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How and When to Mulch a Garden

As you get started and grow your backyard garden, you may find a lot of tips and tricks that people recommend. One that you may come across a lot is mulching your garden. It can be a useful step for caring for a vegetable garden, a flower bed, and even your lawn. Here is what you need to know to mulch a garden.

Close up photo of Purple Crocuses in Mulch

Why mulch?

Mulching has many benefits for your garden, including improving the health of the garden (no matter the contents), reducing the amount of weeds growing there, and increasing the water retention of your soil. It can help save you time on those important gardening tasks of weeding, watering, and pest control.

There are different types of mulch that fall into two categories: inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulch is often made of rubber, plastic or landscape fabric. Organic mulch consists of living (or formerly living) materials like leaves, straw, grass clippings, bark, sawdust, and pine needles. You can even use compost if you have a compost bin at your home. Organic mulch has the added benefit of enriching the soil as it breaks down and decomposes.

Best Garden Mulch: 6 Types of Mulch For Organic Gardening

In this video, Bridget Ayers, a backyard gardener in Southern California – Zone 10b, discusses the 6 types of mulch that she uses in her garden to control weeds, increase moisture retention, regulate soil temperature, improve the soil structure, and much more! Whether your garden is big or small, make the most of your space with these tips and watch the full Best Garden Mulch: 6 Types of Mulch for Organic Gardening video on the Kellogg Garden Youtube Channel.

How to Mulch a Garden

Whether you buy a ready-made mulch like Kellogg Garden Organics Gromulch or other organic mulch materials, the steps you should take are basically the same.

  • First, you need to weed the garden. Remove all the currently growing weeds and any debris that you can see. Then you will be ready to mulch.
  • Don’t use too much mulch, but make sure you have enough. Too much mulch can cause problems like rot and disease. Too little mulch won’t keep the weeds away.
  • Lay somewhere between 2 and 5 inches of mulch on the soil to reduce the potential for new weeds to grow. In shady areas, 2 to 3 inches should be enough for most gardens; in very sunny areas, 4 to 5 inches might be needed to maintain moisture levels.
  • If you are planting bulbs or perennials, you may need to pull mulch away a bit from the bulbs or plants in order for the soil to warm up for faster growth during the spring. Wet mulch can also lead to rot along the stems, so try to keep any wet mulch about an inch away from the stems.
  • When mulching trees, shrubs, or other more substantial additions to your garden, avoid the “mulch volcano,” where mulch is piled up around the trunk. Instead, just use a thin layer of mulch spread evenly at the same level as the ground, only about 3 to 4 inches thick with 1 inch between the mulch and the tree trunk to reduce the risk of pests and diseases impacting your plants.
  • After you have applied the mulch to your flower beds, vegetable garden, or shrubs, you should rake the mulch to ensure it is in an even layer. When using organic mulch, you will need to water it to give it moisture and ensure it doesn’t blow away in the breeze. Do not overwater the mulch, where you can see water puddling on top, but be sure to add a nice level of moisture to your newly mulched garden to kick start the moisture retention benefits.
All Natural Planting Mix

Kellogg Garden Organics

All Natural Planting Mix

**Product not available in AZ, CA, HI, NV, UT. For a comparable product in these states click here.

Daffodils starting to grow in early spring

When to Mulch a Garden

Unlike many other gardening tasks, there is no one right time to mulch. However, you want to make sure you mulch when you can get the most benefits out of the task. The best time of year to mulch is generally mid to late spring when the soil has had a chance to warm up naturally (sometime around April or May, depending on your local climate). If you choose to mulch another time of year, mulching early in the spring can slow the warming process, but mulching in the fall can help improve soil warmth over the winter season.

If you recently planted seeds or new transplants, allow the garden to get established before adding too much mulch, so that the plants are able to grow before having to fight their way through a layer of mulch.

If you prefer to mulch in the fall, around trees or shrubs to prepare for the winter, pull the mulch away and gradually remove from the plants as the spring arrives and weather warms to allow the soil to warm up with the season.

When using organic mulch, you will need to replace it every year or so, as the organic materials break down and lose the benefits over time. You will want to remove the old mulch and add new mulch about the same time each year.

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women gardener planting purple flower and mulch surrounding the flower pinterest image
up close shot of purple flower in mulch


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  1. I am getting FREE mulch from my electric company as they trim trees and put it through a chipper. It contains a variety of tree types. Is it okay to put on my garden to keep unwanted plants out? I am also gardening cloth to keep weeds out.

  2. I used straw this year, unfortunately it was sprayed with an herbicide called grazon. Now my soil is poisonous the my vegetable plants and may last 10 years.

    • We are so sorry to hear that Ron. The literature on the life of that herbicide does say 175+ days. While you wait it out you may want to do some container gardening. After 175 days, you could try to test your soil, test your soil at varying levels to see if the herbicide is still there. Sending out a test can be expensive this article talks about ways to test on your own.

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