Is mulching necessary? Do you need to do it every year? Get the answers and transform your garden with these mulching tips.

Think of mulch as a magic blanket for your plants. It works hard to keep your soil healthy, your plants happy, and your garden looking its best.

But what exactly is it, why is it important to use, do you need to mulch yearly and how do you get the most out of it? These are just a few of the topics we are chatting about in today’s post. Here’s what you need to know!

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What is Mulch?

Mulch is a garden layer that’s spread over the surface of the soil. It can be made from various materials and serves several purposes in your garden and landscape:

Types of Mulch

  • Organic: Wood chips, bark, shredded leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, straw, compost. These break down over time, improving soil quality.
  • Inorganic: Rubber, stones, gravel, plastic sheeting. These tend to last longer but don’t add nutrients to the soil.
light pink tulips and daffodils in a flower garden after mulching

Benefits of Mulching

Mulch is your garden bestie. It acts like a barrier to suppress weeds, saving you valuable weeding time. It helps keep the soil moist by slowing down evaporation which reduces how often you need to water. And it even acts like insulation for the soil, keeping plant roots cooler in the summer heat and warmer during cold snaps.

As a bonus, organic mulches break down over time, enriching and releasing nutrients into the soil for a natural boost.

Plus, a fresh layer adds a tidy, attractive finishing touch to your garden beds and landscaping. So they make your plants pop to boot.

What Is It Used For?

It’s important to mulch gardens. But why? Here are a few reasons it is important.

  • Helps retain moisture in the soil.
  • Suppresses weeds.
  • Keeps roots cool.
  • Prevents frost heaving in winter.
  • Improves the garden’s appearance.
  • Can break down over time and enriches the soil.
several different varieties of tulips in a flower garden
Tulip garden

Choosing What Type of Mulch to Use in Your Garden

With all the different options of mulch you can use, you might be wondering what will be the best fit for you garden. Here are some things to consider and some tips to follow.

Organic Mulch

There are a number of organic options to choose from that include:

  • Wood: Affordable and versatile.
  • Bark: Adds a decorative touch.
  • Cedar: Naturally repels some insects.
  • Pine straw: A good option in acidic soil areas.
  • More Options: Explore what’s locally available like shredded leaves or grass clippings.

When I mulch my flower gardens, I use regular hardwood mulch for the most part. In my vegetable, herb, and berry gardens, I usually go with something like shredded leaves or straw and compost.

A vibrant display of pink tulips in the foreground with a backdrop of a lush garden featuring blooming white trees and a wooden sculpture.

Inorganic mulch

There are a few inorganic mulch options to choose from that include:

  • Rubber: Durable and long-lasting, good for play areas.
  • Stone/gravel: Attractive, but doesn’t add nutrients to the soil.
  • Landscape Fabric: Best for use beneath walkways, patios, and other hardscaped areas.

I use stone or gravel mulch in hardscaped areas like my zen garden and other pathways. Underneath that, we usually lay landscape fabric as it will be a permanent fixture beneath that stone or gravel.

Tulip Creme Upstar in flower garden after mulching

How to Mulch Your Gardens

The best time to mulch is in the spring to prepare for warmer weather or in the fall to protect plants over winter.

Pull out any existing weeds and if it’s in the spring, apply some corn gluten to help keep weeds from germinating.

If weed pressure is high, consider laying down cardboard or a few layers of newspaper to help prevent weeds from popping up. They will both break down and help enrich your soil. Avoid using landscape fabric – they don’t do much, are not fun to weed or plant in later, and are not great in flower gardens.

Aim for a mulch layer 2-3 inches deep. Any thicker than that and you could prevent water and air from reaching the soil where your plant roots need it most.

And finally, avoid piling mulch directly against tree trunks and plant bases. Doing so can cause pest and disease problems. So keep a few inches of clearance around the base of your plants.

Don’t use plastic sheeting: It prevents water and air from reaching the soil and can harm beneficial soil organisms.

view of our 1850 farmhouse with front porch and beautiful flower gardens from the pool garden with green fence - has roses, bearded iris, buckeye tree, viburnum, and baptisia

Should You Do It Yourself or Hire a Landscaper

Whether you choose to mulch the gardens yourself or not is a personal decisions. For most of my gardening life, I mulched my own beds because I wanted to ensure my flowers were not covered and care was being used when laying it down.

Mulching is great exercise but a bit back breaking if you move a lot of it. I used to order it in bulk and would move about 15 yards on my own which used to take me an entire week to do.

Since I’ve gotten older and we moved to a property with 10 acres, it’s not possible for me to do mulch the gardens by myself. We choose to hire a landscaper to help us and I walk around after moving mulch away from trees and plants when they are done.

potager garden with tree sculpture and tulips in bloom

Mulching With Cardboard: Lasagna Gardening

Mulching with cardboard is a great way to suppress weeds and improve soil health. It’s often used in a process called lasagna gardening. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it effectively.

Step-By Step Instructions

  • Prepare the area: Remove any large weeds or debris from the area you want to mulch. You don’t need to remove existing grass or small weeds, as the cardboard will smother them.
  • Lay down the cardboard: Flatten the cardboard boxes and lay them down over the area, overlapping the edges by at least 6 inches. Use a utility knife or scissors to cut holes around existing plants you want to keep. Make sure the cardboard covers the entire area you want to mulch.
  • Wet the cardboard: Thoroughly soak the cardboard with water using a hose or watering can. This will help it decompose faster and prevent it from blowing away.
  • Apply organic mulch: Cover the cardboard with a 2-4 inch layer of organic mulch. This will help hold the cardboard in place, retain moisture, and add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
  • Maintain the mulch: Check the mulch periodically and add more if needed to maintain a 2-4 inch layer. Water the mulch regularly to keep it moist, especially during dry periods.
A vibrant flower arrangement in a classic urn, set among a beautifully landscaped garden with a neatly laid stone path and lush greenery, during a golden sunset.

Additional Tips:

  • Use cardboard that is free of staples, tape, and stickers.
  • Avoid using colored or printed cardboard, as the ink may contain harmful chemicals.
  • Cardboard will break down over time, so you may need to replenish it after a few months.
  • If you’re planting in the area, cut slits in the cardboard and plant directly through it.
  • For extra weed suppression, you can add a layer of newspaper under the cardboard.

Mulching with cardboard is an inexpensive and effective way to create a weed-free, healthy garden bed. It’s a great option for both new and established gardens.

Troubleshooting

Sometimes you’ll notice some problems with your mulch. Here are some common issues to look out for.

  • Moldy mulch: This usually indicates too much moisture. Spread thin layers and avoid overwatering.
  • Weeds breaking through: Increase mulch depth or consider a double layer with landscape fabric.
  • Too thick/thin: Adjust as needed. Remember, 2-3 inches is the sweet spot!

How to Avoid Artillery Mold

Artillery mold (Sphaerobolus stellatus) is a fungus often found in mulched areas, growing on decaying wood. It gets its name from its ability to forcefully shoot sticky black spore masses, leaving unsightly stains on siding, cars, and other surfaces.

While harmless to plants, these spots are notoriously difficult to remove. The best approach is prevention, such as using less susceptible mulch like cedar and ensuring good airflow in mulched areas.

front porch gardens with baptisia and buckeye in may

Mulching FAQs: Your Top Questions Answered

Is mulching really necessary?

While you don’t always have to mulch, it’s definitely a worthwhile practice. Mulch acts like a protective blanket for your soil. It fights weeds by blocking sunlight, helps your plants stay hydrated by slowing down water evaporation, and keeps your soil temperatures more stable. Over time, organic mulch even improves your soil by adding nutrients as it breaks down. Plus, it makes your garden look neat and tidy!

There are a few situations where you might want to reconsider mulching. In super dry climates, it could sometimes keep the soil too damp for drought-loving plants. Also, if you’re planting vegetables from seed, it’s better to wait until the seedlings emerge before adding mulch, as a thick layer might get in their way.

Overall, mulching is a simple practice offering big benefits for most gardens and landscapes. It’s a small investment that will save you time, and water, and lead to healthier, more beautiful plants.

vibrant pink darwin hybrid tulips in flower garden

Do you have to mulch every year?

Whether you need to mulch every single year depends on a few factors:

  • Type of Mulch: Organic mulches like wood chips, bark, and leaves break down over time, so you’ll need to replenish them annually to maintain their benefits. Inorganic mulches like rubber or stone last much longer and may not need yearly replacement.
  • Mulch Depth: If you apply a thick layer (3-4 inches) of organic mulch, it may last a couple of seasons before needing a top-up. Thinner layers break down faster.
  • Climate: In areas with warm weather and lots of rain, organic mulch decomposes more quickly, requiring more frequent replenishment.

Pros of Annual Mulching

  • Maintains consistent weed control and moisture retention.
  • Continuously improves soil health as organic mulch breaks down.
  • Freshens your garden’s appearance.

When you can consider skipping a year

  • If you used a thick layer of a slow-decomposing mulch the previous year, you may be able to get away with just adding a smaller amount to top it up.
  • If you’re okay with a bit more weeding and potential for greater soil moisture loss, you might stretch things out with some types of mulch.

That said, I mulch my gardens every year. The beds need it, the plants pop, it helps suppress weeds, and tends to wash out during the season from heavy rains and planting often.

1850 farmhouse with front porch and spring flowers including ajuga, ranunculas, with hostas and buckeye tree.
The Prettiest Thrift Flip Idea for the Front Porch

What type of mulch should I use?

The best type of mulch depends on your needs and preferences. Consider factors like cost, aesthetics, availability, and intended use (e.g., flower beds, vegetable gardens). Some popular options include wood chips, shredded bark, straw, and compost.

When should I apply mulch?

The ideal time to apply mulch is in spring or fall. In spring, mulch helps warm the soil, retain moisture and suppress weeds. In fall, it protects plants from winter cold and prevents soil erosion.

Should I remove old mulch before applying new?

It’s not necessary to remove old mulch. If the old mulch is organic, it will gradually break down and enrich the soil. However, if the old mulch is matted or compacted, it’s best to remove some of it before adding new mulch.

A serene backyard garden with a stone pathway leading to wooden adirondack chairs surrounded by vibrant tulips, lush greenery, and tall trees.

Can I use grass clippings as mulch?

Yes, you can use grass clippings, but be sure they haven’t been treated with herbicides. Apply them in thin layers to prevent matting and odor.

Does mulch attract pests?

Some types of mulch, like wood chips, can attract pests. To minimize this risk, keep it a few inches away from building foundations and avoid over-mulching.

Can I mulch around trees and shrubs?

Yes, mulching around trees and shrubs is beneficial. However, be sure to leave a small gap around the base of the trunk to prevent rot.

Where can I buy mulch?

Mulch is available at most garden centers, home improvement stores, and landscaping supply companies. Some communities also offer it for free from yard waste recycling programs.

A quaint garden shed with yellow walls and a green roof, surrounded by vibrant flower beds and a neatly arranged rock border, set against a lush green lawn and trees.

Final Thoughts

Mulching is a simple practice with huge payoffs for your garden. With the right type and technique, you’ll have less weeding, healthier soil, and happier plants.

If you have any suggestions or questions, please share them in the comments below. And please share this blog post link with anyone who may find these gardening tips helpful.

If you need to brush up on some basics, here are a few posts to read!

For more information about the benefits of mulching, please read this post by the University of New Hampshire.

Thank you so much for following along.

Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

Stacy Ling
vintage farmhouse with daffodils and flowering crabapple with stone wall and beautiful front porch in new jersey
Daffodil mix in front of vintage farmhouse in early spring
tulip garden after mulching

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