Garden Advice

How to Mulch a Garden Properly: The Complete Guide

Mulching is a fantastic way to improve your garden’s health and appearance. This practice is highly praised by gardening experts and offers various benefits to your soil and plants, be it flowers, veggies, or decorative shrubs.

But if you don’t know how to mulch your garden the right way, you risk doing more harm than good.

Worry not – the Fantastic Team is here to help! In this gardening guide, we’ll teach you how to apply mulch properly and what common beginner mistakes to avoid to keep your plants happy and healthy.

So, if you:

  • Want to have a lush, healthy and thriving green space;
  • Are looking for tips on how to apply mulch to your garden correctly;
  • Are wondering if there are mistakes and problems to avoid when mulching,

You’ve come to the right place – this guide has everything you need!

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Why should you mulch your garden in the first place?

Before we get to the process itself, let’s start with the basics. You may have decided to try mulching just because you’ve heard expert gardeners say you need to.

But do you actually know why mulching your garden is so important?

Well, we’re here to explain! Mulching has tonnes of advantages and can work wonders for your soil and plants when used properly. Some landscaping enthusiasts use mulch purely for decorative purposes, but there’s so much more to this practice than just the visual aspect.

Some of its most popular benefits include:

  • Improved soil water retention;
  • Heat control in extreme temperatures;
  • Killing off weeds or preventing them from growing;
  • Improved soil structure and added nutrients (for organic mulch types).

So, if you’re convinced that mulching can help your plants thrive, read on to find out…

How to mulch your garden properly

Mulching is not a difficult gardening task – anyone can do it! Still, there are a few things you need to know to do it right. And trust us – you want to do it right. Otherwise, quite a few issues can arise. But we’ll talk about them later.

Now, let’s move on to the main things to consider: how and when to mulch, and what to mulch with.

When to mulch a garden

While you can technically do it any time of year, mulching is best performed in spring and autumn, with April being the preferred month.

In mid or late spring, the soil is moist, plants have just started growing, and weeds are still dormant, which makes for perfect mulching conditions. If you don’t carry out this task in spring for whatever reason, the second-best time to do it is autumn, when the plants are dying back and you still have favourable conditions.

Want to know more about when to perform different gardening tasks? Take a look at our monthly gardening calendar!

How to choose a mulch type

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of mulching is choosing the right type of mulch. And yet, it’s one of the most important ones, too.

So, let’s talk about how to choose mulch for your garden to get the best results.

First things first – consider your green space’s needs. Different mulches have different properties and functions. If you need a material that will provide lots of nutrients to the soil, you might want to use compost or leaf mulch. For a more decorative touch, an organic mulch like wood chippings or an inorganic one like slate or gravel can be a good choice. Need to kill off a bunch of weeds or an old lawn? Go for plastic sheet mulch.

What you’re mulching should also play a part in your decision process. For example, lawns and vegetable gardens will have different requirements.

For a more in-depth look at the different types of mulch and their benefits, head over to our dedicated blog post.

How to apply mulch

And now, the main event – learning how to lay mulch in your garden properly! As we mentioned above, it’s not a complicated task. All you need are some mulching tips and tricks, and you’ll be well on your way to a stunning green space!

Preparing the soil

To ensure the mulch provides the effect you want, you need to get the soil ready. If there are any existing weeds in the area you’ll be covering, get rid of them first. Some weed seeds might be left in the soil – that’s ok. With the right type of mulch applied properly, they’re going to have a hard time sprouting.

A nice, thick layer of mulch might make it more difficult for water to make its way down into the soil. So, water the area well before applying the layer on top. Once the soil is moist, the mulch will prevent it from drying out too quickly. This means less frequent watering, albeit more thorough.

Applying the mulch

Once the area is prepared, all you have to do is lay the mulch. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, and if the material allows it, you don’t really need a special tool. Alternatively, you can use a garden spade (or a hand trowel for containers, small areas, and more precise application). Just spread the mulch over the soil, then use a garden hoe or a rake to distribute it evenly across the surface.

Ideally, the layer of mulch should be between 5 and 7.5 cm (or 2 and 3 in) thick. Too thin, and it won’t do a good enough job at keeping weeds in check and moisture locked in. Too thick, and it might smother your plants along with the weeds, and make it difficult for water to get to the roots.

This application method focuses on loose mulch. For sheet mulching, you can just lay the sheet over the area. Place something on top to weigh it down and prevent it from flying away in the wind.

How you apply the sheet depends on its purpose – if you want to kill off a lawn, just put the solid sheet on top. If you want to use it in your vegetable garden, lay the sheet down before planting and cut holes in it to make room for the plants and allow water and air to reach the soil.

Mulch maintenance

Check the layer of mulch from time to time. If you’re using organic mulch, it will break down over time, so you’ll need to top it up when it gets too thin.

So, let’s quickly summarise the process of applying mulch in your garden:

  1. Prepare the soil

    Weed the area and water the soil thoroughly before laying the mulch.

  2. Apply the mulch

    With your hands or with the help of a spade or trowel, spread the mulch over the designated area.

  3. Rake the layer

    Make sure the mulch is evenly distributed by raking the area.

  4. Top up occasionally

    When the layer thins out too much, apply some extra mulch over it to top it up.

And that’s pretty much it. As we said, it’s a simple enough process to handle by yourself, and your garden will thank you for it.

But wait, there’s more!

Bonus tips for mulching

Now that we’ve covered the application process itself, let’s take a look at some extra tips and specifics you might want to know when it comes to mulching.

  • Moisture-retaining mulch
    Materials like wood or bark chippings are good at retaining water, but they can also make the soil warm up more slowly. So, avoid mulching close to bulbs and perennials during their growing season.
  • Mulching around plants.
    When mulching around veggies and flowers, keep the mulch around 2.5 cm (1 in) away from the stems, as the moist material can cause them to rot.
  • Mulching around trees and shrubs
    Applying mulch around trees and shrubs will ensure they have all the moisture and protection they need. But beware! If you pile mulch up around woody trunks and stems, you risk rot, disease, and nesting rodents. Keep mulch about 15-30 cm (6-12 in) away from tree trunks or shrub stems.

Problems to look out for when mulching

So, now you know how to apply mulch to your garden properly. To wrap things up, we’ll talk about some of the issues you can avoid by making sure you mulch right.

  • Overmulching
    If the layer of mulch is too thick, it can suffocate your plants and prevent moisture and oxygen from making their way through to the roots.
  • Overheating
    Dark-coloured materials absorb heat easily during the day and can result in heat stress if the mulch is too close to the plant.
  • Bark rot
    As we mentioned earlier, piling up mulch around tree trunks like a volcano can result in rotting and make the plant more susceptible to pests and diseases.
  • Weed attack
    Some types of organic mulch can contain a sneaky weed seed or two. High-quality mulch and proper preparation can help avoid a surprise weed invasion.
  • Nutrient theft
    Some types of fresh mulch (freshly chipped wood or cut grass) can draw nitrogen out of the soil, which your veggies won’t appreciate. Store the mulch for a couple of weeks before you apply it.

And there you have it! Now you know all about mulching and what mistakes to avoid. Go forth with the tools we’ve given you and turn your garden into a slice of paradise!

Need help tending to your garden?

Of course, you might not have time for gardening, or you’d rather spend your free time relaxing or having fun with friends and family. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a flourishing garden!

At Fantastic Services, we work with experienced garden maintenance professionals who can tend to your green space, either as a one-off or on a regular basis. With their expert help, your garden can be the talk of the town without you having to lift a finger! And, should you need assistance planning your garden or planting flowers and other plants, the landscapers have your back!

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Takeaways

  • Knowing how to mulch your garden properly can ensure your plants are thriving.
  • Mulching offers a variety of benefits, such as weed control and improved water retention and soil structure.
  • Mulching is best done in spring or autumn.
  • Which type of mulch is right for you depends on your garden’s needs.
  • Keep the layer of mulch between 5 and 7.5 cm (2 and 3 in) thick.
  • After applying the mulch, rake it to make sure it’s evenly distributed.
  • Keep mulch about 2.5 cm (1 in) away from green stems, and 15-30 cm (6-12 in) away from woody trunks and stems.

Want to learn how to make your own garden mulch? Start easy – here’s everything you need to know about making and using leaf mulch!

***

We hope you found our mulching guide useful. If you have any questions or tips of your own, share them with us in the comments!

Image source: Shutterstock / ronstik

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