How to Mulch: Everything You Need to Know

close up of landscaping featuring a path light, plant and rocks in a mulch bed

Mulch is one of the most useful and time-saving materials you can introduce to your garden, yard, landscaping, or flower beds. But you might be asking yourself: what is mulch even used for and do I need it?

What Does Mulch Do?

Mulch is used for suppressing weeds, retaining soil moisture, preventing erosion, and protecting plant roots. Organic mulches even help improve your soil quality over time.

Deciding when to mulch, how to do it, and even which type you should use can be daunting. But don’t worry! The experts at Toro YardCare have the answers to your questions and plenty of pointers on mulching.

Types of Mulch

Broadly speaking, the two types of mulch are organic and inorganic. Inorganic mulches are generally stone or plastic. Stone especially should be used mostly for hard landscaping that is not going to be altered any time soon—digging through rock is not a fun way to spend your afternoon. Organic mulches include wood chips, bark, shredded leaves, straw, grass clippings, cocoa hulls, and more. All organic mulches provide the basic benefits of mulching, just with slight variations on longevity, appearance, and how they affect the soil.

When is the Best Time to Mulch?

Avoid mulching too early in the season. Adding new mulch in the early spring will prolong the time it takes your soil to warm and could slow the growth of your plants. Once the soil is warm, most plants will benefit from mulching any time until the weather gets cold again.

If you are adding plants to your garden, flower beds, or landscaping, it will be more efficient to plant them first and mulch second. Don’t worry if you want to add plants to an already mulched area though, just be sure to replace any mulch that gets dug in with your new planting.

The How-To’s of Mulching

Learning how to mulch is not difficult or complicated. However, there are a few guidelines you should follow to ensure the health and happiness of your plants.

Prep your site

Removing weeds and other nuisances is the key to starting your mulching project off on the right foot. Persistent weeds can push through mulch if they aren’t dug out first, so starting from a clean slate is the best option.

Proper depth and spread

It probably goes without saying that you shouldn’t be able to see bare ground when you mulch, but it is possible to use too much. If you are using wood mulch, layer about three to four inches deep. That amount will increase moisture retention and keep too many new weeds from germinating.

Make sure your mulch isn’t touching tree trunks or woody shrub stems and thin out your layer to about two inches within half a foot of any of those trunks or stems. This will reduce the possibility of diseases forming and will ensure the roots get enough oxygen and water.

Maintain the mulched area

Mulching won’t prevent all weeds from forming, but the few that do pop through will be much easier to deal with. One of the benefits of organic mulch is that it will break down and improve the soil, but it also means it needs replacing every few years. Keep an eye out for bare spots and add mulch as necessary to keep a consistent three to four-inch layer.

Using less common types of organic mulch

There are plenty of great options for organic garden mulch that are not the most common wood mulch. Options include shredded leaves, decomposed leaves, dried grass clippings, straw, cocoa husks, pine needles, and more. Be aware that cocoa husks, just like chocolate, are not dog-friendly, and options like pine needles will add extra acidity to the soil when they break down. As part of your prep work, doing a quick check of mulching best practices for any less common mulches will help keep your plants, pets, and soil healthy.

Get Mulching!

Mulching is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your garden, trees, shrubs, and flower beds. Plus, it will make your yard work easier in the long term, so there is no reason not to pick a mulch and get to it! If you need some assistance on deciding how much mulch to buy, check out our handy mulch calculator.

Don’t be afraid to try out different mulches to find the perfect mix of aesthetics and utility. A mulched plant is a happy plant and will be content to put up with your experiments. Just pick an option to try out and get mulching!

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