Mulching 4 - Applying Mulch

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What You'll Need
Pitchfork or Rake

You've chosen your mulching material, and decided on the best time to lay it down. Now how do you proceed.

Choose your mulching material carefully. What you use depends on where you are mulching. In flowerbeds close to the house you may want to use bark mulch or wood chips. For vegetable gardens, newspaper with grass clipping may work just as well, and cost much less.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber adds, "Using organic mulch provides weed control and soil protection. It insulates the soil from hot weather and cold, it conserves water and adds organic matter."

Before spreading mulch the area must be weeded. If weeds are left growing, many weeds are persistent enough to grow right through the mulch.

Evenly spread the mulch in the garden. Do not apply mulch directly in contact with plants. Leave an inch or two of space next to plants to help prevent problems with insects and diseases.

TIP: Karen recommends, "When mulching around a tree use the doughnut method. The mulch should not be piled against the tree, instead it forms a "doughnut" around the tree."

Material Amount to Apply Notes
Bark mulch 2 to 4 inches Smaller chips are easier to spread, especially around small plants. Excellent for use around trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens. When spreading mulch around trees, keep the mulch an inch or two away from the trunk. A couple inches of mulch is adequate.

There is no need to apply the mulch 6 or 8 inches high, as often is seen.

Wood chips 2 to 4 inches Similar to bark mulch. If using fresh wood chips that are mixed with a lot of leaves, composting may be beneficial.
Leaves 3 to 4 inches Best to chop and compost before spreading. If using dry leaves, apply about 6 inches.
Grass clippings 2 to 3 inches Thicker layers tend to compact and rot, becoming quite slimy and smelly. Add additional layers as clippings decompose. Do not use clippings from lawns treated with herbicides.
Newspaper 1/4 inch Apply sheets of newspaper and cover lightly with grass clippings or other mulch material to anchor. If other mulch materials are not available, cover edges of paper with soil. Applying on a windy day can be a problem.
Compost 3 to 4 inches Excellent material for enriching soil

Bark mulch and wood chips are sometimes used with landscape fabric or plastic. Lay the fabric or plastic on top of the soil and then cover with a layer of bark chips. A caution to this practice: while initially the plastic or fabric may provide additional protection against weeds, as the mulch breaks down, weeds will start to grow in the mulch itself. The barrier between the soil and the mulch also prevents any improvement in the soil condition and makes planting additional plants more difficult.

TIP: Karen advises, "When using plastic as a mulch around plants, irrigation under the plastic will be required. The use of plastic is not recommended for landscape plants. It is sometimes used in vegetable production."

Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.