Mulch isn’t just for your landscape—your garden will love it, too
You’ve just planted your prized perennials in your garden bed, but before you sit back and watch the flowers grow, you’ll need to mulch. Whether you're preparing your garden beds for the cold season or trying to control weeds in your landscaping, simple mulching tips and tricks are the secrets to any beautiful garden. Follow these steps to learn how to mulch and build the flower bed you’ve always envisioned.
Why Should I Mulch My Garden?
Although you’ll see it most often in landscaping, mulch is also an excellent companion for your garden. Aside from its clean and spiffy aesthetic, here are the key benefits of mulching your flower beds:
Greatly reduces the number of weeds in the garden
Helps retain moisture in the soil so your plants won’t dry out
Creates a protective barrier against heat and cold
Protects plants from harsh winter freezes, winds, and thaws
Nourishes the soil and fertilizes plants while it breaks down
Improves soil structure as it decomposes, allowing better drainage and nutrient distribution
Helps prevent soil compaction and soil erosion
How Much Does It Cost to Mulch a Garden?
Mulch costs anywhere from $30 to $150 per cubic yard, depending on the type you choose. Here are the average costs per cubic yard for common varieties:
Shredded-hardwood bark: $40
Pine bark: $30
Pine needles (pine straw): $150
Yard waste, such as leaves and grass clippings: $0
Calculating How Much Mulch You’ll Need
Before mulching, you’ll need to calculate how much mulch you'll need. To do this, determine the square footage of your garden bed and multiply by your desired depth (most beds should have mulch 2 to 3 inches deep). Then divide by 324 to get the total amount of mulch in cubic yards.
Once you have your number, round up to the nearest whole or half cubic yard for delivery orders, or divide by the volume of the bags you’re purchasing to find how many you need.
Pro Tip: Whether you’re paying a delivery fee or hauling bags home yourself, it’s better to have a bit extra than to have someone make a second trip.
How to Spread Mulch in Your Garden
Spreading the mulch is pretty straightforward, but the prep work beforehand is your key to success. Always mulch after the ground is thawed, and be sure to water a day or two before you apply the mulch, as it's best to do so when the ground is damp (but not soaking wet). Here’s what you need to do:
1. Weed Your Beds
If you’re re-mulching a bed you’ve spent seasons caring for, be sure it’s as weed-free as possible. If you’ve just installed a brand-new garden bed, lucky you! You can skip this step.
2. Clean Up Any Borders
Be sure the borders of your landscape beds are tidy by reinforcing any DIY garden edging or using a flat shovel to define the outline between the lawn and garden bed. Besides looking pristine, neat edging helps contain the mulch so it doesn’t spill onto your grass.
3. Trim Bushes and Shrubs
Because you’re already dedicating time to weed, it's also the perfect time to trim any bushes and shrubs and deadhead any flowering perennials (to remove any spent flowers). If you want to add more plants to your garden bed, do so before pouring the mulch.
Once you've given your shrubs a much-needed trim, rake the bed to remove fallen leaves, debris, old mulch, and dead weeds. You want the soil to be as free of debris as possible.
5. Till and Smooth the Soil
With the garden beds cleared, cultivate the soil by loosening and turning it with a shovel. Then use a hoe and a rake to even the soil out, giving you a nice template to lay your mulch on.
For newly planted perennials, chances are you already mixed fertilizer into the planting mix. For existing plants, it’s a great opportunity to fertilize.
Most plants, trees, and shrubs respond best to fertilizer in the spring and fall. You can use a granular fertilizer that breaks down gradually in the soil. Give your flower beds a bloom-boosting fertilizer in the spring to help them pop.
If you have planted annuals, give them a water-soluble liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season to get the maximum flower burst.
7. Apply a Pre-Emergent (Optional)
Some gardeners prefer to apply a pre-emergent—an herbicide to prevent weeds—to the soil before mulching to stop weeds (and seeds) from growing. But if you plan to plant anything in the next three to five months, skip this step because it will inhibit growth.
The best times of year to apply a pre-emergent are early spring (after you’ve planted) or fall (when winterizing your garden).
8. Spread the Mulch
Distribute the mulch evenly on all non-planted areas in a garden bed, spreading at least 2 inches deep. Leave a small space at the base of trees and shrubs to make granular fertilizer easier to apply later.
Tips for Choosing and Storing Mulch
There are many types of mulch, so it’s important to know which is best for your yard. For most gardeners, medium-sized bark or shredded bark are suitable. You can also mulch with leaves, especially when prepping your beds for winter.
Once you know the amount and type of mulch you want, you need to decide if you'll pick up bags of mulch yourself at the garden center or have it delivered in bulk (and possibly installed for you!).
Another factor to consider is timing: If you get a bulk mulch delivery, you need to be ready to spread it ASAP. You don't want a big pile of mulch sitting on your lot in a rainstorm! On the other hand, bags can easily be stored in your garage or shed until you’re ready.
Hiring a Professional vs. DIY
Depending on the size of your yard, this project is relatively foolproof for even a novice gardener. The mulching itself is a breeze—the prep work is what takes the most time. If you can dedicate a Saturday afternoon to cleaning up your flower beds and spreading mulch, you can save quite a bit of money.
But if you’d rather spend your weekend at a barbecue, hiring a local landscaper to mulch your flower bed is a great option. A pro can get the job done in only a few hours.
How deep should mulch be?
You should lay your mulch at a depth of two to four inches. Shallower depths won’t provide adequate protection, and going too deep can prevent water from reaching the soil.
What kind of mulch should I buy?
There are many types of mulch, so it’s important to know which is best for your garden. You’ll generally want to steer clear of inorganic mulches like gravel and rubber. These don’t break down and can harm your garden by retaining heat and compacting the soil. Stay away from red, black, and other dyed mulches as well, as these will not enrich the soil the way natural mulches do.
For most gardeners, medium-sized bark or shredded bark are suitable. You can also mulch with leaves or pine needles, especially when prepping your beds for winter.
How often should I mulch?
Aim to mulch your garden twice a year. This will help maintain a protective barrier as the previous layers of mulch break down.