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What you need to know about mulch for landscaping

All things mulch. From saving money on it, the best time to buy it, to knowing if it’s even the best choice for your landscaping situation, here’s what you need to know about mulch. I also share my before and after pics so that you can see just how much of an impact it can make on your curb appeal.

What you need to know about mulch. When is the best time to buy?
What you need to know about mulch for landscaping.

I didn’t think that adding some new mulch to my outside decorative planters, and landscaping in general, would make a very big difference at all until I saw how great my friend Stephanie’s planters looked after they freshened theirs (they put new dark mulch on top of their old mulch).

When I saw how great it looked, I will admit….I had some fresh mulch envy going on.

Who would have thought that a fairly inexpensive and quick task would easily add instant curb appeal?

Anyway, so I was genuinely not trying to keep up with the “Jones’s”, but after seeing Stephanie’s amazing mulch results I knew that I needed to up my landscaping game and redo my mulch too.

As with everything that I do, I always do a ton of research before I do it so that I know the best, easiest, and most affordable/cheap way to do it…and my mulch task was no different.

So, I decided to share with you all both the best ways that I know how to get “your landscaping mulch on” as well as share some of the research that I found too.

What is mulch?

I realize that maybe some young adults, or even some first time homebuyers may not even know what mulch is to begin with. So here’s the low-down on what mulch for landscape even is.

The type of mulch that I’m talking about is pretty much just to pretty up your yard and add some curb appeal…it does this by covering dirt, gives your yard a uniform look, as well as it is natural weed control because the sun just plain can’t get through it to allow things to grow sometimes.

Though according to Wikipedia, and this is a direct quote “Mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of soil. Reasons for applying mulch include conservation of soil moisture, improving fertility and health of the soil, reducing weed growth and enhancing the visual appeal of the area.”…so there you have it… that’s what landscaping mulch is.

Landscaping mulch is typically made of chipped wood in various colors (sometimes even dyed)…but most of the time the mulch is just whatever color the tree was.

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Can you use fresh wood chips as mulch?

I personally wouldn’t… unless the wood chips have had time to dry out a bit… I feel like they’ll start to rot/grow some mold if they haven not been spread out and allowed to dry properly before you start piling them on top of each other.

How to save money on mulch

Buying in bulk is your best bet for saving the most money on mulch. You can typically buy it by the truckload and that will save you the most money. The cheapest place that I was able to find mulch locally was actually buying it from the City…who knew that the City would sell mulch? I didn’t, but it was a very fortunate discovery.

You may even be able to buy it in bulk from a local tree-trimming company (an arborist), or even the dump (garbage disposal facility) in your area, so it shouldn’t be too hard to make a couple of calls to find your best option and price.

When is the best time to buy mulch?

If buying mulch by the truckload isn’t an option for your mulch project, your next best bet to save money on mulch is to wait until late summer/early fall when places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and even Walmart deeply discount their bagged mulch…yes, I’m talking about a mulch sale.

Sometimes these sales have the product marked down to 1/3rd of the cost that it normally is, so if you have the time to wait, it may not be a bad idea to be patient to save yourself a little money.

I get it, buying mulch by the bag may not be ideal, but sometimes it’s necessary like if you don’t have the use of a truck to haul it or whatnot.

Those bags of mulch can easily be stored in a trunk, or on the seats of your car, so they’re just plain more practical to buy sometimes.

What tools do I need to spread mulch?

If you’re buying your mulch by the truckload you’re going to need a tarp or two. As well as come type of rope/cord to tie it all down properly (and for road safety in general).

You can use one tarp underneath the mulch to keep the truck bed more clean, or you can load it directly into the truck bed (in which case you’re going to need a broom to sweep it out when you’re done). You will also probably need a wheelbarrow, a shovel, a rake, and some gloves.

If you buy your mulch bagged, you are going to want to have a nice pair of scissors, a shovel, a rake, some gloves, and a garbage can to dispose of all of the bags.

How to lay mulch?

Start out by leveling the surface of the area that you want to put your mulch…if you get a lot of rain in your area you may want it to slope a little bit so that the water will drain though.

This is a good time to think ahead and maybe put down some weed barrier, or at the very least take the time to spray any existing weeds with weed-killer so that you won’t have as much of a struggle with the weeds taking over later on.

If you bought your mulch by the truck load, get on your gloves, grab a shovel, and your wheelbarrow. Scoop the mulch into your wheelbarrow until it is full and then wheel it over to the area that you would like to start on. The easiest thing to do would most likely be to just dump the wheelbarrow and use a rake to spread it out evenly. Repeat the process until you are done.

If you bought your mulch bagged I suggest putting all of the bags near where you are going to be working. Then, snip off a corner of the bag. This hole in the bag should be big enough that you can easily control the flow of the mulch coming out, but not so big that it’s coming out in a gush.

You can easily just hold the bag over the area that you want it and sprinkle it, evenly, until it looks the way you want it to…you probably won’t need to, but you can use a rake to even out any areas that got a little too much. Throw away your bag once it’s empty and repeat until your landscaping mulch looks just right.

How thick should mulch be spread?

I think that anything over three or four inches thick is just plain wasteful…so try not to go too crazy when you’re laying your mulch. You could do a little bit of trial and error and spread some out a couple of inches thick and then just use your best judgement on how much thicker you need to go to have even coverage with no ground peeking through.

Can I put new mulch on top of old mulch?

People often wonder to themselves “do I need to remove old mulch before I put in new mulch”…and the answer is fairly simple. Unless your old mulch is soggy and rotting you absolutely do not need to remove the old mulch…just consider it a filler that will save you money on the whole thing.

You may want to use a rake and even out the old mulch first, but go ahead and layer the new stuff on top… the only time that I think that it would be a bad idea to put the new mulch on top of the old mulch is if the old mulch is soggy/rotting/moldy…because that indicates that you have a drainage issue that you need to solve before you put in all new fresh mulch.

When to mulch?

When is the best time to mulch?… I don’t think that there is one right answer for this…but there are a couple of wrong ones…lol.

Don’t mulch when it’s snowy or super rainy… just wait until the weather is a bit more moderate and you will have the best results possible that way.

Is mulch really necessary?

Mulch for landscaping purposes is mostly just to add some beautiful curb appeal in a very frugal way… so it’s entirely up to you on what you want your yard to look like.

Though something to think about is that mulch can really cut down on your water bills if you have lots of mulched areas instead of lawn/grass that needs to be watered all of the time.

When is mulch not a good option?

This is probably just my personal opinion here…but if you live somewhere that is REALLY windy…your beautiful mulch is just going to blow away and end up in the neighbors yard or down the street. This is one of the only times that I would say that mulch is a waste of money.

If it’s windy where you you live…instead of dealing with the headache that you will run into with constantly replacing mulch…it may be a good idea to just bite the bullet and use some landscaping rocks… rocks are not going to blow away.

What fresh mulch looks like before and after:

If you’re on the fence about whether or not the expense of adding mulch to your landscape is even worth the money…I thought I would show you the pics of the before and after’s of my yard.

Yes, I had some old mulch, so adding new darker mulch on top was just a “refresh”…but boy was I thrilled with how much better a little bit of effort made it all look.

before and after laying mulch.
What it looks like after adding mulch/wood chips to your landscape.
before and after dark mulch refresh

what fresh mulch looks like.

So there you go…hopefully seeing my results will help you decide either way…but I definitely recommend doing it. Even if for no other reason than it makes a yard feel like less of a “dump”…lol.

How much mulch will I need?

Lucky for you, there are a bunch of handy “mulch calculators” out there. Basically all you will need to do is measure the square footage of the areas that you want to cover in mulch and then plug those numbers into a mulch calculator.

Here is a link to the calculator that I recommend for this particular project.

Those are really all of my thoughts I wanted to share on landscaping mulch. Hopefully you got at least a few helpful ideas out of it.

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Can you put new fresh mulch on top of old mulch?
What you need to know about mulch for landscaping.

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How thick should mulch be spread? Can I put weed barrier over mulch?
Can you put new mulch on top of old mulch? When is the best time to buy mulch?

*This post was originally published to this blog on September 10th, 2015 and has since been updated to provide better information, be more user friendly, as well as to remain current.