What is Mulch? Types, Benefits, and How Much Do I Need?

Mulch is more than just a garden accessory; it’s a vital part of maintaining a healthy, vibrant garden and landscaping. We are going to navigate through the basics of mulch—understanding its types, benefits, and how much you actually need—to help you significantly enhance your landscaping, making it a project well within reach for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. Hopefully this will help your yard look more cohesive and inviting, becoming a beloved spot for family time and relaxation.

What is Mulch?

In the simplest terms, mulch is a material spread over the surface of the soil to serve as a covering. It’s like a cozy blanket for your garden. But this isn’t just about making your garden bed look pretty (though it certainly helps with that). Mulch has several practical benefits, including retaining soil moisture, reducing weed growth, and improving soil quality. Plus, as it breaks down, organic mulches can provide valuable nutrients to your plants. It’s a win-win!

Types of Mulch

When it comes to mulch, the options can seem endless. Each type comes with its own set of benefits, making it perfect for different uses. Let’s break down the most popular ones:

  • Organic Mulches:
    • Bark Mulch: Made from the bark of trees like pine, cedar, and cypress, bark mulch is a favorite for its durability and aesthetic appeal. It’s great for areas where you want a polished look that lasts.
    • Straw Mulch: Straw is an excellent choice for vegetable gardens. It keeps the soil moist and cool and breaks down over time to enrich the soil.
    • Pine Needles: Pine needle mulch, also known as pine straw, is an organic mulching material made from fallen pine needles, valued for its ability to acidify the soil, retain moisture, and prevent erosion in garden beds and landscapes.
    • Grass Clippings: Don’t toss those grass clippings! They can be a fantastic mulch for your garden beds, adding nutrients back into the soil as they decompose.
  • Inorganic Mulches:
    • Rubber Mulch: Made from recycled tires, rubber mulch is durable and offers excellent weed control. It’s often used in playgrounds but can work well in certain garden settings.

Decide Where to Mulch

Deciding where you need mulch is the first step to mulching your yard. The main function of mulch is to retain moisture and discourage weeds. This works great for flower beds and vegetable gardens.

However, you can use mulch for whatever you like. You can put it around mailboxes, around trees, or really wherever you would like. It can add a lot of character and definition to your yard no matter where you decide to put it. 

Choose a Good Time to Mulch

You can add mulch to your yard anytime you’d like. However, there are certain times of the year where it’s best to mulch. 

There are many advantages to mulching in the spring. Mulch will help control weeds, retain moisture, insulate the plants, and add nutrients to the soil. Lay it down in your garden or other areas of your yard after you’ve done your spring planting. 

You can also spread mulch in the Autumn and it can be an important part of Fall lawn maintenance. You can completely spread new mulch to help with plant stability as the ground freezes and unfreezes, or you can just add a thin layer to spruce up your existing mulch. 

Determine How Much Mulch You Need

The biggest question when it comes to mulching is how much mulch you should buy. Luckily, some simple measuring will help you answer that question. 

Figuring out how much mulch you need doesn’t require a degree in mathematics, I promise. Here’s a simple formula to guide you:

  1. First, measure the length and width of the area you want to mulch in feet. Multiply these together to get the square footage.
  2. Decide how deep you want your mulch layer to be. A good rule of thumb is 2-3 inches for most gardens.
  3. To calculate the cubic feet of mulch you need, multiply your total square footage by the desired depth in inches, and then divide by 12 (since there are 12 inches in a foot).

For example, if your garden bed is 20 feet long and 5 feet wide, and you want a 3-inch deep layer of mulch, you’d calculate it like this: 20×5=10020×5=100square feet. 100×3=300100×3=300divided by 12 gives you 25 cubic feet of mulch needed.

Another route to figure out how much mulch you need is to use Home Depot’s Mulch Calculator. All you do is enter the length and width of the yard, indicate what type of mulch you’re using, and put in how deep you want the mulch to be after it’s spread. The calculator will tell you how many bags of mulch you need to purchase for your project. 

Get Ready to Mulch

Now that you’ve got your mulch, it’s time to get the area where you’re mulching ready. Following these steps will ensure that your mulch lasts. You’ll need a few basic yard tools to mulch your yard:

  • Gloves
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel or Pitchfork
  • Rake

Here’s what you’ll need to do to best prepare your yard for mulch:

  1. Clean out area. Remove any dried leaves, sticks, old much, and other debris.
  2. Smooth it down. Use your rake to smooth down the area and level it. 
  3. Add edging. Get clean, crisp lines that separate the mulch from your lawn with these edging tips. If you already have an edge, use a spade to freshen up the line.
  4. Water. If your ground is dry, you need to wet down the area before adding mulch. 
  5. Remove weeds. Pull any weeds before adding mulch.

Lay Your Mulch

Now that you have your area ready to mulch, it’s time to spread the mulch. Use your shovel or pitchfork to put small piles of mulch in the area you’d like to lay it. Use a rake to spread the mulch in large empty areas but use your hands to spread the mulch around any plants. 

You want your mulch to be 2-4 inches thick for the best results. If you spread your mulch too thin, you’ll get weeds and if you add too much water will have trouble reaching the soil. 

You’ll want to leave at least 1” around tree trunks or plants so their roots have the space they need to grow. 

Maintain Your Mulch

After you’ve laid down your mulch, you’ll want to give it one final watering. Only lightly water the mulch for the first 24 to 48 hours. If you notice your mulch getting faded by the sun, gently turn over the top layer for a new appearance. 

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  • Reply Loretta

    Hi Brooke! This looks great! I wanted to ask, any helpful hints on keeping the white brick clean? Do you ever have issues with this? Like splash up from rain? Thanks!!

    March 21, 2021 at 2:10 pm
  • Reply Lachelle

    Does the white duck ever look like a pinky peach color on your house?

    March 11, 2023 at 6:13 pm
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