How Often Should I Replace Mulch?

mulched garden bedA fresh layer of mulch will give your landscape the finishing touch it needs to really stand out.   Besides being aesthetically pleasing, mulch has many other benefits as well.  

Mulch prevents weed growth, keeps the soil moist, provides nutrients, reduces soil erosion, and again, it just looks good.  

The cost of mulch ranges depending on what type you use and how much you need, but typically mulch is very affordable.  

What exactly is mulch?  Mulch is any material laid on top of soil that conserves water, maintains soil temperature/moisture, reduces erosion and weed growth, and improves the quality of the soil.  

Some common types of mulch are:

  • Bark
  • Wood chips
  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Newspaper
  • Rocks
  • Plastic film

If you’re new to landscaping or just recently bought your first home, you’re probably wondering, when am I supposed to add mulch to my garden and yard?  Keep reading to find out the best times to replace your mulch.  

 

Spring Mulchmulch with gloves and rake

Spring is by far the most common time of year when people put down mulch.  Don’t get over-eager though.  Wait until mid-to-late spring.  

When you add mulch too early, cold moisture will get trapped in the soil.  This will delay the growth of spring plants.

If you choose to apply an organic mulch, nutrients from the mulch will awaken your annual plants from hibernation.   

Initially, you want to lay down a thin layer of mulch and add more once your plants start popping.  If the mulch is too thick, new seedlings will not be strong enough to push through all the mulch.  

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An initial thin layer of mulch will also be enough to block the sunlight from any weeds trying to invade your garden beds.  

 

Winter Mulch

Another very important time to mulch is late fall-early winter.  If you’re not sure when exactly the best time to add winter mulch is, check your local weather reports.  You need to have your mulch down before the first freeze.  

Winter mulch will greatly reduce the growth of cool-season weeds like chickweed, clover, and bluegrass.  The mulch will also add a layer of insulation between the air and the soil, which will protect the roots of your plants from freezing.  

Another benefit of mulching in winter is that mulch slows down the process of water evaporation.  Your plants and trees still need water in winter and mulching helps trap some of that water in.  

 

Soil Decomposition

When you can see soil through your mulch, it’s time to add more.  Decomposition is the process of nutrients and other formerly living organisms breaking down and being recycled back into the soil.  

Over time, organic mulch will decompose back into the soil providing a plethora of minerals and food to your plants, trees, and soil.  New organic mulch will need to be replaced at least once a year, but sometimes twice.  

Inorganic mulch does not decompose or it decomposes very, very slowly.  With that being said, inorganic mulch will still need to be periodically topped off.  

This is because it can be blown away or moved by weather and it just wears down over time.  Kids and sometimes pets will collect and move the mulch, which will also require more to be added.  

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Soil Erosion

Soil erosion is a gradual process where the top layer of soil is removed by wind, water, or mass movement.  When the topsoil layer becomes eroded, your plants cannot get the nutrients they need and they will suffer.

In addition to that, when the top layer is missing, your plants will be more susceptible to pests and chemicals attacking them.  

Check your garden beds regularly to identify areas where mulch has been loosened or removed.  Reapply as needed.  

 

Discoloration

Mulch color fades over time.  When the color fades, it adds a dreary feel to your landscape.  Fresh, vibrant colors are what you want in your landscape.

Undyed mulches will eventually turn gray.  Pine bark is an undyed mulch that usually holds its natural color for a fair amount of time.

Dyed mulches keep their color longer, but they may be depositing harmful chemicals into your soil.  Because of this, many people opt to replace dyed mulches each year.

 

Final Thoughtsbrown mulch

A mulched landscape definitely gives your garden beds that final polished look.  This is exactly why all the best gardeners will tell you, yes, you should be mulching.  

Adding mulch provides numerous benefits to both your plants and soil.  Mulching at the wrong time though will lead to frustrating results.  You should be adding mulch as needed, in spring, and in winter.  

 

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