Gardening Advice

How to Mulch: A Complete Guide for a Thriving Garden

OzCameraman /

If you are a gardening enthusiast, you probably already know that mulching is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do in your garden. It’s a great option if you want to enhance the appearance of the landscaping while providing tons of nutrients that plants like (depending on the type of mulch, of course).

Mulch makes fruits, veggies, flowers, and lawns grow healthier and more beautiful. Plus, it minimises the time and money required for weeding and watering. And, as there are many variations and techniques, learning how to mulch properly can save you a lot of grief down the track.

So, if you:

  • Want to add visual appeal to your garden;
  • Are struggling with removing the weeds;
  • Are wondering how to make your lawn thicker and greener;
  • Want to grow a thriving garden with healthier plants and trees with minimum effort.

Well, keep on reading to learn the most effective tips on how to mulch, when to mulch, and when you have to replace it. This step-by-step guide will help you avoid wasting time and money on guesswork.

Table of Contents:

What type of mulch to use

The two basic types of mulch are organic and inorganic.

  • Organic matter decomposes and enriches the soil with valuable nutrients. Wood chips, bark, sawdust, straw, hulls and shells, and even compost give a natural look, and most of them do a great job with weed control. Grass clippings and shredded leaves are excellent solutions for a thicker and healthier lawn. As organic types of mulch retain the moisture in the soil, they’re a perfect option for newly planted trees and shrubs. Also, there is no harm if you mix them into the soil. Yet, it’s good to avoid using hardwood chips, as they can bind together and block water and air access to the ground.
  • Inorganic mulch is preferred in aesthetic landscaping design. It’s available in different colours and styles. Stone, gravel, rubber, plastic, or landscape fabric all need less time for maintenance and are great at deterring weeds. On the other hand, you have to be careful with soil temperature, as black plastic and stones absorb heat from the sun, therefore warming up the soil below. Furthermore, inorganic mulch doesn’t break down, and it’s not easy to plant in or move aside. So, think about your gardening plans before sticking to inorganic mulch.
Mulches made from cocoa shells are preferred by many organic gardeners for their sweet smell and the essential nutrients they add to the soil. Keep in mind that they can be highly toxic to dogs and cats.

How to calculate how much mulch you need

The amount of mulch you’ll need depends on the size of the area and the depth of the layer you want to apply. Determine the thickness depending on the type of mulch and the specifics of the garden:

  • About 5 cm are usually enough in shady areas;
  • You need to lay down 5 cm to 10 cm of mulch to control weeds. Stick to 10 cm if there are weed seeds or roots in the garden beds;
  • 10 cm to 15 cm is the best thickness for vegetable beds during the winter.
Applying too much mulch can suffocate the roots.

Measure the area you want to apply in square metres. Use a mulch calculator to obtain the amount needed. The calculator will multiply the square metres of the space by the thickness of the layer in cm. The total amount in cubic metres, divided by 1000, will give you the number in litres. Mulch usually comes in bags in litres, square metres or cubic metres.

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What is the right time for mulching

To decide when to mulch your garden, you have to know that your plants will welcome mulch at any time. If your main purpose is to enhance the appearance of your landscaping, do it whenever you want. However, putting mulch down at a specific time of the year brings you extra benefits:

  • After spring planting, just before the dry season – This is the best time of the year if you aim to grow the plants faster. Keep in mind, you have to remove mulch away from perennials and bulbs in early spring to speed up the process.
  • In autumn – Mulching in this season will keep the soil wet, so be careful with watering. Too much moisture can cause the roots to rot and plants to die.
  • In winter – Water in the soil freezes and melts many times in cold weather. Spreading mulch during the winter will protect the plants from temperature shifts and heavy rains.
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How to mulch your garden properly

Although the process seems simple, learning the specifics on how to mulch your garden will guarantee its perfect look and health. Properly applied mulch will conserve moisture and beneficial nutrients in the soil. It will attract valuable micro-organisms and insects, along with keeping pests away from the plants’ roots. Combined well along with the other features, mulch will make your place look neat and beautiful.

Let’s start with the required mulching tools and materials:

  • Gloves;
  • Gardening scissors;
  • Landscaping rake;
  • Garden spade;
  • Shovel or manual edger;
  • Wheelbarrow (for bringing the mulch if you are going to mulch a big area);
  • And, of course, mulch.

You can find the tools above in the local gardening store or buy them online.

1. Pull the weeds out of the garden

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get some work done. Use the rake or spade to clear the area from the weeds. Make sure to remove all the roots. However, if it’s too hard, cut the weeds off to the ground. The mulch will handle the rest. In a couple of months, they will rot down.

Level the surfaces with the landscaping rake.

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2. Create an edge between the mulch and the grass

Creating a line between the garden beds and the grass will give a neat and clean look to the garden. Edging the line will save you a lot of time and effort in the future by preventing the mulch from spilling over the other surfaces.

Use a manual edger or shovel to cut the line. You can use stones and other edging borders or leave it like that.

3. Rake the mulch over the area

Now that we’ve prepared the ground, it’s time to lay the mulch. Use a garden spade to apply an even layer of mulch around the plants. Level it with the landscaping rake. As we covered above, the thickness depends on the specifics of the garden. Applying the right amount of mulch is the key to success. It should be thick enough to keep the soil from the sunlight and combat weeds but not too thick to attract pests and diseases.

Keep mulch about 3 cm away from the stems of flowers and vegetables and 15 to 25 cm from the trunks of shrubs and trees. This action will ensure the air and water flow to its root systems. Piling mulch around the stems can cause them to rot and die.

Putting down a layer of newspaper under the mulch will help with eliminating the weeds.

4. Water organic mulch

Slightly moisten the mulch with the garden hose to help it settle into place and prevent it from blowing away. Be careful with dyed mulches, as applying too much water can wash away the colour and stain stonework or concrete elements. Make sure to rinse it off immediately.

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When to replace or refresh the mulch

Most organic mulches like bark and straw decompose in about a year. Hardwood chips and inorganic mulch usually last 5-6 years. It all depends on the material and the weather conditions.

Organic mulch loses most of its benefits over time, and you’ll have to refresh it or add a new layer periodically. If you notice mould on the mulch, turn it and spread it so all surfaces can dry by the air and sunlight.

Inorganic mulch from rubber or plastic will not dissolve into the soil. You’ll have to replace it when it becomes shabby or worn by the weather conditions. Try to clean or rearrange it if applicable.

All in all, mulching is not a complex task for avid gardeners and can significantly improve the health of the plants and the feel and look of your garden. Yes, the techniques applied can make or break the result. So, follow this step-by-step guide and enjoy the garden of your dreams!

Skip the mess and enjoy your free time! Professional gardeners can do the mulching for you!


  • Stick to organic mulch if you want to add nutrients to your lawn and garden;
  • Get inorganic mulch for a more decorative look;
  • Too much mulch can suffocate the roots;
  • Don’t pile near the trunks.
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