How to Mulch a Flower Bed and Create the Garden of Your Dreams

Amber Guetebier
Written by Amber Guetebier
Updated August 13, 2021
Manicured flower bed
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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 just what you need to do to build the flower bed you’ve always envisioned.

Difficulty: 2/5

Time: 1 to 2 hours per bed

Tools and Materials Needed: mulch, shovel, garden hoe, flat head shovel for edging, rake, pruners, gloves , fertilizer, pre-emergent*, flat head shovel for edging*, and wheelbarrow*

*optional items depending on your garden size

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

Landscaped flowered yard
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Be sure the borders of your landscape beds are tidy by reinforcing any edging or using a flat shovel to define the line between lawn and garden bed. Along with looking pristine, neat edging helps contain the mulch so it doesn’t spill out into 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. If you want to add any more plants to your bed, do so now before pouring on the mulch.

4. Rake

Once you've given your shrubs a much-needed trim, rake the bed to remove any 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.

6. Fertilize

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 liked to be fertilized in the spring and fall with a granular fertilizer that breaks down gradually into the soil. In the spring, give your flower beds a bloom-boosting fertilizer 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 in the fall when you’re winterizing your garden.

8. Buy Your Mulch

To calculate how much mulch you'll need, determine the area of your bed and multiply by your desired depth (most beds should have mulch 2 to 3 inches deep). 

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.  

What Kind of Mulch Should I Buy?

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.

Bulk Mulch Delivery vs. Buying Bags

Now that you know the amount and type of mulch you want, you need to decide if you're going to pick up bags of mulch yourself at the garden center or have it delivered in bulk (and possibly installed for you!).

  • Most bags of mulch cost $2 to $4 per bag

  • For the same type of mulch, delivered, you'll get $20 to $25 per cubic yard

One other 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! Bags, on the other hand, can easily be stored in your garage or shed until you’re ready.

9. Spread the Mulch

Mulched flower bed
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Distribute the mulch evenly on all of the non-planted areas in a garden bed, spreading at least 2 inches deep. Leave a small amount of space at the base of trees and shrubs to make granular fertilizer easier to apply later. 

For many gardeners, the best time to lay mulch is twice a year. Mulching right after spring planting will prevent weeds before they even start. Alternatively, mulching in the fall can provide nutrients and insulation for your plants through the colder winter months. 

Always mulch after the ground is thawed. Be sure to water a day or two before you apply the mulch, as it's best to do when the ground is damp (but not soaking wet.)

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 actually 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.

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