How to Use Mulch in Landscaping


Mulch adds a finishing touch to a landscape as well as functional benefits. Mulch helps conserve water in the soil, limits weed growth and provides essential nutrients to the soil during decomposition. Mulch protects plants during the hottest and coldest parts of the year by keeping soil temperatures uniform. Mulch comes in many forms including shredded wood, pine needle, wood chips, straw and shredded leaves. These organic mulches will evenly break down to benefit the garden soil.

Step 1

Locate the best possible instances for mulch placement. This includes around existing plantings, around the base of trees and in container gardens. Mulch suppresses weed growth, helps retain moisture in the soil and regulates soil temperature during the hottest and coldest parts of the year. Mulch also improves the look of the landscape, creating a more finished and groomed appearance to your garden beds.

Step 2

Cut open the mulch bag using a sharp utility knife with a slice across the top of the bag near the seam. Pull apart the top of the bag. Cutting in this manner prevents annoying mulch clumps from gathering in the plastic corners of the bag and improves the speed of spreading the mulch layer on the garden.

Step 3

Take a whiff of the mulch to check for incidences of anaerobic decomposition of mulch. If this is the case, it will smell sour or exhibit a sulfur smell. This occurs when vendors stack or pile mulch and don't turn the mounds or bags to encourage normal decomposition. Do not apply foul-smelling mulch to your garden beds. Mulch should ideally smell woody and fresh. Tear the bags open on sour mulch and stir the mulch with a shovel. Allow the mulch to sit for a week, stirring every other day until it's safe to use about 1 week later.

Step 4

Schedule mulch application for late May after soil temperatures have increased above 60 degrees.

Step 5

Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch to the garden beds. Bring the mulch to the base of plants and the edge of the garden bed. Don't mound mulch around plants since this can invite burrowing by rodents that feast on tender plant roots. Apply only a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch around the base of trees, smoothing the mulch outward from the tree base. Do not make a huge volcano mound of mulch with an indentation at the tree trunk. Water will pool, causing damage to the tree.

Step 6

Smooth the mulch layer using your hands or a rake to improve the appearance of the garden bed.

Step 7

Apply a 1-inch layer of mulch to the top of hanging planters or containers. This conserves water within the planter and the mulch will decompose to add nutrients to the potting soil.

Things You'll Need

  • Gloves
  • Rake
  • Hoe
  • Utility knife


  • University of Minnesota Extension
  • University of Virginia Cooperative Extension
Keywords: mulch, using mulch, garden mulch

About this Author

Currently studying for her Maryland master gardener certification, Sharon Heron has written professionally since 2006. Her writing includes hundreds of articles on a wide range of topics including gardening, environment, golf, parenting, exercise, finances and consumer how-to articles.