The timing of when you mulch your garden matters. Mulching too early or late will cause problems for the plants. It’s important to consider the local climate when deciding the best time of year for mulching. Mid-to-late spring or early Fall are typically good times because they follow normal soil warming patterns.
If mulching too early, the ground may not be ready to warm properly. Conversely, if done too late in the Fall, it can insulate and slow down grass growth later on in winter.
Here is what you need to know about the best time to mulch, types of mulch, and its benefits.
What Is Mulching?
Mulching covers soil surfaces with organic or inorganic material to retain moisture and control weeds, which naturally absorb heat.
There are two types of mulch:
- Organic mulch
- Inorganic mulch
Organic mulch is a protective layer laid on the ground and can be made of organic or natural materials such as leaves, tree barks, straw, nutshells, wood chips, pine needles, or compost.
Inorganic mulches are typically made from natural or artificial materials, with the inorganic mulches made of natural materials comprised of crushed volcanic rock, pebbles, stone, and gravel.
These inorganic mulches can be made from artificial materials such as plastic, solid fabric sheets, ground tires, or pulverized rubber.
Organic mulches are more eco-friendly than inorganic ones because they help increase soil moisture content by slowing down the rate at which water evaporates.
Mulch typically improves the quality and fertility of the soil, but because they decompose, organic mulches do not last as long as inorganic ones.
Inorganic mulch will not improve the soil’s nutrient level but merely maintain moisture and a consistent temperature. However, it does keep weeds from growing.
List Of Common Organic Mulch
Sawdust has benefits and drawbacks; for instance, it can acidify the soil but also harbor weeds. You may need to supplement your nitrogen fertilizer with sawdust to replace any nitrogen drawn out of the soil while decomposing.
The mulching will form a crust on top, make it more difficult for water to penetrate. Make sure the sawdust used in mulching is from untreated trees and not treated wood, as this usually contains chemicals that could leach into the ground.
Compost is a dark, soil-like material that breaks down quickly, so it’s the best mulch as far as adding to your soil structure. Plus, it’s inexpensive and can be created from grass clippings and leaves. The majority of municipalities give away compost for free or at a meager cost.
If you’re going to use straw as a mulch, it’s best to shred it first. Smaller pieces will decompose more quickly than larger ones and are helpful if you have lots of leaves or other organic matter from your garden in the mix.
Straw is a good option for utilitarian gardens, such as those for vegetables and strawberries. Straw keeps mud away from plant roots, making it difficult to grow your edibles whether you use straw or not.
The final thing to check is whether the straw is free of weed seeds. Otherwise, it may produce more weeds than it does prevent. The reason for this, oat straw, in particular, can be very weedy.
Shredded bark is a popular yet inexpensive type of mulch for gardens. This comes from various sources like cedar trees. Shredded bark can be used on sloped landscaping and helps to break down slowly, making it relatively long-lasting.
Some mulches originate from other industries and are considered environmentally friendly, while others may not be.
Shredded bark mulch takes up some nitrogen during decomposition. If you have poor soil, adding organic fertilizer can help keep your plants healthy.
Pine Or Cedar Bark Chips
Bark nuggets are chipped pieces of bark that may be slower to break down and have less staying power than shredded bark.
They’re not the best kind of mulch for sloped areas or other places where heavy rains can wash them away; the chips tend to float and behave like little boats. The nuggets come in various sizes and last longest when they are large.
List Of Common Inorganic Mulch
Stones And River Rock
Rocks are more expensive than organic mulches because they adhere to inorganic material. River stone, landscaping pebbles, and stones might seem costly up front, but they require little maintenance and last for years.
However, when using mulch, it also does not “improve” the soil over time. Please take caution when you use stones because they often get boiling in the sun. Stones are usually used for rock cactus and gardens of that theme.
If you use rocks and stones as a mulch in an area where plants won’t grow, such as under a deck, first cover the soil with ground-cover landscaping fabric. Rocks and stones will prevent weeds from growing up to pop out of the bedrock.
Mulching with plastic can be an effective means of controlling weeds. The heat absorbed by the plastic cooks any plants nearby, so it may work best in a vegetable garden where you want warmer soil.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using plastic as mulch. The disadvantage is that the ground does not “breathe.” Clear plastic can promote weeds, retain more moisture than necessary, and cause an unattractive appearance.
Landscape Fabrics (Geotextiles)
Landscape Fabric is often used to allow water and air penetration while also being effective in weed prevention. Despite this, the fabric has one slight disadvantage: it can be an unattractive addition to your landscaping. Additionally, it requires more work than some mulches as it needs to be either pasted or held down with other mulch.
As an option for garden mulch, ripped rubber is preferred because they are available in a variety of colors and doesn’t unravel or explode. A downside, it might be hard to remove and may cause fires.
The Advantages Of Mulching
It Helps Retain Water
Mulch can help trees, shrubs, and garden beds retain moisture. Plants also require less water, so you save money on utility bills.
Don’t discard your tree’s clippings after pruning-it turns out they make perfect mulch. Mulching with the right materials will control weeds and reduce your workload because you’ll be removing weeds sooner than usual.
Source Of Nutrients
Mulch is good for the garden because it recycles organic material into nutrient-filled soil. However, mulching with wood chips can tie up nitrogen and should be used cautiously only for the top layer or allowed to age first before use.
Protection Against Change In Temperature
Mulch can help a garden regulate the temperature of the soil. When temperatures rise, plant roots stay cooler since mulching helps to keep the ground warm. During the winter months, mulch slows down the dehydration of plantation roots by keeping their ground warm.
Disadvantages Of Mulching
Like all great things, there is always a trade-off. But if you do your mulching correctly, it can have a positive effect on the garden. Covering the ground with mulch prevents sunlight from reaching deep into the ground and can make for an ideal environment for pests like termites.
It’s helpful when you run into extreme temperatures without it being sufficient at other times of the year, so make sure not to place it too thickly.
Hiding Weed Seeds And Other Nasties
Weed seeds and other nuisances might be dwelling in your mulch. Be sure to find a source that is clear of seeds, such as from a reputable farm. To avoid spreading these nasties to new gardens, try using the double-mulching technique.
To be most successful with mulching, you will need to prepare the area and add wet newspaper around the plants. If using a nutrient-dense mulch, make sure it doesn’t have any weed seeds, so your hard work does not waste.
Perfect Hiding Spot For Pests
Mulch is often able to hide pests, including slugs and snails. A good way to prevent these pests from infesting your garden is to use a deterrent.
Deterrents can include:
- Coffee grounds are yet another great barrier and deterrent. These must be in the form of the right type of coffee beans, not a different type of ground. You may need to get some from your local cafe.
- Any petroleum jelly on the garden will make the difference as slugs and snails will find it too slippery to cross.
- Broken up eggshells make it difficult for snails to move around so that they will avoid the area.
How Much Mulch Is Needed
One bag of mulch covers 108 square feet while 3” deep in a yard. Bulk deliveries start at 13.5 bags per order or 2 yards. First, measure the area and depth you want to lay down, then place your order with bulk delivery pricing included.
A layer of mulch can help keep flowerbeds moist and weed-free, but too much may encourage root growth into the mulch causing your plants to die rather than weeds.
Allow a maximum depth of 3” for most flower beds.
- A good mulch should be about an inch to two inches thick.
- Materials such as wood chips, shredded leaves, and straw can be added at a depth of 3”-4”.
- Lay enough mulch to reach a depth of 6″ for the best results.
Things To Consider Before Mulching
Think about the following before adding mulch to garden beds:
Determine Which Type Of Mulch
Before buying mulch for your garden, take the time to identify the type of material that will work best for your needs. If you plan to add mulch with a specific purpose, such as providing compost or nutrients for your plants, consider using fall leaves or grass clippings instead.
For a more polished surface when you mulch your yard and a functional application, buy bark mulch.
Wait Until The Perennials Started Pop Up
If you add mulch to a perennial garden, it’s best to wait until the plants have started to come up before applying. Mulching too early could mean inadvertently burying plants that will not be able to break through the mulch even if you added plenty of soil as well.
Weed The Area
When adding mulch to your garden bed, be sure it’s been weeded well so that weeds have turned over and died off. Failing to address the problem may lead weed seeds from other sources into the dead leaves of mulch or allow vegetation to grow through.
Add Mulch When It’s It Has Recently Rained
When applying mulch, add it to bare garden beds after it has rained so that the mulch can help keep the soil moist. If there is no rain in a while, make sure to water your plants and rocks before adding the mulch.
Comparison Of Time To Apply Mulch
Mulching In The Winter
Many people think it’s pointless to work on your landscaping in the winter when all you are doing is adding mulch, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Mulching ahead of winter can help insulate the ground and give your lawn a healthy start.
Mulch can help your plants during the colder months of the year by trapping moisture. Mulching accessories protect your plants and flowers from ice in the winter while insulating them for a greater chance of reaping life come springtime.
If you plan on using mulch in your landscaping, make sure to measure out a 2-3 inch layer for the best results. If you think that mulch will help improve your landscaping, we’ve got some good news for you.
Mulches come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It’s best to have mulching material that will protect your plants from weeds, improve the soil quality, or help with a new landscaping design.
Mulching In The Spring
The spring season is the perfect time of year for spending time outside improving your landscaping. During this time, one of the most important things you can do is mulching your garden.
In early- to mid-spring, mulching is a smart decision for gardeners because it’ll help stop weeds before they have a chance to sprout.
Springtime is the best time to lay down mulch to root out weeds before they take over. Mulching early will also help keep your landscaping looking good by keeping it weed-free, preventing grass from drying out, and giving soil an ideal climate for growth.
Consider mulching during the spring as well. Mulching can create a tidy landscape that complements your flowers, and you really can’t go wrong with this time of year if you want to get started with mulching chores.
The best time to mulch a garden in spring is towards the end of the season, which helps protect plants from freezing. If you spread mulch too early in the season, it can slow down soil warming and affect grass growth.
Mulching In The Fall
The fall is a time of beautiful change and the perfect opportunity to lay down a fresh layer of mulch. As leaves start falling, your yard starts cooling off for winter, and it’s getting closer to Christmastime, you’ll be in high spirits as you put down that earth-warming leaf layer.
The weather can be difficult to work with sometimes. It’s definitely more difficult during the hotter summer months, but it is the perfect time during the cooler fall months.
One great reason to mulch in the fall is that you get everything done before the brutal cold of winter makes it impossible.
If you live in an area with bitterly cold temperatures through the winter, consider mulching a boon.
Mulching in the fall is a great idea because it will help insulate your plants from the colder temperatures that are coming. You can also use a mulch to prevent your plants from freezing during the cold winter months.
One consideration to keep in mind when mulching during the fall is that the color of your material may fade by winter. If you are looking for decoration, it may be better to handle your mulching in springtime or early fall and have enough time for it to turn colors again before winter.
When To Mulch A Vegetable Garden
Organic material is great for making your soil healthy and readying it for upcoming vegetables in the spring or fall.
Reapplying Mulch To Your Vegetable Garden
When your mulch has begun to break down on the vegetable garden, add one inch (2.5cm) of compost or leaf mold and top off with more mulch.
Another time to add mulch is when you see weeds starting to grow where you previously applied it. Immediately remove any weed that is growing and rest the weed on the top of the ground. Then, spread a layer of mulch over it or continue adding more until fully covered.
The Factor Of How Often To Change Mulch
Organic mulches typically last about 5-6 years, but several factors may cause you to need new mulch every 1-2 years.
Organic mulch breaks down over time, so it will need to be replaced eventually. The typical period of time that organic mulch lasts is usually about five years, but this timeframe can vary depending on the type of mulch, weather conditions, and other factors.
When it comes to mulching for landscaping and planting applications, you should have approximately 2-3 inches of mulch in place. You may need to add more if wind, rain, or foot traffic remove some of the covers.
When frequent heavy rains or faster soil decomposition occurs, one may need to add more mulch periodically.
Another thing to consider with mulch is the color and material. Undyed mulches will turn light gray after a year, but at that point, it’s still effective. Many people choose to replace some or all of their faded mulch to improve aesthetics in their landscaping.
Dyed mulches may last longer than uncolored ones, but it’s important to track how the dye was applied. Artificial methods for coloring mulch can have some negative effects on your soil.
Mulches should be replenished and replaced every year. It is important to know what mulch you are using, as it might decay or affect the soil if not done right.
Mulch size and longevity are not things to be ignored when considering their worth. Bark mulches generally last longer than woodchips, but only if the item is not too finely shredded. Chipped or nibbled current lasts about as long as bark nowadays, though they will need to be replaced more often in certain climates/locations because of rain or wind propensity.
As A Result
Mulching is a common task, but only if you do it the right way. It’s easy to over-mulch, overwater in summer, or under-mulch during fall—all too easy mistakes to make with your garden—but there is some correct mulching season for homeowners with green thumbs.
You may need to set aside an entire day for your gardening activities, but once you see the result and how quickly your garden grows, it will be worth it in the long run.