Mulches are good for controlling weeds and reducing surface erosion. They also keep the ground temperature fairly constant and help the soil retain moisture, both of which make your plants happy.

Mulches control weeds and reduce surface erosion

There are many different mulches on the market, most of them natural and a few of them synthetic. The natural ones include various types of tree bark, shredded organic matter, and composted organic matter. The synthetic mulches are usually some sort of plastic sheeting or filter fabric.

Natural mulch types
Synthetic mulches

In most cases, you won’t go wrong with an organic mulch. Not only will it do what all mulches do, but it will also help enrich your soil from year to year.

When you buy a mulch choose:

How it looks: this depends on your preferences
How much it costs: It can cost a lot to mulch large areas

Pine bark mulch in bulk

How much you need: If you need a lot you should buy in bulk (many mulches are sold by the yard). If you need a little you should buy it in bags.

Pine bark mulch in bags

How much work it has to do: Heavier mulches tend not to blow around in the wind and are more effective at suppressing weeds than lighter ones. Lighter mulches are good for decorative cover and for mulching around delicate plants.

Heavier pine bark mulch in planting bed
Lighter mulches – Buckwheat hulls mulch

If you buy mulch in bulk, estimate the amount you need by figuring the area: one yard of bark mulch covers about 100 square feet (a 10′ x 10′ square), spread about three inches thick. (Refer to Materials Estimation in the “Toolbox” area of the Garden Tutor website for details on how to determine how much material you need)

Estimating mulch coverage

Tip: If you need a lot of mulch, check with your municipality and see if they have a community compost program for yard waste. If so, they may provide free mulch and compost, all you have to do is pick it up.

Municipal wood chip mulch

Heavier mulches (e.g bark mulches) purchased in bulk will need a wheelbarrow and shovel to move them. If you have to spread a lot of mulch consider purchasing a “mulch or bedding fork” and using a “level head” iron rake to spread it around.

Wheelbarrow and mulch fork
Level head iron rake

Be careful not to build up mulch around the base of plants; spread it a bit thinner around the plant base.

Spread mulch thinner around base of plant

Smooth it, and you’re done.

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