Don’t Make These 6 Mistakes When Using Mulch in Your Yard
Mulch, a layer of organic material laid over your soil, is a gardener’s secret weapon. When done correctly, mulching can conserve the soil’s moisture, slow the erosion process, and help to suppress weeds. Mulch comes in many varieties and can also be used to spruce up your yard. And fortunately, mulching doesn’t take too much time, so it’s a great weekend DIY landscaping project.
However, using mulch is not as simple as just grabbing a bag of shredded bark and pouring it around your plants and trees. There’s a right way to mulch, and any mistakes can cause more harm than good.
Keep your yard in tiptop shape by avoiding these errors when using mulch.
Mistake 1: Ignoring your weeds
The first rule of laying mulch properly has nothing to do with mulch.
According to Steven Voss, owner of Voss Land & Tree, in Columbia, MO, you have to handle your weed situation before anything else.
“DIYers often assume that the mulch will take care of their weed problem, but it is essential to remove the existing weeds before layering your mulch,” he says.
Pull all the weeds growing in the area where you want to lay mulch. Then, apply a preemergent weed preventer to the mulch bed.
“This will prevent future weeds from growing, and can be purchased at your local garden store,” Voss says.
Mistake 2: Mulching too early
As soon as the weather gets warm, homeowners are eager to start working on creating a lush landscape. However, it’s possible to apply mulch too soon.
Lester Poole, live nursery specialist at Lowe’s, warns against putting down mulch too early in the spring: “You want to give the soil a chance to warm, and mulching too early will actually slow down the warming process.”
So, what’s the best time to put down mulch? Normally, middle to late spring. You can always reapply in the summer to retain moisture in your landscape and in the winter to insulate it from the cold.
Mistake 3: Mixing mulch into the soil
Some people mix mulch into the soil when they’re planting, but that will only cause problems.
“While finely ground pine bark and compost make great additions to soil, mulch does not,” says Susan Brandt of Blooming Secrets, an e-commerce gardening website. “Mulch is too coarse to be added to soil. It is too dry, and the decaying mulch actually takes nitrogen and other nutrients out of the soil.”
Mistake 4: Choosing the wrong type of mulch
Different types of mulch should be used for different applications, so choose wisely.
“If you plan to do any weeding or work in the area, you’d want to avoid some of the mulches made of larger chips so you can hoe weeds and dig easily,” says Christine Moon of Red Stem Landscape Design & Maintenance in Corvallis, OR.
To add more acidity to the soil, she recommends mulching with bark.
Inorganic mulch is ideal for hardscaping projects because it effectively reduces weeds, retains moisture, and doesn’t need to be replaced often.
On pathways, slopes, and areas prone to flooding, you’ll need a heavier or larger mulch specifically designed to not float away.
Moon says she avoids mulch made of Douglas fir because it has a lot of splinters. She prefers hemlock mulch.
“Hemlock is the finest, darkest in color, has less splinters, and is easy to handle and hoe,” Moon says.
Mistake 5: Using too much mulch
Whether applying mulch for the first time or adding a fresh layer, be sure that you don’t go overboard. When you water plants with too many layers of mulch, the water will just stay on top and the plants will not get the moisture they need, Brandt warns. Aim for 2 to 4 inches of mulch.
Using too much mulch around your trees, known as creating “mulch volcanoes,” suffocates the tree roots.
“Excess mulch encourages rot because of the excess moisture retained by the mulch,” Brandt explains. It also creates a safe environment for harmful insects. If you still want mulch around your trees, she recommends that you keep it 12 to 18 inches away from the trunk.
Mistake 6: Using weed cloth with mulch
Weed cloth is best used for holding rocks and pebbles from sinking into the ground. Moon says it should not be used for holding and preserving mulch or preventing weeds.
“Weeds grow on top of it or through it, and the cloth does nothing for prevention; it only makes it harder to weed,” says Moon. Weed cloth also hinders the mulch from breaking down into the soil.