Fall Gardening, Mulching, Plant Care, Winter Gardening

How to Mulch: 6 Basic Steps for Mulching Any Time of Year

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Learn basic steps to begin spreading mulch in your garden areas today!

You can mulch any time of year and we’re here to help teach you how to mulch in 6 basic steps.

When was the last time you gave your garden a good mulching as part of your regular garden care routine?

Most gardeners create yearly, quarterly, monthly, or even weekly to-do lists that include monitoring How to Mulch- Spoken Gardenplant health with water, sun or shade, fertilizing, dead-heading, debris pickup, and pruning.

However, a good mulch can be just as important to your plants as every other project on your list.

In this post, we will explain why mulching any time of the year is acceptable, and provide you with tips and tricks to teach you how to better mulch your garden.

We even have mulching hacks to share!

But first, the basics.


What is Mulching or Garden Mulching?

Mulching is the act of moving, spreading, and placing natural or synthetic material in and around your plants and garden beds.

Mulch itself is any material that is used for covering a garden bed area for the purpose of:

  • Weed control
  • Soil moisture retention
  • Root protection from heat or cold
  • Encouraging soil microorganisms
  • Improving general soil health
  • Improving soil drainage
  • Reducing soil erosion
  • Enhancing the aesthetics of your garden
  • Provide protection from mechanical equipment
  • Reducing soil compaction

If you want to know more about mulching, go to our Mulching Start Here page.


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Why Mulch?

Not convinced yet that mulching should be at the top of your garden maintenance to-do list?

The act of mulching can enhance a plant’s health and lengthen its longevity in your garden in so many ways.

For this reason alone, we want to educate you about the benefits of mulching so that you can take pride in your beautiful outdoor space.


How Much Mulch Should You Put Down?

If if you are laying down mulch for the first time or initially in your garden, then you should start out with 4-6 inches deep with a naturally sourced mulch, like Arborist Mulch or Wood Chip from Cedar, Pine, Fir, Maple, or other tree sources.

The reason to initially place the mulch so deep is that it will settle and decompose where it compresses over the first one to two months, and even more so if it is being walked on or driven over repeatedly.

If you are adding mulch over older mulch in your garden, then a light added layer of 1-2 inches average depth is fine.

If the old mulch is thin, like only 1-2 inches deep or less, then you should add more mulch from 2 to 4 inches so you have the weed barrier re-established along with the added insulation in your garden bed.


How Often Do You Have to Mulch?

Good mulching consists of a mulch thickness of 2-4 inches. At this depth, the mulch should last a typical garden about 1.5 to 2 years with some weeding.

Yes, there will still be weeding to do, but not as bad as if you hadn’t mulched at all.

The longevity of the mulch will depend on temperature, moisture, and the local microorganisms ability to break it down.


Should You Remove Old Mulch?

It depends …. really, on the mulch you have in your garden currently.

If it’s a naturally sourced mulch and adds nutrients to your garden soil AND also builds more soil as it breaks down, along with being a great insulator and can control erosion, along with my other benefits, then you should definitely keep your old mulch.

If you also are using a wood chip mulch that is intended for weed suppression and also for foot paths where as it breaks down it still does it’s job then you should keep it and add more on top.

If your current mulch in your garden doesn’t build soil, add nutrients, or is creating an issue with mushy, boggy areas that you don’t want, then this old mulch should first be removed before adding to it.

This can be very dependent on temperature and sun exposure, along with rain and any type of traffic in your garden. Also the type of mulch material you area using.



What Are the Best Types of Mulch?

Mulch can come from natural or synthetic sources.

Also, the variety of mulch options come in different colors, shapes, sizes, and textures.

Be careful when buying the mulch material that you are purchasing it from a reputable source.

You do not want to buy cheap mulch and risk it being riddled with weed seeds or anything else that could cause more problems down the road.


Natural Mulch Examples:

  • Chipped or shredded wood: Arborist Chip, Bark Chip, or Sawdust
    Bark Mulch- Spoken Garden

    Bark Mulch

  • Tree or shrub leaves: waxy leaves (Laurel or Oak), unwaxy leaves (Maple, Birch, or Willow)
  • Compost: raw, partially, or mostly broken down materials from different natural sources
  • Burlap bags: hemp
  • Rock: pebbles, aggregate, shale, lava, limestone, concrete chunks, or other decorative rocks

Manufactured or Synthetic Mulch Examples:

  • Burlap bags: plastic
    Newspaper Mulch- Spoken Garden

    Newspaper Mulch

  • Cardboard sheets in various sizes
  • Newspaper
  • Plastic sheets:  white, black, clear
  • Landscape fabric or other weaved materials

Based on your needs or the needs of your garden, choose the best type of mulch for you based on its specific use and your local climatic conditions.



“How To Mulch: 6 Basic Steps For Mulching Anytime of Year”:

Knowing what mulching is and understanding the different types of mulch available is one thing, but to know HOW to mulch is just as important. Most people mulch or add mulch to their gardens but may not completely understand how to do it properly. You newer gardeners out there may have never mulched before. We want to emphasize again that you can mulch really any time of year.

To mulch, follow these steps below, in order, to be successful in your weed suppression and garden cleanliness efforts:


Step 1: Clean and pick up any pieces of debris in and around your garden or plants.Clean your garden before you mulch

Tip: Be sure to separate out landfill garbage from the clean, “green” debris so no contamination of natural materials to be composted occurs.  This is a good time to visually check each plant to see if it is not planted too high or too low in the soil.  If too high or low, adjust so it is just a little above the surrounding soil grade (it will settle some overtime after replanting).


Step 2: Weed your garden beds and other areas to be mulched so unwanted plants and invasive materials are completely gone.Weed before you mulch

Tip: Weeding tools can be a stirrup-hoe, shovel, trowel, rake, or even by hand. Be sure to remove as much of the root system of unwanted plants so they do not regrow.  Certain weeds might need special handling and disposal, so if you aren’t sure, check with your local county or state noxious weed board.  A quick google search can lead you in the right direction.


Step 3: Re-level the soil around your garden so that it’s as even as possible, especially close to plant stems or tree trunks.How to Mulch- Spoken Garden

Tip:  Uneven soil can lead to thin spots of mulch where weeds can regrow and reestablish themselves.  It can also lead to drainage problems and puddling later on.


Step 4: Before moving and spreading the mulch, you can water your garden bed so it has a thorough soaking.

Tip: This step is especially good to do if you are weeding and mulching in drier, hotter Water before Mulch- Spoken Gardensummer months. If mulching during the wetter months in your area, then you won’t have to water at this point. Mulching over moist soil will lock in that moisture and keep the plants hydrated while the mulch settles. Water drainage patterns throughout the mulch can have time to establish. If there is no watering prior to mulching during the summer months or in drier climates, then plants will suffer from less water while new drainage patterns are established.

Remember, mulching over moist soil will lock in that moisture and keep the plants hydrated while the mulch settles.


Step 5: Start moving your mulch into your garden beds and yard areas where needed.Level soil before mulching

Tip: When moving the mulch, be sure to move safely and to engage your core muscles. This is where you can use a wheelbarrow or a tarp to move and place the mulch around. Also, lift with your legs, not your back or shoulders to prevent injuries. As always, safety first!



Step 6: Spread the mulch evenly around with your rake making sure to keep the 3-4 inch thickness in mind. 

How to Mulch- Spoken Garden

Tip: This is a good time to tell you to keep the mulch away from any plant stems or tree trunks so the mulch isn’t directly touching the plant tissues. If this happens, there is a higher risk of moisture staying close to the plant tissue forming a microclimate. This could lead to a perfect habitat for pests and/or disease to flourish.

You might have to visit the garden bed every month to check if the mulch has started touching the plant tissues, If so, move it back appropriately.

Remember, level the mulch so it looks even and visually appealing. If your mulch is spread too thin, you could experience weeds re-emerging weeks later.


How to Mulch Conclusion

Unlike humans, plants aren’t able to get up and move when their environment becomes inhospitable or uncomfortable.

They have to be tolerable of their environments and use any adaptations they possess to survive and thrive.

Mulching is a way that plants have adapted to their environments.  If you think of a forest, all the leaf and branch material that falls around the trees is mulch, where other native trees, shrubs, and groundcovers have to germinate and grow.

Certain species, under the best conditions, will out-compete others and dominate the forest canopy and floor.  This is the same concept for our gardens where we are creating and maintaining the best conditions for our garden plants to thrive and out-compete weeds and other unwanted plants.

In a way, we are an extension of the natural forest with each garden we tend and become stewards of.  Think about that the next time you are mulching your garden or yard.



Learn basic steps to begin spreading mulch in your garden areas today!


About spokengarden

HELLO AND WELCOME! We are Sean and Allison of Spoken Garden. With combined backgrounds in horticulture, gardening, landscape, and teaching, we hope to educate and inspire you.

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