Proper Mulching Methods

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

With spring at our doorstep, we are all ready to give our garden beds a fresh look and feel. One of the topics our customers frequently ask us about at the garden center is how to mulch, and what types of mulch are best. While the shear number of mulch options can be overwhelming, the good news is that when following a few simple steps to properly mulch your garden beds, you can leave your mulch selection simply to whichever suits your tastes and your budget.

Depth and Coverage

When mulching a garden bed, the most important piece to remember is that the mulch should be layered no more than 3 inches deep. 1-2 inches is plenty. Any more than 3 inches, and mulch will begin to cause more problems than benefits – mulch that is too deep can bar water and air from reaching the soil, lead to shallow root growth, and encourage plant disease.

When mulching around trees and shrubs, ensure that the stem or trunk of the shrub or tree is not covered by mulch. I frequently see mounds of mulch surrounding trees, like an upside-down funnel with the tree coming out of the top. This forces the stems and trunks of trees to sit in moisture, increasing the likelihood of disease and other ailments affecting it. Instead, follow the 1-2 inch mulch depth all the way from the edge of the garden bed to the base of the tree.

If you are planting trees and shrubs for the first time, the same mulching methods apply. For more details on the planting process, check out our full planting guide.

Benefits of Mulching Garden Beds

  • Retain soil moisture, reducing frequency of watering
  • Moderate soil temperature, keeping the soil warmer in winter and cooler in summer
  • Reduce erosion of soil by retaining it in garden beds and increase water infiltration into the soil
  • Improve appearance of garden beds, giving a polished look and feel
  • Reduce need for weeding

Selecting the Best Mulch for Your Landscape

Mulch comes in many, many varieties. You can select just about any kind or color that you want at this point, which can be overwhelming to customers who have not decided on a favorite kind yet. The good news is that there is really very little difference between mulches in terms of benefits to the soil and garden bed. You can choose whatever mulch you want, based on your preferred looks and price. If you are not sure what kind you want, we are happy to help you pick!

Here are a few of the options that we offer:

  • Shredded Hardwood: economical, holds well on moderate slopes
  • Cedar: aromatic, naturally decay resistant
  • Cypress: decay resistant
  • Silver Dollar, Rappahannock and Virginia Fines: good color retention, does not pack down
  • Dyed mulch: good color retention