Mulch: The Ultimate Guide for Installation & Maintenance

In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about installation, timing, creating, & maintaining beautiful mulch beds.
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Mulch Basics: What is Mulch?

Mulch is a material that is spread across surfaces to improve outdoor aesthetics, retain moisture for plants, and suppress weed growth.

Mulch can be made up of a variety of organic materials such as wood chips, tree bark, and leaf litter. These items are usually mixed together and have a dye added for uniform color.

Wood Chips vs Mulch

Many don’t understand the distinction between mulch, bark, and wood chips. Wood chips are sometimes used alone as mulch and not mixed with other materials to keep the mulch chunky and free of fine particles.

Wood chips can be dyed with brown or black dye similar to other mulch mixtures.


It is very important NOT to use wood chips from trees that have been cut down within the past 7-8 months around plants, since the wood is still decomposing and can cause rot.

Mulch vs Bark

When comparing bark vs mulch it is important to understand that bark is a common ingredient in mulch. Tree bark is collected through timber, milling, and manufacture activities and then processed to be mixed in with wood chips and leaf litter.

Some mulches have pallets and various other recycled wood products mixed in to improve longevity. These typically blend in well and are a common part of the industry.

Rubber mulch is an alternative to traditional mulch, and a common choice around play areas or swing sets.

How Often Should You Mulch?

A lot of people mulch every year. Mulch breaks down over time and begins to fade. Do you need to mulch every year? No, you could stretch it to 2 years, but by the time you get to the second year you typically have to do a little more weeding and by then, the mulch’s color has typically faded.

If you keep up with the weeds over time and keep the area clean, it helps to get the most out of the mulch.  If you replace it more often, you will want to remove the excess mulch from small areas.

Should I Remove Old Mulch?

Removing mulch before putting down new mulch is typically not necessary.  Good mulch breaks down over time and adds nutrients to the soil.

The best way to lay over old mulch is to rake the area flat before you start.

Smaller beds and areas along the edges do sometimes need to have excess mulch taken away to prevent build up and spill over. Should you choose to remove mulch every year, you will also need to decide what to do with old mulch.

What to do with old mulch

A creative way to get rid of mulch you remove is to use it for less-seen areas in the back of the yard, around garden vegetables, or add a bit to your compost pile.

How To Make a Mulch Bed

The first step in making a mulch bed is defining the area you wish the landscape bed to take up. It is important to allow enough room for the plants/bushes and also to consider the maintenance of the surrounding area.

The bed should have gentle curves and a nice flow.  You can mark this with spray paint to start or carefully edge freehand as you go.

The second step is edging, or removing the grass and soil in a small trench along the perimeter of the bed, specifically where it meets the grass. This indentation where grass meets the landscape bed helps keep the two separate, and define the space.

Edging is best done with an edging shovel, or various edging machines like the Echo Bed Redefiner and the Brown Bed Edger.

Now that you have a clearly defined area, you need to remove all of the grass, weeds, and unwanted vegetation within the area.  Weeding can be a tedious task, but it is best to do it before you mulch. (We do the weeding as a courtesy for all of our mulch jobs).

To finish preparation, smooth out any uneven humps and remove all other loose debris in the area.


Now would be the time to loosen up soil and plant any flowers, shrubs, bushes or trees. Adding plants that take up a nice bit of area can help you save on mulch costs.

Whether you are using bulk mulch and wheelbarrows, or bags of mulch, you want to dump small piles around the bed starting from a certain direction so you can work your way out, and spread as you go.

The best tool to spread mulch is a hard rake and you just want to spread the piles back and forth, carefully working mulch around the plants.

How deep should mulch be?

2-3 inches is about how deep mulch should be to prevent weeds. This mulch depth is enough to deter most seeds and spores from taking root and proliferating in unwanted spaces (although sometimes mulch acts as a substrate for fungi).

Mulching works by stopping new and existing weed growth from taking root by creating a bedding layer on top of the soil that weeds struggle to break through.

Note that seeds can blow in from the wind and take root in some areas you may have gone a bit lighter with the mulch.

How to Keep Mulch in Place: What is Mulch glue?

After installation, mulch glue or mulch lock are usually sprayed over all of the mulch to help keep it in place. Mulch glue/mulch lock includes liquids that tie up your bed and can prevent runoff.

What should I put down before mulching?

If you are unable to clear the area of weeds it is best to put down landscape fabric before mulching. Preen, or a similar pre emergent weed prevent, can also be used before, or after mulching.

Be mindful of what you put under your garden beds, as it will be very difficult to remove once it’s covered in earth.

How to Measure for Mulch

Figuring out how much mulch you need is a crucial skill when looking to mulch your property. A yard of mulch, which is the most common quantity sold, covers a 10’x10’ area (or 100 square feet), 3” thick.

A yard, or a cubic yard, is the standard unit of volume used when selling mulch. You will measure the various beds around the property and subtract off some area based on plant coverage & angled/curved edges.

If you have a lot of experience mulching or estimating outdoor quantities you can usually just estimate this information visually, but if you are new to this you should use a measuring wheel to help guide your estimation.

You will take this estimated square footage of the beds (minus plants) and then divide it by 100 to arrive at how many yards you'll need (at 3” thick).

Mulch Metrics & Measurements

Here's a collection of questions and comparisons people often ask about mulch:

How many cubic ft in a yard of mulch?

A yard of mulch is 3’ x 3’ x 3’ so there is 27 cubic feet in a yard of mulch.

How much does mulch cost per yard?

A yard of mulch costs around $36 dollars per yard plus tax and applicable delivery fees.

How much does a yard of mulch weigh?

A yard of mulch generally weighs between 700 and 900 pounds depending on how wet it is.

How many bags of mulch are on a pallet?

There are usually around 60 bags on pallet depending on the store.

How many wheelbarrows in a yard of mulch?

There is 27 cubic feet in a yard of mulch and most wheelbarrows hold around 6 cubic feet if it is filled to the brim. Therefore, there can be around 5 wheelbarrows in one cubic yard.

How much does a pallet of mulch weigh?

A pallet of mulch generally weighs between 2,000 and 2,300 pounds.

How much to spread mulch per bag?

When hiring a professional it is more efficient to negotiate per yard as opposed to per bag. We charge between $90 and $100 to spread mulch per yard and that includes us bringing the mulch.

When to Lay Mulch

The best time to put mulch down is in the Spring. This helps keep the new season’s weeds from requiring too much manual weeding and improves the moisture content through the summer for your plants.

Can you mulch in the fall? Certainly, we do lots of mulch throughout the fall. This keeps your beds looking sharp through the winter when there is much less going on. We find that people with lots of flowers and sprawling perennial plants sometimes prefer to wait until after their plants have grown out a bit and have reached maturity for the season, even waiting until mid-summer.

When to put down down mulch in fall

Mulching earlier in the fall in September or October allows you to appreciate it during those last few warmish months.

Whether you mulch in spring or fall, mulching at all will greatly benefit your garden and ease of maintenance.

Frequently asked questions
Can you put mulch directly on the ground/over grass?

Yes, you can as long as you have cleaned the area of weeds and debris. If you’re installing it over grass, it would be smart to at least thin the grass out a bit. If you cannot remove or kill the grass prior to laying mulch, you should put down landscape fabric first.

Should I put down preen before or after mulch?

You can apply preen before or after mulching.  Preening before mulch better protects the subsoil from new weeds, and you can always add more on top after mulching.

What is the best way to load mulch?

A plastic scoop shovel or a pitch fork generally work best to load mulch.

Should I water mulch after putting it down?

There is no need to water mulch after putting it down.

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