Applying Mulch: The Ultimate Guide

Before you pull out your gardening tools and get started applying mulch to your garden… quickly read this guide! We have laid out everything you will possibly need to know about adding mulch to your garden.

Mulching your garden is one of the best things you can do each year! Installing mulch can take a while (especially if it’s hot outside) – but mulching offers some great benefits – beautiful-looking garden beds, fewer weeds, and healthier plants.

How Much Mulch Do I Need?

5cm for organic mulch is the ideal depth to keep your gardens moist whilst also reducing weed growth. Be careful to not add too much mulch as this can result in plant roots not getting enough air to survive (suffocating that roots). If your mulch is too thick water can run off the top of the mulch without filtering through and soaking into the soil.

The maximum depth you should apply depends on the type: Fine mulch, like shredded hardwood, shouldn’t be more than 7cm deep. Coarse textures, such as pine bark nuggets, allow more air movement so you can go up to 10cm deep.

Tools You’ll Need For Mulch Laying

Laying mulch is pretty difficult without gardening tools, there are some specific tools that make the process a whole heap easier. Here are the tools you’ll need:

  • Shovel / Pitchfork – This tool makes it super easy to move the majority of your mulch from the pile where it was delivered – to your wheelbarrow.
  • Wheelbarrow – For transporting your mulch material.
  • Rake – The best type of rake would be a bow rake this is because the shorter tines are more rigid and designed for breaking up more material and spreading it. You can use a leaf rake to get the job done as well, just keep in mind that it might take longer with a leaf rake. You can flip it over and use the back side of the rake to smooth out the mulch and make sure their are no bumps or lumps.
  • Gloves — Protect your hands when you’re spreading the mulch and to fill in hard to reach spaces.

How To Lay Mulch

  1. Remove and debris from you garden beds – get rid of any leaves, sticks and old mulch from previous years. You could also take time to clean up the edging along your garden beds (between your bed and lawn). If you wish you can keep the old mulch from previous years, just keep in mind that optimal depth for your mulch type and make sure your two layers of mulch add up to the optimal depth (5-10cm).
  2. Water your garden beds – Mulching helps seal the moisture into the soil, so if it hasn’t rained for quite a while it’s worth watering your garden to make sure your soil is moist before you apply the mulch. If you want you may take this time to add a pre-emergent herbicide such as Preen to prevent weed seeds from germinating. It needs to be watered to activate, so this is the perfect time to do it!
  3. Remove weeds – One of the main reasons to get mulching done is to stop or slow weed growth, so it’s worth removing any weeds before you apply the mulch.
  4. Spread the mulch – Tip you wheelbarrow to initially dump your mulch. Use your rake to evenly spready the mulch. Its recommended to use your hands to spready the mulch around your plants. How thick? As mentioned before 5-10cm depending on the type of mulch you are using, if the mulch is too thin weeds will push through. If it’s to thick water won’t be able to reach the soil.
  5. Wet down your mulch – This is optional but recommended but watering can help keep the mulch in place when first installing.

How To Mulch Flower Beds Or Vegetable Gardens

Mulching large gardens is an easy task, but there are additional tips for spreading mulch that you should follow when working in the tighter spaces of flower beds and vegetable gardens.

When adding mulch it’s easy to have a ‘more=better’ mindset. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Make sure to keep the mulch at least 5-10cm away from the base of your plants and the trunks of your trees. Below is an example of what NOT to do:

Avoid ‘Mulch volcanoes’ when mulching trees – leave a 5-10cm gap from the base of the tree.

When laying mulch, wait for your plants to start growing before you apply your mulch – this way your beautiful new plants don’t get smothered!

For vegetable gardens, it’s recommended to use a lighter organic material such as grass clippings or straw rather than a heavier mulch (such as wood bark) as you’ll need to turn the soil each year so this will be harder with heavier mulches.

Unlike a flower bed, it’s recommended to add mulch around the base of your plants in your vegetable garden.

If you mulch your landscaping this spring you’ll get healthier soil, with less weed growth and better water retention all growing season!

What do you put under the mulch?

Many people suggest the use of a weed barrier. This can come in many shapes and sizes and unlike black plastic (which nothing can get through), woven landscape or weed-barrier cloth can let nutrients, some air and water into the soil. However, a weed barrier has some drawbacks, it disrupts natural processes that are required to keep your garden healthy – earthworms help aerate your soil naturally – preventing it from becoming too compact, however they can’t survive in the area under the weed barrier as the can’t reach the soil’s surface. You also don’t get the benefits of the natural decomposition of organic mulches, such as leaves and wood chips which add to the nutrients in the soil.

It is difficult to decide whether or not to use a weed cloth. Our recommendation is to avoid weeds if possible and use proactive measures such as removing all weeds as soon as you see them and pulling them out before they seed.

So, should you remove old mulch?

Completely removing last year’s mulch is completely unnecessary. You miss out on the nutritional benefits of mulch gradually breaking down and adding other organic matter to the soil. Removing old much is basically additional work and money for no real benefit.

So when should you add new mulch?

At the beginning of spring, check to see how much mulch is left intact from the year before. If there is less than 3cm of cover. Ideally, you want your mulch cover to be 5-10cm thick, so purchase the necessary amount to get your mulch cover back up to this level.

Will mulch attract bugs?

Most mulch these days that you can buy off the shelf are typically made from wood chips – while this is relatively inexpensive, wood mulch doubles as an attractant for a variety of pests including carpenter ants, earwigs, roaches, and termites. For this reason, it’s recommended to keep your mulched areas at least 1m away from your house and avoid mulching close to your house foundations (if your house is constructed with wood).

Fortunately, you don’t have to skip on mulch altogether as there are some other options. You can use artificial rubber mulch which has the added benefit of not harboring insects! Rubber mulch also won’t absorb the water meant for your plants, so the water goes straight to the roots of your plants. While it is slightly more expensive than natural mulch it will last longer! Up to 10 years, so you won’t have to constantly keep replacing the mulch. The only negative of rubber mulch is that it won’t break down and provide the same nutrition to your soil.

Get professional help installing your mulch

Garden Life Landscapes is a full-service garden and landscaping company! We can provide all of the services you could possibly need to radically transform your property. Whether you are looking to get new mulching done, or completely renovate your garden and landscape we can help you. Contact us today to get your completely free garden consultation!

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