How to Mulch Like a Pro to Help Your Garden Thrive (2024)

When you know how to mulch your garden properly, you'll provides a host of benefits to your plants. These include 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 choose the best one for the job. This guide will explain everything you need to know about how to mulch your garden.

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. A chipper/shredder is one way to make your own. 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 left alone. It's the lowest-maintenance option but not easy to plant in. So the key question is: Will I be doing any gardening that requires digging and moving mulch aside to plant ornamentals? You'll want to stick with organic mulch if the answer is yes.

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 it doesn't add as many nutrients to the 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 compost at home, it's not a good idea to use it to mulch flower beds unless you know that the compost got hot enough to kill weed seeds. Otherwise, you might end up with more weeds, not less!

Using grass clippings as mulch can spread weed and grass seeds, so only use it if you're sure it doesn't contain seeds. Also, wet grass clippings can mat down and actually prevent water from reaching the soil, so let them dry before using as mulch. Leaves are a practical example of how to 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.

How to Mulch Like a Pro to Help Your Garden Thrive (1)

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. Lay down mulch about 2 to 3 inches thick. Anything thicker could harbor pests, but in any case, it's 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.

How Much Mulch Do I Need?

Here's how to avoid one of the worst mulching mistakes: When mulching like an expert, eye measurement isn’t the best approach. No matter the size of your garden bed or border, rely on an easy yet specific formula to know exactly how much mulch is required (and then some, just in case). Keep in mind that one cubic yard of mulch, regardless of the material, can cover an area of 324 square feet at a depth of an inch. So, how much do you need?

For the total amount, simply multiply the square footage of your yard, trees, or bushes, by the desired depth in inches and divide that by 324. Most bags of mulch may yield 2 cubic feet, and prices are usually reasonable. However, don’t forget to add to your budget additional items to prep the area as noted above. Consider doubling the 1-inch formula if you’d like a deeper layer of mulch or to create a modern landscape design where different mulching techniques are used.

How to Mulch Like a Pro to Help Your Garden Thrive (2024)
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