Everything You Need to Know About Mulch, From Benefits to Varieties

Katie Smith
Written by Katie Smith
Reviewed by Tara Dudley
Updated March 29, 2022
A house with terrace
Photo: photographee.eu / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Comes in organic or synthetic forms

  • Inexpensive way to make a big impact in your yard

  • Cuts down on garden work

  • Provides plants and trees protection from the elements

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Whether you want to make your gardens look uniform, cut down on gardening chores, or protect your plants and trees, mulching will give you all those benefits and more. There are different forms of mulch to choose from that are easy to apply and maintain, and will give you the garden of your dreams. 

You can certainly hire a professional landscaper near you to come over and mulch your prized beds, but it’s an easy DIY project that can be done in a few hours, depending on the area you want mulched. Check out the mulch facts below to help your garden and lawn thrive. 

What Is Mulch?

Mulch is a material that’s placed on top of existing soil in your gardens. It makes gardening easier and provides many benefits to your existing soil, plants, and trees. Mulch comes in different forms, like organic or synthetic, and a few different colors, such as black or brown, depending on the variety you choose. 

What Are the Benefits of Mulch?

Many people lay mulch down because they simply like the way it looks—it provides a uniform background for your lawn and garden that makes plants and flowers pop. But the fact is, mulching has many more benefits that make it a wonderful addition to any lawn or garden.

Regulates Temperature 

Adding mulch to your garden is like adding an extra layer of protection. It literally acts as a temperature regulator. The mulch keeps roots protected from the hot sun as well as from the cold. 

Provides Nutrients 

Mulch gives your plants and soil an extra dose of nutrients as it breaks down.

Retains Moisture 

Mulching will retain more moisture after being watered than soil alone because it soaks up the water and hangs onto moisture longer than plain soil.

Repels Pests

Here’s a mulch fact you’ll love. Certain types of mulch, such as cedar, can repel pests, preserving your gardens and all your hard work. 

Reduces Weeds

The added layer on top of existing soil prevents grass and weeds from popping up in your beautiful gardens. 

Prevents Erosion 

After a rainstorm, mulch will save your gardens from washing away since it provides extra protection and an added layer.

Different Types of Mulch

A gardener mulching flower bed with mulch
Photo: ronstik /iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

There are many varieties of mulch to choose from. You can purchase them at a gardening supply store, or you may even find what you need in your backyard. 

Organic Mulch

"Organic mulch will decompose, and will need to be replaced faster," says Tara Dudley, owner of Plant Life Designs. "However, the fact remains that it will add many nutrients to your soil and plants."

Shredded Leaves

Shredded leaves are a great form of mulch you can use anywhere. It will attract earthworms, which is great for your soil and plants. If you mulch with leaves in the fall, they will be broken down by the spring when it’s time to plant. 

Keep in mind that shredded leaves work far better than whole leaves since whole leaves stick together, don’t decompose as fast, and will repel water.

Grass Clippings

Grass clipping makes great mulch when placed in a compost bin since it can turn into soil or be used to mulch remote areas that you are trying to keep weed-free. However, never use grass clippings as mulch if they have been treated with herbicides or pesticides.

Straw and Hay

Both are very beneficial to flower gardens since they keep soil-borne diseases at bay by protecting the plants from splashing soil. Straw and hay decompose slowly and attract spiders, which are great for keeping unwanted pests from your gardens.

Newspaper

Here’s a mulch fact that might surprise you: Most newspapers are great for layering to keep weeds away and retain moisture. Newspaper is also a smart mulch to consider if you are trying to plant a garden on top of a grassy area, as it kills the grass underneath. For best results, layer the newspaper about four to eight sheets deep and wet it down first. 

Synthetic Mulch

While synthetic mulch doesn’t add any nutrients to your soil, it works wonders at keeping grass and weeds out and retaining moisture. It also won’t decompose quickly, so it’ll last longer than organic mulches. 

Stone/ Gravel

If you have a garden that needs good drainage and doesn’t mind extra heat like an herb garden, consider using stone or gravel. 

Black Plastic/ Landscaping Fabric

These two choices are ideal for areas where you will plant something but won’t dig in that space again, like trees or foundation plantings. Long-lasting plastic and fabric keep the weeds out and help retain moisture.

They don’t take a lot of time to put down, and you can add something on top (such as bark mulch or stone) if you don’t like the look of it.

When to Consider Using Mulch

Any area in your yard that doesn’t have a thick ground cover or grass will benefit from mulch. This is especially true around trees, gardens, or wherever you don’t want weeds to pop up, like a stone patio or walkway. 

For best results, add organic mulch twice a year to vegetable and perennial flower gardens: once in the fall and again in the spring. Add mulch to annuals only after they have been established (are 4-6 inches above the ground).

How to Add Mulch to Your Lawn and Garden

While mulching is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do for your lawn, there are some additional hacks and facts you’ll want to keep in mind: 

  1. Don’t apply more than 3 inches of mulch. Adding too much will cause your gardens to be too wet and can be the cause of diseases. If you don’t add enough, weeds can creep through.

  2. Before applying fresh mulch, make sure to turn old mulch with a garden weasel. This will allow the soil to breathe better and do its job.

  3. Spread mulch under trees and shrubs as far as their outermost branches will reach, but never let the mulch touch the base of trees or shrubs.

  4. Before and after mulching, make sure you water very well. 

  5. If you would like to cover a grassy or weedy area with mulch, consider putting down layers of cardboard or landscaping plastic instead of using weed killers.

  6. Colored or dyed mulch can run on walkways or concrete. If you choose a colored mulch, don’t water it for 24–48 hours, so it has a chance to dry out and prevent bleeding.

  7. It’s normal for your mulch to fade from the outside elements. Mulch can easily be freshened by turning it with your hand or rake.

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