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Mulch 101: What You Should Know About Mulching

By Alexis February 12, 2020


Clients frequently have questions about mulching so we asked our design team to give us a comprehensive overview on what you should know about mulching. Below we share more on topics such as what is mulch? How much mulch you need? How to mulch a garden, and more!

What is Mulching?

Mulch is a material that is spread across the surface of the soil and around the base of plants and trees to form a protective layer which can provide numerous benefits to your landscape and garden. It comes in a variety of different forms including inorganic materials like stone, gravel and rubber chips as well as organic varieties such as wood chips, straw and compost. If you imagine that your soil is a layer cake, mulch is like the icing on top!

How Can Mulch Help Your Garden?

  • Adds organic matter: When you use organic varieties of mulch like wood chips and compost they eventually break down and contribute nutrients to the soil that can help your plants to grow and thrive.

  • Weed control: By blocking sunlight mulch can reduce the amount of weed seeds that germinate and grow beneath the soil. This means fewer hours spent weeding the garden!

  • Moisture retention: After being watered much of the moisture on the surface of the soil can be lost due to evaporation, especially during the hot summer months. A layer of mulch helps to seal in moisture and also reduces the amount of water that runs off during watering or a rainstorm.

  • Moderates soil temperature: Adding a layer of mulch provides an extra layer of protection that acts like a blanket to insulate plant roots. This helps to keep them warmer during the winter months and cooler throughout the summer.

  • Improves appearance: When spread evenly across the surface of the soil mulch creates a uniform surface against which plant textures can pop and stand out. Overall it is a quick way to give a tidy ‘finished’ look to your landscape.

How Much Mulch do I Need?

The first step is deciding which areas of your yard will be mulched. Some people apply mulch to every garden bed and patch of bare soil in their yard while others mulch only around certain plants and trees. Once the desired areas are defined, measure the square footage and calculate for the volume of mulch needed for a 2-3” thick layer of coverage Or for smaller areas, simply eyeball it.

Bagged or Bulk Mulch?

Mulch is typically sold in bags measuring 2 cubic feet or in loads which are measured in cubic yards and dumped on-site. One cubic yard is equivalent to 13.5 bags of mulch. Benefits of bagged mulch include consistency, convenience and portability. Buying mulch in bulk can often be more economical for larger areas, though you must also take delivery fees into consideration. Another potential benefit of bulk mulch is that it is likely to be locally sourced. When buying bulk mulch, ask your local garden center or contractor for the specifics.

Kinds of Mulch

There are several types of organic mulch available, among the most popular are shredded bark mulch made from cedar, cypress and pine. In some climates people use cocoa shells or pine straw for acid loving plants. Another option is to use compost or blend compost with bark mulch for a durable and nutrient rich combination. How often to apply mulch will vary depending on the type you use. Most bark mulches can last up to a year, but many people prefer to mulch twice a year during the spring and fall.

How to Mulch a Garden:

  1. Pull weeds and clean out your garden beds removing leaves and debris
  2. Edge beds with a garden spade making a clean line between your lawn and bed which will create definition and help keep the mulch from spilling out on to your grass
  3. Water garden beds and plants before applying mulch to help seal in moisture
  4. Apply 2-3” of mulch evenly across soil with rake or by hand

Wait until your perennial plants pop up before applying mulch so that they do not get buried. Finally, when it comes time to spread the mulch, it’s very important to keep mulch at least three inches from tree trunks and the base of woody plants and shrubs. Otherwise you may create a dreaded ‘mulch volcano.’ Trees essentially breathe through their trunks so covering them with mulch can suffocate the plant over time and invite unwanted fungus and pests. When properly applied around the base of a tree mulch should look more like a doughnut. With this practice you can maximize the benefits of mulching and enjoy the sweet satisfaction of caring for your landscape.

Don't: Heavily mulch around the base of a tree

Do: Give tree trunks room to breath

Mulching is a simple and effective way to maintain the health of your garden. It helps to retain moisture, control weeds, regulate soil temperature, and provide essential nutrients to plants.

By choosing the right type of mulch for your garden, properly preparing the soil, and applying mulch correctly, you can enjoy a beautiful and healthy garden all season long. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a novice, incorporating mulch into your garden routine is a practical and sustainable way to ensure your plants thrive. So why not give it a try and see the benefits for yourself?

Read more about: Gardening Tips