Gardening 101: Mulch Do’s and Don’ts

© Thomas Price |

A few weeks ago, I shared seven benefits of mulch, and mentioned I would soon be sharing some mulch do’s and don’ts. While using mulch is pretty straightforward, there are a few helpful things to know.

Here are some “do’s”, when using mulch:

1. Do USE Mulch. This is a rather obvious one, but still worth mentioning. Mulch offers so many benefits, it’s almost silly NOT to use it.

2. Do plan to REPLENISH mulch. Since mulch is organic, it will break down and decompose. When you find yourself needing to spend a little money to replenish the mulch (if purchased in bulk – cubic yards at a mulch company – it’s actually rather inexpensive), try not to be discouraged. Rather, thank God that your plants are being nourished with the mulch you provided the previous year.

Try to think of it as a good thing. If you never had to replenish the mulch, because it never broke down and decomposed, your plants would not receive the nutrients from the decomposition. It’s the silver lining. :)

3. Do “FLUFF” your mulch. After a long winter of heavy snow and spring rain, mulch can get clumpy and bound together. If you take a rake, or even your hands, and stir up the mulch, it will both separate clumps (aiding in better air flow to roots), and improve the aesthetics of the area.

Here are some “don’ts”, when using mulch:

1. Don’t allow mulch to REST UP AGAINST A TREE’S TRUNK, or a plant’s base or stem(s)!! Mulch holds water, and when the mulch is allowed to touch the bark of trees for a long period of time, the moisture causes the tree bark to soften. Over a long enough period of time, this softening will cause the tree bark to fall off – NOT a good thing.

A tree’s bark is its main defense against disease and insects.

I know a landscaping company whose employees are, apparently, unaware of the devastating damage this can cause to trees. I’ve seen the employees apply mulch up against the trees, and I’ve seen the damage done to those trees.

An analogy that comes to mind is that of a skin scab. If you’ve ever had a deep wound that scabbed over, and you took a long bath, or swam in a pool, then you probably witnessed the scab soften… maybe even fall off. It’s the same thing with tree bark. However, unlike our skin, tree bark can NOT grow back. :( (If the damage is not too extensive, a tree can, ironically, “scab” over it. However, it’s a slow process.)

2. Don’t apply TOO MUCH mulch. You want enough mulch to prevent weeds and rapid evaporation, but not so much that you hinder good air flow to roots. Somewhere between 2” to 4” of mulch is a good rule. The amount of mulch is dependent on the type of mulch you use. You’ll use less of the heavier and denser mulches, and more of the lighter mulches.

What things have you learned over the years of working with mulch? I’ve probably not captured all do’s and don’ts. What else can you think of?

This was shared on:
Farmgirl Friday

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10 comments to Gardening 101: Mulch Do’s and Don’ts

  • It seems like the more you mulch, the less it takes every year. Since watching the video “Back to Eden” that I posted a while back, I have started using free mulch underneath the store bought brown mulch. It save lots of Money! Thank you for sharing, great advice!

  • Melissa

    such good info. Be careful about using free mulch, the last time we used it, all our plants died. I have heard lots of stories like this too.

    • Holly

      Thanks, Melissa. Wow! That’s good to know. I guess knowing a little about the free mulch before using it, could be an invaluable lesson. I’ll be sure to remember this if I consider using any. Thanks again.

  • These are some great tips, Holly. I usually fluff my mulch when spring comes. It always makes a difference.

    • Holly

      It really does make such a difference. Also, any faded mulch can be shuffled around to the buttom. With all the shade we have, I don’t have that problem, but it can help those with sunny yards.

  • Melissa

    yes sometimes free isn’t always free!

  • Hpuletz

    A guy from KBI (Keep Indianapolis Beautiful) that helped our neighborhood plant lots of trees also suggested not to mound the mulch, but to create a sort of wide bowl of mulch to retain rain water. Actually the circle around the tree was made from some of the dirt from digging the hole, but then we put mulch inside the circle.

    If you use mulch from a wood chipper, be sure not to use it right up against the house as it is not treated and can allow termites a path to your foundation.

  • tom

    If we use untreated munch around the house should we apply some kind of pest control?

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