is an ideal choice for acid-loving plants.
They are also a convenient option for around the base of trees. Simply rake the leaves toward the base of each tree.
Inorganic mulch is created from sources that were never living. It’s a heavier option that performs well as a landscaping mulch. Popular inorganic types of mulch are:
It’s a long-lasting option, since it doesn’t decompose and will stay in place for years. It helps increase moisture retention and discourages weed growth. It also performs well in paths, driveways, patios and play areas.
Once secured to the ground, plastic will trap in warmth, making it ideal for warming the soil in early spring. Different colors are available for different uses – for example, some gardeners swear their tomatoes perform best when surrounded by red plastic sheeting. Keep in mind that if you go this route, because it blocks moisture, you should install a soaker hose underneath for irrigation.
It’s often used in decorative flower beds as an extra weed barrier underneath another mulch. Remove weeds growing on top of it quickly, as the roots can grow into the fabric and become difficult to remove.
Made from recycled materials, rubber mulch will not decompose and is less likely to wash or blow away.
With the proper application of mulch, you’ll increase the health of garden plants. Learning how to mulch a garden is simple, requiring just a little preparation and a few steps and mulching tips.
- How Much Do I Buy?
- Prepare the Area
- Spread the Mulch
- Water it Down
Calculate how much mulch you need by measuring the square footage of each landscape bed you’ll cover (factor each area by multiplying the width and length). A good rule of thumb is to plan on covering the ground with 2 inches of mulch.
If you need a large quantity, it’s much cheaper to buy mulch by the bucket loader or truck load from your local garden center or yard service. Most of the time, though, buying it in bags is easiest and makes spreading it more efficient, too.
While mulch helps prevent new weeds, it won’t help you control the ones that are already there. Make sure to pull existing weeds beforehand and follow up with a preemergent herbicide.
Spread mulch in your garden area, leaving several inches between the mulch and the base of each plant. Piling mulch against a plant or tree can encourage disease or pest damage. Be careful to spread mulch evenly – areas where the mulch is too thin won’t prevent weeds or retain moisture.
Give your newly mulched area a gentle watering using the soft wash setting on Gilmour’s Heavy Duty Front Control Watering Nozzle. Providing moisture will prevent the mulch from blowing away, and maintaining consistent moisture will keep your mulch looking fresh and in place.
Mulch is a great way to control weeds and keep your garden and yard looking tidy and finished. It’s easy to install and can really make a difference.