How To Garden With Mulch [Step-By-Step Guide]

This article was reviewed by Steve Snedeker, professional landscaper.

Mulching is an important step to protect the soil and plants' roots from damage. If you mulch incorrectly, you can prevent nutrients from reaching the soil. If you're curious about how to mulch your garden properly, you're in the right place. We've conducted thorough research and can tell you the necessary steps!

Follow the instructions below to put mulch in your garden:

  1. Select the type of mulch
  2. Calculate how much you'll need
  3. Prepare the area
  4. Sow seeds or transplant plants
  5. Add mulch
  6. Water

As you can see, putting mulch in your garden is a straightforward process! Keep reading to learn more about each step, the different types of mulch, and more!

Yellow tulips planted at the garden with mulch, How To Garden With Mulch [Step-By-Step Guide]

How To Apply Mulch

To apply mulch correctly, you'll need to know what type you're using and how thick of a layer to apply. The exact thickness of mulch can vary based on the kind you're using, your plants, and the time of year.

Instructions on how to put mulch in your garden

1. Select Mulch

You can either use organic or inorganic mulch in your garden. Inorganic mulch is excellent for controlling pests and weeds. It can also help add a decorative pop to your landscape.

Unfortunately, dark inorganic mulch tends to heat the soil more than regular mulch. It also doesn't necessarily add any nutritional benefits like organic mulch can. Some materials for inorganic mulch include rocks, gravel, rubber, and fabric.

Variegata planted on the garden with mulch

Organic mulch is natural and will break down over time. This type of mulch includes straw, compost, and wood chips. Using organic mulch is an excellent way to add nutrients to the soil over time and control the soil's moisture.

Both types of mulch are acceptable to use in any garden. However, deciding whether you find pest control or water retention more important is essential. Once you decide this, you should be able to determine the best mulch for your yard.

Check out this rubber mulch on Amazon.

Take a look at this straw mulch on Amazon.

2. Calculate The Amount Needed

For the most part, you should try to avoid applying mulch in layers thicker than 3 inches. Applying mulch in thicker layers can prevent water from reaching the soil underneath. However, you shouldn't be spreading it too thin, either. If you don't put enough, you may still get weeds.

You'll also need to take into consideration the type of mulch when deciding how much to lay down. In general, finer materials don't require as thick of a layer.

To calculate how much mulch to lay down, you should multiply the square footage to be covered by the depth in inches. Divide your answer by 12, and then divide that by the bag size in cubic feet. The answer you get will tell you the number of bags you'll need.

A single bag with two cubic feet of mulch can cover between 24 square feet and 6 square feet, depending on how thick you want it. You can also work in cubic yards. If you multiply the square footage by the desired depth in inches and divide the answer by 324, you get the cubic yards of mulch you'll need.

Regardless of how you calculate it, always make sure you're working in the correct units. You can also double-check your work with an online calculator. 

3. Prepare The Area

You'll need to clear the area of any debris before putting mulch down. If possible, kill any weeds with a chemical killer two weeks before laying mulch. You can also pull weeds by hand. However, you should be careful to remove the entire root system. Leaving roots behind can allow weeds to grow despite the layer of mulch.

It's also a good idea to trim trees and shrubs in the area being mulched. Next, you should rake away any leaves or trimmings. After the area is clear, you can till the first few inches of soil. Loosening the soil can be very important, especially with heavy clay soil.

Finally, you should edge the area where you want to put mulch. You don't want mulch spilling onto walkways or the grass. For crisp edges, you can use a string to lay out where you need to create your edges.

Then, use an edging shovel to remove dirt from that line. You should try to work slowly and carefully. The border you make will prevent weeds and grass from growing into your garden bed.

Check out this edging shovel on Amazon.

4. Plant

If you have any seeds to sow or plants to transplant, you should do it before you mulch. Doing it before will help you to avoid getting any mulch into the hole you dig for the plants.

Be careful mulching over seedlings. A heavy layer of mulch over seeds may prevent the plant from germinating properly. It's best to use a thinner layer over new seeds or to avoid mulching directly over them until they sprout.

Can You Plant Directly In Mulch?

You can still put new plants into the garden if you've already applied mulch. You'll need to clear the mulch away so you can put the seeds directly into the soil. Then, cover the seeds with the correct amount of dirt and a thin layer of mulch.

For the most part, you'll want to avoid planting seeds into mulch. They won't get the same nutrients as they would in soil or compost. Additionally, the mulch is more likely to block the sun from getting to the seed.

Want more information? Check out this post: How To Plant After Mulching

5. Mulch

There are a couple of different ways to spread mulch around your garden. First, you can spread it around by hand. This way gives you slightly less control, and it may be harder to control how thick you layer the mulch.

Another method is to place small piles of mulch throughout the place you want it to be. Then, take a rake and spread the mulch into a layer on the ground. You can also use your hands to create uniform layers. Using your hands can be more effective if you're working at the edges or around plants.

Gardener replanting a vegetaable at the backyard

When spreading mulch, remember that you shouldn't put it too close to trees, bushes, and your home. Tree roots can grow into mulch which can cause damage. In addition, mulch can conceal rot damage and can make it easier for bugs to get into the home.

Can your mulch attract pests? Check out this post: Does Mulch Attract Termites? [And how to protect your home] 

Can You Put Mulch Directly Over The Soil?

As long as there aren't any weeds or seedlings to worry about, you can spread mulch directly over the soil without any preparation. However, your garden may benefit if you till the soil and amend it.

When you till the soil, you typically break it up and mix it up to 12 inches deep. Doing this can be especially helpful with clay soil, new garden beds, or heavily traveled areas. 

Should You Remove Mulch Every Year?

It is usually up to you whether or not you remove mulch each year. Organic mulch will break down after a few years. So, you don't need to remove old mulch, but you may have to replace it every few years.

Inorganic mulch will need to be replaced sometimes. You should put a new layer down when your old mulch looks like it's losing color.

Planting on the garden using mulch

You may also want to remove some organic mulch if you're changing the kind you're using. In this instance, removing old mulch will help keep your garden looking uniform. If you decide to remove old mulch, you should move it into a compost pile to decompose.

6. Water

You can choose to skip watering the place you mulched. However, watering the area can help the mulch settle onto the soil. Watering will also be helpful for any seeds or new plants in the area, especially if you're applying mulch in the spring.

If you're applying mulch later in the season, your garden can still benefit from some watering. So, you should still consider watering, especially if you have new plants or if the season has been drier than usual.

How To Mulch With Newspaper In Vegetable Garden?

If you have extra newspapers around, you can use them to mulch with. You should prepare the area as you would for mulch. Then, place the newspaper down in layers of around five sheets. Water the newspaper to help prevent them from flying away.

Variegata planted on the garden with mulch

You can cover the newspaper with a thin layer of topsoil or some organic mulch, like straw. Remember to leave some space between the newspaper and your plants. Newspapers can easily smother weeds and any new seedlings.

Another option is to put the newspaper layer down, followed by topsoil, and then finish by putting seeds into the top layer. Over time, the newspaper will break down. This will allow the roots to continue growing down while still regulating the amount of water in the ground.

When To Apply Mulch

You should lay mulch in the spring before planting new seeds. The second option is to mulch during the fall, right after the first hard freeze. You don't want to lay mulch too early in the fall; otherwise, you won't be able to regulate the temperature.

In Closing

You can easily lay mulch whether or not you already have plants out. Just remember to clear away any weeds and to not over-mulch areas with trees or new seeds.

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