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The Complete Guide to Mulch: Tips, Tricks, and Considerations for Beginners

Mulch Tips and TricksMulch is one of the most versatile and cost-effective materials that can be used to improve a property. It is a multi-purpose material that is used to conserve moisture in the soil, keep it cooler, reduce weed growth, and promote soil quality all while improving the appearance of an area. In the past, mulch choices were fairly simple and straight forward. Today, there are more options than ever. With so many choices in mulch materials and colors, which is best for your gardening or landscaping project? In this Complete Guide to Mulch, we will take a look at all of your options to help you ultimately make the best choice for your application.

We'll start by taking an overall look at the many uses for mulch and some of the most popular mulch materials. We explore the issue of sour mulch. We'll address choices like ground covers and living mulches and review the variety of colors available. Our guide will help you measure your space to determine just how much mulch you will need and provide some general guidelines for its application. You'll learn the advantages and disadvantages of using mulch and how and when you can use leaves as a mulch. Finally, we'll get into the do's and don'ts of mulch and how to minimize the presence of potential pests.

Getting started is easier than you may think. We believe this guide will help make it even simpler.

Uses for Mulch

To start, let's take a closer look at the variety of uses for mulch. Knowing how and why you will benefit most from using mulch is the starting point for determining where you go from here. There are four general purposes for using mulch and you should rank these purposes in terms of importance to you.

  1. Water Conservation. Mulch will help the soil beneath it retain its moisture, reducing how frequently mulched areas may need to be watered. This is particularly important in dry areas or when water conservation is a concern. Closely related is the fact that mulch also keeps soil cooler in these warm environments.
  2. Weed Control. Mulch inhibits sunlight into the soil, which can suppress the growth of weeds. These are desired qualities in tough-to-weed areas (under bushes) and in flower and vegetable gardens.
  3. Improving Soil Quality. Using natural materials for mulch will eventually enrich the soil over the course of seasons, improving the soil's ability to grow vegetation in the future. This is an important benefit of using natural, biodegradable mulch material.
  4. Enhancing Appearance. Many homeowners choose to mulch because it gives their landscape a finished look and can even add some dramatic, contrasting colors. Neatly applied mulch in a choice of colors can add layers to landscaping that can be otherwise difficult, and more expensive, to duplicate.

Once you've determined your priorities for using mulch, it is on to discover what materials may best help you achieve your goals.

Mulch Materials

The reason why mulch is so affordable is it is frequently made from materials that are either leftover, unused, underused, readily available or would otherwise go to waste. That often makes it sustainable and great for the environment. Mulch can be made from a surprising array of material, ranging from organic residues and compost materials to stone and ground or chopped plastics or rubber. If it can cover the surface, conserve water, limit weeds, enhance the quality of the soil or improve the aesthetics of an area, it is likely a candidate to be used as mulch. Here are the more common materials used for mulch and the characteristics that make them appealing as a mulch.

Organic Residues

Organic residue mulches are the most popular of available mulches. They are made from leftover organic materials that may otherwise go to waste. These types of mulches include mulch made from bark chips, grasses, leaves, straw, and other organic material. They are often purchased by bulk or in large plastic bags.

The popularity of organic materials as mulch is completely understandable. It is affordable, as generally these materials are found in abundance. It is sustainable in that it is in effect, recycling material that would otherwise go to waste or fill up a landfill. Organic residues are a terrific way to naturally hold moisture in the soil, plus it breaks down easily, serving to fertilize and enrich the soil. Organic residues are available in a wide choice of textures, shapes, and colors, and they are superb as weed control. They are perfect for a variety of applications and garden areas. In some cases, organic residue is already available in or around a yard in the form of leaves, grass cuttings or pine needles.

Compost

Compost is generally made of leftover kitchen and yard waste, combined and allowed to “cook”. Many homeowners maintain a compost pile in their backyards in the hopes that it will turn into “black gold”, the ultimate in rich, organically fueled soil. In some cases, compost piles can become unreasonable to manage and ultimately contain more material than possible to use. The answer may be using compost material as mulch.

The biggest benefits of using compost as mulch are that it is low to no cost and adds a richness to your soil it previously would not have attained. Compost can smother sunlight and limit weed growth, however, its rich, soil-like substance also promotes growth. This is good as a fertilizer but can be problematic in weed suppression. Weeds that may sprout, however, can be easily plucked from the soft surface of the compost.

Compost is best used in vegetable and flower gardens that can utilize its value as a fertilizer. It can, however, sometimes be “aromatic” and be attractive to insects. Compost is a good insulator from cold weather and can be used to protect the roots of young plants through the winter. In the spring, it should be raked back to allow sunshine in to promote plant growth.

Stone

Stone or crushed concrete is another natural choice as a mulch. It is distinctly different from organic compost or residue in that it does not decompose. While this quality does not allow stone or crushed concrete to enrich the soil below it, it is one of the qualities that make it appealing to some homeowners. That is because it doesn't necessarily need to be replaced each spring. This longevity makes stone or crushed concrete mulch more maintenance-free and less expensive to use. Stone mulch does have some similar qualities to other mulches, including that it suppresses weeds and helps maintain soil temperature and moisture. It is particularly useful in high-wind areas where lighter mulch may get blown around. Of course, homeowners need to be cautious that stone mulch doesn't get into grassy areas and become a hazard while mowing. For this reason, it should not be used on hilly areas. Stone or crushed concrete mulch is useful under bushes and around trees. It is terrific around water features where it tends to stay in place better. Stone mulch is less desirable in vegetable or flower gardens where it can make planting a challenge. Modern stone mulch can also be purchased in “designer” shapes and colors, allowing for even more creativity when mulching an area around a home.

Rubber

Applying Rubber Mulch

A more non-traditional mulch that is growing in popularity is rubber mulch. Frequently processed from used tires after the steel belts have been removed, rubber mulch often has a pellet or small stone-shaped appearance. Since it is not organic, it doesn't offer soil-enriching qualities, but it does feature some other assets that make it a popular choice. Since rubber does not absorb moisture, more water flows down to the soil and into the plant roots. Rubber mulch is a good insulator, keeping soil temperatures two or three degrees cooler than non-mulched soil. It is a superb weed suppressant and offers a clean appearance. One of the areas in which rubber mulch has grown in popularity is for use in and around playgrounds. Rubber mulch offers a springy, softer texture, which can cushion falls and minimize injuries. Today, it is not unusual to see rubber mulch below and around swing sets, slides and climbing equipment. It is also less harmful than stones, should it get into grassy areas when mowing.

Rubber mulch is durable and long-lasting, and while it may occasionally require refreshing, it won't need to be replaced. This makes it an affordable long-term option. While rubber mulch is perfect for playground areas and around trees and under bushes, it may not be the best option for vegetable or flower gardens where it will eventually become mixed with the soil.

Plastic

Plastic mulch differs from other forms of mulch in that rather than used as a bulk material, plastic mulch come in rolls. It is most frequently used on larger agricultural farms. This type of mulch is rolled over planted row crops and suppresses weeds while containing small slits that allow desired plants to grow through. There are several benefits to plastic mulch in agriculture, including preventing fertilizer runoff and soil compaction. It also maintains soil moisture well and is popular to use with drip irrigation. Plastic mulch prevents root damage from cultivation since only the areas between the sheets of plastic mulch are susceptible to weeds. In spite of its proven value, there are two significant issues with plastic mulch, however. It is more expensive than other forms of mulch, and while it can be recycled, it is not considered sustainable. After use, there are large sheets of plastic of which to contend. Although plastic mulch is most popular in larger agricultural applications, as the popularity of drip irrigation grows in residential vegetable gardens, it is likely to be used more frequently for home use.

Sour Mulch

In some cases, when wood or bark chips are improperly stored, it can result in sour mulch. This is mulch that can actually be toxic to plants. The results from using sour mulch are fairly obvious and can occur quickly after applying sour mulch. Plants may wilt and turn yellow, and turf or grass neighboring the mulch may turn yellow and begin to die. Sour mulch is the result of a chemical reaction that occurs when mulch is stored in piles that are too tall and are not separated into windrows. This frequently is mulch produced as a by-product from a lumberyard or tree-trimming service. Many communities have tall mulch piles that may result in sour mulch. What happens is as this material is stacked higher and higher, there is significant pressure taking place in the interior of the pile. As the material is compacted, it produces heat, which in turn, can produce organic acids that lower the pH of the wood materials. This can result in sour mulch.

The circumstances creating sour mulch can occur in piles as little as ten feet high. It is more likely to occur when mulch is not piled in windrows. Should you suspect you have acquired a batch of sour mulch, there are steps you can take.

First, the sour mulch should be removed from the area where it was applied, and the area should be thoroughly soaked to help clean it from the organic acids. The sour mulch can be spread out in an area safe from damage and thoroughly rinsed with water to remove as much acid as possible. Limestone can also be spread over the mulch to neutralize the acid. The mulch can then be re-used.

Sour mulch is a relatively rare condition but its damage, if left unchecked, can be significant. Large gardens, areas of turf, hedges and even trees can be negatively impacted. Should you suspect sour mulch may be an issue, it is important to act quickly. It should be removed and the area remediated.

Ground Covers/Living Mulches

In some areas, an alternative to bulk mulches may be what is referred to as living mulches, or ground covers. Ground covers can be used like mulch, to cover the soil in gardens. They can add texture and color and may even bear flowers and fruit. Some households will choose to use ground covers in place of lawns where growing turf is either difficult or where water conservation is critical. Ground covers are also an excellent choice where the terrain is challenging and/or erosion is a problem.

Ground covers have some of the same positive traits as organic mulches. They help maintain moisture, can crowd out weeds, add beauty and help maintain the quality of the soil. While they will not need to be topped off seasonally, once they fully cover an area, they will likely need more maintenance.

Homeowners should be cautious when selecting a ground cover for mulch, as some can be quite aggressive and invasive. English ivy, for example, is attractive but will stem from where they hit the ground. This can make them almost uncontrollable over time. In fact, large areas of forests have been consumed by English ivy.

It can be a good idea to contact a local Extension Office to explore more friendly ground covers for your area. More manageable ground covers that produce fewer seeds include:

  • Lady's Mantle
  • Japanese Spurge
  • Candytuft
  • Wild Ginger
  • Wintergreen
  • Bearberry

If you are faced with an area where the terrain varies dramatically or grass is challenging to grow, living mulch may be a viable, and beautiful, alternative. It is often lush, attractive and relatively easy to maintain.

Color Variations

Different Colors of Mulch

One of the attractive aspects of using mulch is the color or “pop” they can add to landscaping. Used in combination with the colors of flowers, and, other vegetation, mulch can add another color to your property's pallet.

Colors can range from natural woods to reds, deep browns, and blacks. Are these color variations safe, however? Are the dyes used in some of these mulches safe for plants?

First, you should understand that not all mulches are dyed. Most of the others that are colored with dyes use harmless coloring. Iron-oxide, for example, is frequently used to provide a red color for mulches and carbon-based dyes are used for blacks or dark browns. Most mulches made directly from trees are harmless to vegetation. There can be an issue with mulches that may be produced from recycled materials like old wood pallets, decking or boxes. Some of these materials may still contain chromates copper arsenate (CCA) that was banned in 2003. There are mulches still being made with some of this older material that can be harmful to pets and plants while being beneficial to insects and earthworms.

While dyed mulches may not be necessarily harmful, they can be less beneficial to the soil. Dyed mulches tend to decompose slower and add less nutritients into the soil. Many, however, feel the addition of color is worth the potential minimal negative aspects of dyed mulch.

If you are concerned, look at the packaging to determine the material your mulch is made of and what types of dyes were used. Recycled wood materials should be avoided.

How Much Mulch Do You Need?

It can be easy to buy and apply too much mulch because it is inexpensive. Plus, there is always a tendency to think that more is better, which isn't necessarily true with mulch. There is good news in that you don't have to guess about how much mulch will be suitable for your space. There are ways to measure your space and determine just how much of a particular mulch will be required to apply an appropriate ground cover.

If you are purchasing a fine mulch, a bed one to two inches thick should suffice. For thicker, coarser mulch, three inches is often recommended.

Keep in mind, if mulch is applied too thinly, it will not provide many of its intended benefits. If it is applied too thickly, it may not allow moisture to get into the soil and will cost more than what is necessary. Mulch that is too thick may also be more attractive to pests. In this section, we will demonstrate how to determine the appropriate amount of mulch to use, no matter the shape or size of the area you intend to cover.

Calculating Cubic Yards

Generally speaking, most experts agree that about three inches of coarse mulch is adequate for most applications. Mulch, however, whether bought by bulk or by the bag, is often sold by the cubic yard. This can be understandably confusing in determining how many cubic yards of mulch will be required to cover a certain area in a layer that is three inches deep.

Keep in mind, for visualization purposes, a cubic yard of mulch is enough to fill a box that is 3 feet square. This cubic yard of mulch is sufficient to cover 100 square feet of space to a depth of 3 inches. To keep it simple then, a space that is 10 feet by 10 feet equals 100 square feet. One cubic yard of mulch is enough to cover that area in three inches of mulch.

While that may be simple enough, the reality can be a little more challenging to measure. You may have an area of bushes and plants that run along the front of a house. One area may be 6 feet wide by 20 feet long, and another may be 4 feet wide by 15 feet long. How much mulch would be required to cover these areas in three inches of mulch?

First, the total square feet should be determined. In the above example, you have an area that is 6' x 20' or 120 square feet. The second area at 4' x 15' is 60 square feet. You need enough mulch then, to cover 180 square feet (120 + 60). In this example, you would need 1.8 cubic yards of mulch since one cubic yard covers 100 square feet.

The basic steps are:

  1. Measure the square feet of the area(s) you wish to mulch.
  2. If there are multiple areas, add the square footage together.
  3. Purchase a cubic yard of mulch for every 100 square feet of space you wish to mulch.

Of course, when there are circular areas to be covered, it adds another layer of math.

Circular Bed Square Footage

Measuring the square feet of a circular area is a bit more challenging than that of a square area. You will first need to determine the diameter of a circle, by measuring the distance across its center. Let's say, for example, the circular area is 10 feet wide. Divide this number by 2 to determine its radius. In our example, 10 divided by 2 is 5. The radius then is 5 feet. To square this number, multiply it by itself, 5 x 5 = 25. Multiply this number by pi ( 3.14159 or use the pi symbol on many calculators). The resulting equation of 25 x 3.14159 = 78.54 square feet.

Now, let's say the area you want to cover is a semi-circle that would have a 10-foot diameter if it would be a full circle. You can just halve the above number to arrive at 39.27 square feet.

Again, keep in mind that a cubic yard of mulch will cover about 100 square feet of space to a depth of about three inches, and you can determine how much mulch you need.

This math doesn't have to be perfect of course. If the mulch is 2 3/4 inches thick in some areas or 3.25 inches in another, it is not something to stress over. You just want coverage that looks appealing, yet still allows moisture to get through while being thick enough to help retain any moisture in the soil. Mulch doesn't have to be exact. It is fairly forgiving in the amount that is used.

General Guidelines for Applying Mulch

Putting Down Mulch

It is a good idea to keep some general guidelines in mind when applying mulch. The first is to avoid the tendency to over-mulch. The tools needed will vary according to the material being used and the size of the area covered. It will frequently involve bending over and getting close and personal with the ground and your plants. It can be a bit messy, and it helps to know that mulching is not necessarily an exact science. Of course, you'll want to do your homework in choosing the right material and color of mulch for your application. In the following brief sections, we will address these issues and talk about when you should mulch and the best ways to go about laying it down.

Tools Needed

You will need tools to move your mulch, spread it and level it out. A wheelbarrow can come in handy when bulk mulch is used or for even moving multiple bags of mulch to various areas of a yard. Depending on the type of mulch being used, a shovel or even a pitchfork can come in handy. Larger areas can benefit from the use of a rake. Hand gardening tools like a trowel and hand rake are extremely valuable. One of the most valuable tools in mulching is your own two hands, which makes garden gloves a necessity. Mulch is not only messy, but chipped wood or bark can contain splinters. Since you may be spending a lot of time at or near ground level, a pad for kneeling or a garden cart with a seat can be useful.

Choose the Right Mulch

Choosing the right mulch depends on your priorities for the mulch. Is it to add beauty? Enrich the soil? Control soil temperature or moisture? Minimize weeds? You've already learned about the wide variety of materials and colors available for mulching your landscape, so now it is time to choose what is best for you.

You will now have to decide whether you will buy bulk mulch or purchase it in bags from a local garden center or big box store. When purchasing by the bag, be sure to save receipts so any extra mulch can be returned. When buying bulk mulch, having a tarp placed on the ground where the mulch will be dumped can make clean up easier.

Decide When to Mulch

Most homeowners choose to mulch in the spring, as they prepare their lawns and gardens for the growing season ahead. Mulching in the spring helps keep moisture in for young plants and prevents excessive weed growth. Before mulching in the spring, however, make sure the soil temperature has risen enough so you will not be trapping in cold soil under the mulch. Mulching in the spring also allows you to enjoy your landscape and garden areas just a bit longer each year.

In cold weather areas, mulching in the fall can help protect plants and roots from being damaged in freezing. Even where weather is more temperate, mulching in the fall can better maintain plant moisture during the "dry season." It also can add some important nutrients into the soil for a jump on the spring growing season.

Laying Down Mulch

Laying down mulch can be a somewhat messy process that can take a combination of shovels, rakes, trowels and human hands to spread somewhat evenly. It can be easiest to transport mulch into the area with a wheelbarrow or place bags of mulch around the work area. Many choose to shovel or dump larger piles of mulch into open areas in a garden and then spread them further using rakes, trowels or hands. Mulch doesn't need to touch the plants themselves. In fact, it is frequently best if it doesn't. This can allow just a bit more moisture and sunlight down into the root system of the plant, promoting better growth. Bark chips and coarser-style mulch should be spread to an approximate depth of three inches. When spreading mulch around trees, do not mulch up onto the bottom of the tree. This “volcano mulching” can cause disease and decay. Mulch can be spread up to a material edging made of hard rubber, plastic, wood, metal or brick. Others prefer a natural edge, cutting straight down below grass level with a shovel or spade.

How to Mulch Leaves With a Lawn Mower

Mulched leaves can be a valuable addition to gardens over the winter season, especially if the carbon-rich leaf particles are mixed with the nitrogen-rich grass clippings. Not only does this provide a protective layer from frigid temperatures, but it delivers a head start on a nutrient-rich garden for the next growing season.

Piling raked leaves in a garden will be counter-productive. When the leaves are mulched into small bits with a mower however, the value increases dramatically.

It will take some patience and multiple passes with a side discharge mower, but mulching leaves make great use of this natural material. Mow as you would normally. However, mow over the discharged leaves until they become too heavy to discharge. Now, mowing from the opposite side, mow over leaves until they combine with your original line of mulched leaves. By now, the pieces should be small enough to rake or pile onto a tarp for use as needed in a garden area.

A mulching mower can also mulch leaves small enough to be sent back into the ground. Make one pass across the grass with the mulch plug in place, preventing discharge. Next, make a second pass at a right angle to the first. Any remaining leaves and grass can be removed and disposed of or added to a garden.

Mulching can reduce the volume of leaves by up to 90%, making leaves much easier to dispose of or to use as a mulch.

DIY vs Hiring a Professional

Professional Mulch Application

There is no question that with a little knowledge, practice and effort, mulching around your home can be a DIY project. So can other landscaping and exterior improvement projects. Yet many still prefer to hire a professional.

There are many reasons homeowners may decide to use a professional to install mulch, including a lack of time. Having bags or a pile of mulch in the driveway for days or longer may also be an issue. Mulching as a DIY project can be messy and a professional may have access to better quality mulch. The biggest reason for hiring a professional for a mulching project may be the clean, crisp appearance of your landscaped property. Someone who mulches lawns and gardens for a living obviously has an edge over someone who may attempt it once a year. Here is a closer look at why a professional may be your best option when it comes to a mulching project.

Time

Mulching may not be the most difficult of home improvement or landscaping projects, but it does take time - more time than many homeowners consider. There is measuring the space and deciding the color and type of mulch to use. You'll have to purchase or at least gather the tools necessary. Buying mulch usually requires a trip to the store and loading and unloading of the material. There's getting the material to the appropriate areas in the yard and, of course, an even application. Edges may need to be cut into the grass and then there's the cleanup and returning unused bags. What may first appear to be a project that can be done in an hour or two can take a homeowner an entire weekend. Before you decide to do it yourself, be honest about the time you have available and if you want to spend it mulching.

Site Logistics

Another issue to consider is the logistics involved in mulching. Should you decide to have bulk mulch delivered to save time, it will take up space in a driveway, potentially causing a parking inconvenience. Even if you purchase bagged material yourself, it could take multiple trips and the bags will need to be stored on your property until ready for use. If you don't have a wheelbarrow, you may have to add that expense to your project. In any case, mulch will need to be taken closer to the work area.

Messes from Mulch Delivery

Buying mulch in bulk and having it delivered sounds convenient. You just make a phone call, give them your address and a pile of beautiful mulch appears in your driveway. It is rarely that “neat”, however. Bulk mulch can be a challenge to handle, and even more challenging should you get a heavy rain between delivery and installation. Even if everything else goes rather well, you will have significant mulch residue left in your driveway afterward. While dyed mulch may not leave a permanent stain in a driveway, it could leave at least temporary discoloration. Any leftover residue will have to be swept up and disposed of. Every bit of that pile will have to be used, moved or disposed of in one way or another.

Mulch Quality

A professional likely has much more experience at helping you choose and acquire quality mulch for your home project. This advice and access alone can make the services of a professional well worth it. Landscape professionals often have suppliers they count on season after season to supply quality products and will back them up. If a professional keeps you from making one mistake in a mulching project, it can make the call worthwhile. The less knowledge and confidence you have in your abilities, the more you can benefit from the help of a pro.

Safety

Although few would consider mulching “dangerous”, there are some hazards to attempting to complete a mulching project on your own. Mulch bags can be heavy and bulky to maneuver, especially if they are wet. This can cause potential back or muscle strain issues. Loading and unloading wheelbarrows full of mulch can also be difficult on the back. Kneeling to spread mulch throughout an area can be tough on the knees. There's the potential for scrapes, scratches, and splinters on arms and hands. If mulching isn't installed properly, it can leach onto lawns and become a mowing hazard. These are all worth thinking about before deciding to do it yourself.

Results

When taking a drive through town, it is usually not difficult to see which lawns and gardens have been professionally mulched. The mulch may appear to be deeper and richer. It is very likely to be near perfectly edged, with crisp lines. It may have greater depth and texture. Professionally installed mulch is a bit like professionally installed Christmas lighting. You may not exactly be able to pinpoint the differences, but it is far different from that of a DIY installation. If you are results-oriented, hiring a professional may be your best option. You may not know the difference but you will likely notice the difference.

Benefits of Mulch

The list of the benefits of mulching is a long one. It can keep moisture in the soil and keep weeds out. It can help lower soil temperature in the heat of the summer and warm plants in the cold of the winter. It allows more natural material to be recycled and often adds nutrients back into the soil. It can help prevent erosion and add a finished appearance to landscaping. It is also relatively simple to install and affordable. It can more than pay for itself in added value and beauty to a home. It is, however, not without its disadvantages.

Possible Disadvantages of Mulch

While there is an impressive list of positives when it comes to mulching, it can also have its drawbacks. Some mulches can have a less-than-desirable odor to it that is especially apparent when first installed. Non-biodegradable mulch like rubber, volcanic rocks and stone will change the texture of the soil in the area until significant steps are taken to remove it. Bark and wood chip mulch can float away during heavy rains and flooding, creating a messy cleanup. Various mulches in certain condition and applied too thickly can be a haven for insects, potentially including termites. It also increases the possibility of root collar rot. Most mulches add at least one more project to your annual landscaping duties. Many, however, feel these disadvantages are well worth the value mulching brings to a property.

Do's and Don'ts of Mulch

Like most household projects and improvements, mulching has its list of do's and don'ts to maximize its return on investment. These are from the mistakes of others who have made them and from those who have learned a better way. Here are some do's and don't to consider before starting your mulching project.

Do's

Want to get the most value and enjoyment from the time and money spent on your mulching project? Here are some “do's” to help.

  • Do look at mulching as part of your overall landscaping.
  • Do consider the full variety of mulch materials and colors available.
  • Do make sure mulch is contained by a border or edging.
  • Do use the right amount. Too much or too little mulch can be detrimental to your garden.
  • Do buy good quality mulch.
  • Do remove at least some old mulch when ”topping off” with new mulch.

Don'ts

Adversely, there are some things you want to avoid when mulching. Here is a list of some mulching “don'ts”.

  • Don't apply too thickly. A layer three to four inches deep is the maximum for coarse mulch. Fine mulch should only be one or two inches thick.
  • Don't buy cheap mulch or mulch that is recycled from old building materials or pallets.
  • Don't pile up mulch around the base of trees like a volcano. It may cause disease and rotting.
  • Don't use plastic under mulch. It can cause runoff and prevent water from getting to plant roots. The mulch itself will restrain weeds.
  • Don't apply mulch too early in the year. Allow the soil to sufficiently warm before application.
  • Don't apply mulch that is soaking wet. It is much heavier and compacts when wet and you are likely to apply more than necessary. It also is significantly heavier to move into place.

Mulch and Pests

Mulch can offer everything unwanted pests desire. It has food, water and a safe place to call home. How can you best enjoy the benefits of a mulched garden and landscape without sending out an invitation to additional unwanted creatures?

First, you should start with mostly fresh mulch every year. Remove the larger chunks of old mulch and replace with new fresh mulch. This is much less attractive to pests than mulch that has thoroughly composted. You can minimize pests by not over-mulching. A thicker layer of mulch holds more moisture in the mulch itself. You want that moisture to get into the soil and plant roots. The thicker mulch only serves as a nicer home for bugs. Finally, you can create a dry barrier between mulch and your foundation by leaving a mulch-free border of four to six inches. This will limit insect movement both into your house and into your mulch.

Getting Started with Mulch

The Benefits of Mulching

Mulching is one of those projects virtually every homeowner in any area of the country can benefit from. It provides a huge return on investment in value and enjoyment. This guide is intended to deliver all the information you need to get started. Taking that first step, however, is now up to you.

Decide on the benefits of mulching most important to you and the type of mulch that can best deliver on those benefits. Remember your choices range from organic to rubber and plastic and even living ground covers. Select the color and texture that will add some drama to your landscaping. Measure the area you want to mulch and determine how much material you will need. Decide if you wish to take on the project yourself or hire a pro. Know the "do's" and "don'ts" of mulching, and finally, sit back and enjoy the results.

Mulching is one of the most valuable, cost-effective and effective ways to improve the exterior of a home. The time to get started is now.