How to Apply Mulch

Using the right mulch can help to conserve water, shield plant roots from temperature extremes, improve the soil, and discourage the growth of weeds. Decorative mulch can add color and texture to the space between plants. Applying mulch is a simple enough process, but it helps to know a few details to make the most of its benefits.


  1. 1
    Choose a mulch material appropriate to your job. Some factors to consider include:
    • Purpose: Do you want the mulch to control weeds? To cover a pathway? To reduce evaporation? Each of these is a valid reason and each way requires differences in application.
    • Availability: Can you use something you have in your yard, such as grass clippings or fallen leaves, or will you purchase a mulch?
      Image titled Fallen leaves make excellent mulch, and are easy to find.
    • Permeability: A layer of plastic sheeting may discourage weeds, but it will also discourage watering.
    • Biodegradability: Do you want the mulch to break down and become part of the soil (bark, leaves, wood chips) or not (rock, plastic, rubber, tumbled glass)?
      Image titled Mulch made of blue and green tumbled glass.
    • Appearance: Is the mulch going to feature in a front landscape or simply cover your vegetable garden patch for the winter?
  2. 2
    Prepare the area. If there's anything you want to do in advance of mulching, do it.
    • Pull weeds or cut them close to the ground, if you are mulching for weed control. While not strictly necessary, it will help the mulch, and anything under it, to lay flat, and it will slow down the weed growth. Remember, mulch prevents weed growth by excluding light.
    • Enrich the soil and dig the beds, if you plan to do so. Biodegradable mulch can break down into rich, loose soil without this preparation, but it will take time.
    • Lay down anything you want under the mulch, such as landscaping fabric or plastic. Try adding several layers of newspaper or cardboard (remove tape and labels first) if you'd like a biodegradable means of blocking weeds.
    • Install any borders or edges.
      Image titled A raised vegetable bed covered with mulch.
  3. Image titled A delivery of twelve cubic yards.
    Obtain the mulch.
    • You may be able to collect mulch for free in your neighborhood, simply by volunteering to take neighbors' leaf piles or lawn waste.
    • You can purchase mulch in large bags from most home centers with nurseries or if you need a large quantity, ask about buying in bulk and even having it delivered. And, of course, you can produce your own from your own garden waste.
    • Some communities collect yard waste, shred it, and offer it to residents as mulch or compost. Ask your municipality if they do this, and if not, whether they would consider implementing such a program.
      Image titled A mulch of shredded yard waste.
    • Call tree services in your area. Many will drop off a heap of chipped or shredded tree trimmings in your driveway. If you do this, be prepared to get a large load the material. It won't look like bark nuggets or other decorative mulches you can purchase, but it's still excellent for covering garden areas.
  4. 4
    Transport the mulch to wherever it's going. Many nurseries and home centers will gladly help you load your car. If you are hauling it by bike or walking, take a small trailer or a cart to wheel it home in. Once at home, use a wheelbarrow to ferry the mulch to where it will be applied. If you don't have a wheelbarrow, try partially filling a wheeled trash can or using a cart. For smaller quantities, a bucket or empty plant pot will do.
  5. 5
    Add a generous thickness of mulch. The depth of mulch is really important if you want to retain moisture and prevent weed growth. Aim for at least two to four inches (5-10cm) of depth.
    • The one place you don't want mulch is right up against plant stems and tree trunks. Leave at least a little margin (four to six inches) for the plant to breathe, and to help prevent moisture-depletion or water-logging problems.
    • Depending on your garden, you can use the mulch to create basins for water.
  6. 6
    Spread the mulch with a rake as needed for an even layer. Rather than layering it on top of it too much, try to put only about a 1½" (3 cm) thick layer of mulch down. Any more could be damaging, and any less won't be very helpful.
  7. 7
    Pull back the mulch from an area when you wish to plant something new.
  8. 8
    Renew organic mulches every few years, as they break down and get spread around. You can dig old mulch into the soil and let it finish decomposing, or you can simply spread new mulch over the old.
  9. 9
    Use mulch to protect plants during the winter. You can do this by pruning certain plants back and covering them entirely with mulch. The mulch provides insulation. Don't forget to remove the mulch in spring.


  • Instead of cutting the end of the sack and pouring mulch out like cereal, lay the bag flat, slash it the long way down the middle, then flip it over and lift the bag off. It's the faster, easier way to handle large, heavy sacks.
  • Mulch left in bags or piles can begin to decompose or go sour, especially if it is wet and without much air. If this happens, open it up, spread it out and let it air dry for a few days or weeks before adding it to your garden. The color may change somewhat, but this generally will not harm anything. To avoid the problem, apply it promptly instead of letting it sit around in bags.
  • If you place a layer of plastic under the mulch, be sure to apply the mulch thickly enough to block light. Most plastics degrade in the ultraviolet light of the sun. Plastic is also not permeable, so it may change the drainage in the areas where you apply it.


  • Discard diseased plants and don't use them as mulch or compost. You could introduce a new problem or prolong an existing problem.
  • Always lift safely. Use a cart or wheelbarrow, and get help if you need it.
  • Plants with thorns just get pricklier when they dry out. Unless you're trying to keep out animals (and everybody else), don't use rose or berry stalks for mulch.
  • Be careful of using plants that propagate easily as mulch without thoroughly drying them out first. Mint and ivy are among enthusiastic growers that will overrun spaces quickly. Weeds and other plants that have gone to seed might be better removed, too.

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