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How to Mulch Your Garden or Yard

How to Mulch

Mulching is a great way to feed your soil, improve drainage, and protect your plants. And by learning how to mulch, you’ll save hours of gardening time because, when done properly, mulching can almost eradicate the need for you to do any weeding.

Whether you’re a new gardener mulching flower beds for the first time, spreading mulch over your vegetable garden, or simply making dirt patches in the corners of your garden prettier, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using the right kind of mulch and using it in the right way.

This article will take you step-by-step through the process of mulching your garden or yard. Our mulching tips will teach you to:

  • Choose the right type of mulch
  • Measure how much you need
  • Prepare your area for mulch
  • Lay it to the correct depth
  • Maintain your mulch

Let’s get started:

1: Choose Your Mulch – Which Type is Best?

Your first step is to choose between organic mulch and inorganic mulch and to decide whether you need landscape fabric placed onto the soil before applying the mulch or if there’s any other necessary preparation.

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to mulch, and if you don’t have any restrictions, aesthetics may also be a factor in your decision-making. Choosing between organic and inorganic mulch is actually the most difficult step. Once you’ve decided on the best type of mulch for your home, the rest is pretty straightforward.

Organic Mulch

We recommend organic mulches in most scenarios. Organic types of mulch such as grass clippings, pine needles, woody stems, leaves, wood chips, and bark will all break down over time and be absorbed into the soil. This way, they feed your soil as they do other things like help your plants retain moisture and prevent weed seeds from taking hold.

Once organic mulches have decomposed, you’ll add a fresh layer of mulch, and the process begins again.

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulches don’t feed the soil, but they are very effective at retaining moisture and heat in the soil (more so than organic mulches). They’re a good choice if termites are a problem in your area and you want to steer clear from wood mulch. They’re also good in very wet areas (organic mulch can rot) and windy areas (less likely to blow away).

In such cases, or if you’re looking to make spreading mulch a one-time deal, you may want to invest in inorganic material, such as rubber mulch, plastic, or even stone mulch. Inorganic mulches can greatly increase the heat of the soil under the surface, which can improve the growth of vining plants. Rubber mulch and plastic sheets are particularly good at preventing weed seeds from taking hold, so weeding is much less of a problem.

2: How Much Mulch Do You Need?

It’s very important to calculate the amount of material you’re going to need for your mulching project, so you don’t buy too much. To calculate this, you’ll need to measure the space that you’re going to be covering and how thick you want your mulch to be. You want to actively encourage water retention and stop weed growth; to achieve this, your mulch should be applied to a thickness of 2 inches.

One bag of wood mulch, usually in a two cubic foot bag, will cover an area of around 12 square feet if you’re applying a 2-inch layer. If you apply a 4-inch layer, the bag will cover 6 square feet of space.

Here’s some quick guidelines:

  • 1 cubic foot of compost at a depth of 2″ will cover 6 square feet
  • 1 cubic foot of compost at a depth of 3″ will cover 4 square feet
  • 1 cubic foot of compost at a depth of 4″ will cover 3 square feet
  • 2 cubic foot of compost at a depth of 2″ will cover 12 square feet
  • 2 cubic foot of compost at a depth of 2″ will cover 12 square feet
  • 2 cubic foot of compost at a depth of 2″ will cover 12 square feet

You can calculate the amount you need by measured the area in square feet, dividing by 12, and multiplying by the depth in inches. For example, if you wanted to cover 48 square feet in 3″ of mulch, you’d need (48/12)*3 = 12 cubic feet of mulching material.

3: How to Prepare An Area For Mulching

It’s vital that you weed your beds before you apply any mulch. Mulch is great for suppressing the growth of new weeds, but existing weeds are unlikely to die off when you apply the mulch and will just push their way through it.

After weeding, neaten the edging of your flower or vegetable beds so that there’s a clear line between the mulching area and the lawn. Mulch is not for lawns, but for soil, so be sure to clearly mark where these areas begin and end.

Take a bow rake and even out the garden bed. You can apply the mulch directly onto the soil, but if you’re looking to mulch flower beds or a vegetable garden and you’re particularly worried about weeds, apply a layer of landscape fabric or plastic mulch first. Once you apply mulch over the top, you won’t see this bottom layer.

Do you have to remove old mulch before applying new mulch?

If you’ve applied an organic kind of mulch in the past, then it will be mostly broken down by the time you come to top it up with a fresh layer. In this case, you don’t need to remove the old mulch. It’ll break down eventually. If it’s not breaking down, remove it, or one gardening trick is to apply a bit of compost before you apply the fresh mulch. It’ll stimulate the decomposition of the old material.

However, if you’ve used inorganic material in the past, such as plastic mulch or a sheet of landscape fabric, you may want to replace this. Over time, the chemicals used in these products can be bad for the soil as they disintegrate, so swap them out for fresh.

More permanent mulch, such as stone or rubber mulch, won’t need removing if you’re topping it up. For example, over time, your rubber mulch may have blown away, or you’ve picked out some more weathered-looking pieces. Unlike organic mulches, which can be turned into the soil, you will have to remove synthetic mulch before applying fresh.

4: How to Lay Mulch

Using mulch is easy. Spread a layer of mulch all over your mulch beds, making sure that it’s evenly applied. You can use a shovel for large amounts, but you’re going to want to use your hands for the next part.

It’s important that when you apply mulch in a flower bed, you don’t get too close to the plants. This is because you can cause the plant roots to rot if they don’t have enough access to air, light, and water. Leave a one-inch gap around the base of all plants.

When applying mulch around trees, the same rule applies. It’s vital that you don’t shovel mulch up in a pile around tree trunks or allow the ‘volcano’ effect to occur, where you make a mulch mountain around the tree. Trees, like plants, need air to circulate around their base and for water to drain. Mulch volcanoes can mean the roots underneath the tree will rot.

There’s no need to apply too much mulch in your yard. Unless you have a specific reason to go deeper, stick with a layer of 2 inches. Too much mulch is at best unnecessary, and at worst, can encourage pests.

5: Mulch Maintenance

The great thing about whichever of the mulch styles you prefer, it results in a lot less time spent on maintaining your garden. You’ll notice weeds will diminish, and thanks to the regulating of moisture levels, you’ll find you need to water your garden less, too.

Mulch itself is very easy to maintain, but it’s still a good idea to check it from time to time. If it starts to smell or you can see fungus growing, turn you mulch to allow air to circulate, so it will decompose as it is supposed to. Do not turn inorganic mulches into your soil, such as plastic or rubber. The turning only applies to mulch that is organic.

Remove any mulch that ends up out of the garden bed and onto the lawn. You don’t want mulch coming into contact with grass as the high levels of nitrogen are bad for your lawn. Grass clippings can go as mulch onto your flower beds, but not the other way around.

Now you’ve got all these tips on how to mulch at your disposal, you’ll soon be spreading mulch like a pro in your yard, and finding what a great job it does of protecting your plants all year around!

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How to Mulch
How to Mulch Your Garden or Yard

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