Using Mulch

From types of mulch to applying mulch, read below for our expert tips on this landscape dressing.

Neatly mulched beds improve the appearance of any landscape. But beyond its appearance, a layer of mulch provides many other benefits. Mulch protects the plants’ root systems and can add much-needed nutrients to the soil. Mulch allows the erosion of topsoil. Though applying mulch may seem like a chore, it can actually save you effort later in the season. Because mulch helps to prevent weeds and retain moisture, you’ll spend less time weeding and watering your garden and more time enjoying it. In order for mulch to work and look its best, you must choose the best material for your garden and apply it properly.

Organic Mulches

  • Compost is one of the best mulches for providing benefits to the soil, but that rich medium also provides a great place for weeds. Some compost is not very attractive. If apperance is important, use compost as a soil amendment and find a more visually pleasing material to cover it
  • Wood Chips or Shavings are visually pleasing and provide all the characteistics of good mulch. Like sawdust, it is advisable to use older, decomposed material. Wood mulch that has not been properly aged or turned regularly can contain toxins and acids that are harmful to young plants. Fungal contamination can also occur with unseasoned wood mulch.
  • Bark is also sold as chunks, nuggets, or shredded. Bark is one of the most attractive (and more expensive) mulch materials, so it may be best used in more visible areas. Pine, cedar, and cypress are the most common varieties. In addition to its appearance, bark provides good weed prevention and moisture retention. Plus, bark nuggets will last for years. Check out our mulch selection
  • Straw is the leftover stem portion of harvested grain. It is lightweight and therefore not always easy to apply. It tends to blow around. It decomposes quickly and therefore needs replacing more often than other mulches. Its appearance may not make it a top choice for the landscape. However, straw does make a good cover for newly seeded lawn areas.
  • Hay, the stem portion of grasses, is often confused with straw. Hay is likely to contain weed seeds, so use it with caution. Both straw and hay are good plant nutrients and work well in the vegetable garden where weeds can easily be pulled.
  • Pine Needles are sold in bales like straw which makes them relatively easy to transport and apply. They are long lasting and attractive.

Inorganic Mulches

  • Plastic warms the soil, plus blocks air and water. Plant growth is accelerated by the added heat and moisture retained underneath the mulch layer. Since plastic is solid, moisture must be provided by an irrigation system underneath or by careful hand watering. Usually sold in rolls, black or clear plastic can be used. Black is impervious to light, while clear plastic has been known to let weeds germinate and grow beneath. On the downside, plastic can overheat the plant’s roots or retain too much moisture, particularly if the plastic is covered with a layer of organic mulch for apperance sake. Plastic will freeze, so you may need to take it up in the fall. If used on slopes, any material placed on top of plastic will wash away or slide off. Plastic is well suited for use in vegetable gardens.
  • Brick or Stone offers a neat apperance but may not blend with every landscape design. They offer some weed control. Brick and stone (especially lighter shades) will reflect heat back up towards plants, which may be harmful. This mulch is certainly long lasting. Be careful – if pieces are strewn into the lawn, they can become potential hazards when mowing.
  • Landscape Fabric is purchased in rolls and provides good weed control. Plus, unlike plastic, the fabric allows air and moisture to penetrate into the soil and plant roots. Overall, it’s the best inorganic mulch for long-term use. Roots can become enmeshed in the fabric, making removal difficult, so be sure to remove weeds as soon as you see them.

Applying Mulch

After you have decided which material to use, it’s time to put it down. Here are some things to remember:

  • When the weather gets warm, we’re always in a hurry to get our landscape looking its best, so we pile on the mulch. But please – don’t put mulch down too early in the spring. Give the soil a chance to warm. Mulching too early will actually slow down the warming process. Normally, mid to late spring is the best time to put down mulch.
  • The area needs to be weed-free before mulching.
  • If you are mulching around plants, water them first, and them apply the mulch.
  • One reason we apply mulch is to control and kill weeds. It can do the same to your desired plants, so be careful not to pile too much on them.
  • To prevent stems and bark from rotting, pull mulch away from woody stems and tree trunks one to two inches. Also, if mulch is touching the plants, pests such as mice and slugs can get a great hiding place and a free lunch.
  • In general, the bigger the pieces or chunks, the deeper the layer needs to be. Smaller-sized mulches will work their way into the soil more quickly.
  • Seedlings can work their way through a thin layer of mulch, but too deep a layer could be impenetrable. Let your plants get off to a good start first. You can always add more after the plants are established.
  • Mulch that is too deep will stimulate root growth in the mulch layer rather than in the ground. The resulting shallow root system is susceptible to cold and drought damage.
  • For looks, consider the size and style of the area you are putting the mulch in. For example, pine bark nuggets may be too large for a bed of annuals, but perfect for an area around trees or shrubs.
  • Pathways, slopes, and areas prone to flooding or high wind need special consideration. Consider using a heavier or larger material here.
  • You may need to apply mulch in the summer to retain moisture and in the winter to insulate from cold.

How Much to Use

  • A one – two inch layer of fine mulch should be sufficient, while a coarser material should be three – four inches deep. Too much of either type can suffocate your plants. In areas where you simply want to keep anything from growing, lay it on as thick as you like.
  • Coverage will vary greatly based on what type of mulch you use and how deeply it is layered.
  • One cubic yard of mulch will roughly cover 100 sq. ft. at a 3 inch depth and 160 sq. ft. at a 2 inch depth.
  • 1 cubic yard of mulch = 27 cubic feet = (9) 3 cu. ft. bags or (13.5) 2 cu. ft. bags

To calculate mulch on mobile devices, tap the white square after inputting thickness and garden size.  The screen may refresh and you may need to scroll back down to get the results.

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You will need:
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