How To Mulch Your Yard
Time Required: 2-4 hours
This guide offers tips and information on how to mulch and when to mulch your yard for top-notch curb appeal.
Any season is a great time to act on your mulch garden ideas.
Mulch in Spring
If you want to know when to mulch to get the most benefits for your garden, experts recommend laying mulch after spring planting. Knowing how to lay mulch properly in spring can help:
- Control weeds
- Enrich soil nutrients
- Retain moisture
- Insulate plants from freeze and heavy rains
- Add visual appeal
Mulch in Autumn and Winter
Spreading mulch in autumn or winter months helps create a firm space to assist plants from shifting too much as water in the soil freezes, thaws and then refreezes.
Other Times to Mulch
If used around a yard or a contained area such as flower beds or a mailbox, apply mulch whenever you want to enhance landscaping and curb appeal.
When organic mulch has fully decomposed down into the ground it's time to replenish and refresh. If you are using inorganic mulching such as rubber nuggets or plastic sheeting for gardens, replace those when the materials seem worn down and rendered ineffective by weather conditions or use.
If you're wondering how much mulch to apply, start with The Home Depot's easy-to-use mulch and top soil calculator. It will help you determine how many bags of mulch to purchase.
Mulches are typically sold by the cubic foot, so you will want to know the number of cubic feet of mulch to buy when you shop The Home Depot. This is easy to do with or without The Home Depot mulch and top soil calculator.
First, determine the square footage of the area you want to mulch by measuring it.
Determine how deep mulch should be by going with gardening experts' recommendation of a 2- to 4-inch layer.
Multiply the square footage of your area to be mulched by the number of inches of mulch you want to apply. Then divide that number by 12, as a cubic foot of mulch will cover 12-square feet with about 1-inch of mulch.
Example: You have determined that the area(s) you want to mulch is 950-square feet. You’ve decided on a 2-inch deep layer of mulch for your space, so 950-square feet x 2 = 1,900.
1,900 divided by 12 is 158.3 (round up to the nearest whole number). So you will need to get approximately 158-cubic feet of mulch, in that example.
Tip: You want mulched spaces to be able to “breathe.” Don’t spread denser mulches, such as sawdust and wood chip blends, deeper than 3-inches to allow air to circulate. If you are spreading coarser barks, don’t go deeper than 6-inches.
There are many varieties of mulch, from wood and bark chips which come packaged naturally or dyed for color choices, to inorganic plastic sheeting and impact-absorbing rubber components such as those found on playgrounds. If you enjoy a pop of color, consider a colored wood or rubber mulch for a unique yard look when you browse black mulch, red mulch or brown mulch.
Non-toxic dyes are used to color wood and rubber mulches, with color choices changing as new mulch products are introduced at The Home Depot. Check a mulch bag’s specifications for what type of dyes are used to color the mulch.
When learning how to apply mulch to a garden, select a variety of mulch labeled as natural wood or bark.
The dyes in colored wood or rubber mulches are more prone to seeping off of new mulch if you apply too much water initially. Make sure to immediately rinse off any colorant that seeps out onto stonework or concrete.
The best way to keep mulch-related stains from hard surfaces is to avoid watering dyed mulch when it’s just been spread. Try for dry weather conditions of at least 24 to 48-hours when working with colored, dyed mulches.
Rubber mulch is more permanent than wood mulch as it erodes much slower. It will protect the underlying soil, but it does not improve soil in the way an organic mulch will when it decomposes. This is a great choice for providing an absorbent platform for playgrounds and creating feet-friendly walkways and trails. Rubber mulch is not fade proof. It can change color and composition when exposed to the elements, as does any type of mulch.
Other Types of Mulch
Plastic, landscape fabric, grass clippings, manure and newspaper can all be used as mulch alternatives. Learn more about alternative mulches in The Home Depot's Best Mulch For Your Yard Buying Guide.
Learning how to lay mulch for a new space, a mailbox or a flower bed, begins with your mulch choice.
Shredded mulch is a great option for most yard or garden mulching projects because it is easy to work with and offers plant protection plus a uniform look when spread evenly. Choose a rubber mulch if you want more cushion underfoot for walkways, trails or playground spaces. Turning the soil in the area to be mulched is not recommended, as that can promote more weed or grass growth.
- First, edge the area you want to mulch to keep mulch from spilling onto grass. You may also build a barrier with stones or bricks.
- Remove old mulch by shoveling it into a wheelbarrow.
- Dispose of that or add to a compost pile.
- Smooth and level the area to be mulched with a landscaping rake or by hand.
- Apply a layer of plastic mulch or fabric landscape sheeting for extra weed control.
- Unbag the new mulch into a wheelbarrow.
- Using a shovel or hands, place small mounds of mulch around the space you are working with.
- Avoid dumping big piles of mulch into your space, as that could result in too much mulch where you don’t want it. It can also damage or suffocate smaller plantings and tree or shrub roots.
- Using a rake or gloved hands, smooth out the small mounds of mulch to the desired depth of 2- to 4-inches.
- Leave at least one inch between mulch and any tree trunks or plants so root systems have necessary space to circulate air and water, being careful not to suffocate existing plant growth.
- Water the area only lightly for the first 24- to 48-hours of applying new mulch.
Keep in mind that materials such as plastics or gardening fabrics will slow the decomposition of soil-enriching mulch. New mulch should dry out first to avoid rot, mold and seepage of water onto hard surfaces.
Spreading mulch can be hard work that will require lifting and emptying bags.
- Protect your hands with a pair of gardening gloves.
- Wear old, comfortable clothes to cover arms and legs.
- Have flexible knee protectors if yours are sensitive.
- If you’re allergy prone use a face mask.
- Use a wheelbarrow or yard cart and a shovel to move the mulch from place to place.
- If working with straw or hay, use a garden fork.
- A landscape rake is great for laying mulch uniformly and evenly.
- For detailed work on your mulch’s final appearance use a trowel or spade.
- Your own hands can also provide the perfect smoothing and leveling technique.
- Colored or dyed mulch can stain walkways and concrete if water seeps out from it during rain or overwatering. Spread mulch during a dry spell of at least 24- to 48-hours to allow it to fully dry out so the colors won’t “bleed.” While safe, the dye can come off with contact or water.
- Avoid dousing your newly-mulched area with too much water for at least 24-hours. A light sprinkling for the plants is okay. The goal is to keep water contained within a newly mulched area to prevent seepage.
- Should stains occur to concrete or stonework areas, scrubbing them away with a brush and a water hose should resolve them. If the stain is stubborn, use a pressure washer. It’s best to remove any mulch stains you notice immediately, before they set into stonework or concrete.
- If you notice mold appearing on mulch, turn the mulch gently and spread it evenly again so all surfaces can get exposed to air and light to aid drying. The mold should go away when the mulch is drier.
- If weeds sprout through the mulch, remove them by hand when first visible to keep them under control, or use a weed and grass killer.
- Keep in mind that weather elements like sunshine, rain and wind will fade and deteriorate organic and inorganic mulch. A fresh-from-the-bag appearance when you apply mulch is temporary and dependent on your unique weather conditions.
- Turning mulch gently with a lightweight rake or by hand can also quickly freshen any faded appearance.
Now that you know how to mulch, spreading mulch can be a simple weekend project you can start and finish in one day or afternoon. The Home Depot makes shopping for the latest colored or natural yard and garden mulch and mulching supplies easy and enjoyable. Once the work is done, relax and enjoy the new fresh look and feel of your yard.