Types of mulch

Mulch is made out of a wide range of materials-- ranging from the organic to the inorganic-- and the purpose it serves depends largely upon what material it's made out of.

Organic mulch is often made out of bark, wood fiber and other byproducts from saw mills, but it can also be made from yard compost, pine needles and grass clippings. Organic mulches are most commonly used to either enrich soil through decay or as a natural lining for landscaping projects.

Dyed mulch is one of the most popular types of mulch. Colored with nontoxic, biodegradable dye, it can be used to add extra emphasis to landscaping. Dyed mulch retains its color longer than non-dyed mulch, but the color doesn't provide any additional benefits.

Hardwood mulch is a premium mulch that is made from hardwood trees like cherry, oak, maple and birch. It's denser and decomposes slower than other mulches so it’s often used on sloped terrain, or in areas that receive heavy rainfall.

man carrying mulch bag

Mulch can easily be purchased by the bag for smaller projects. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

Inorganic mulches are used to pad playgrounds, line walking paths and suppress weed growth. They don’t decompose naturally, or provide additional nutrients to the soil. One benefit of inorganic mulches is they can last for several years while organic mulch has a lifespan of 8-10 months.

Rubber mulch is made out of recycled tires that have been stripped of all metal parts. It's growing in popularity as the ground cover of choice on playgrounds due to its soft and springy bounce. Rubber mulch is long lasting and highly durable.

Plastic mulch is used in landscaping and for large-scale crop production. It’s rolled out in sheets, and holes or slits are cut for plants to grow through. It helps to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weed growth.

Mulch can be purchased in several different consistencies ranging from coarse, shredded to fine. The consistency determines how fast the mulch decomposes – the finer the faster.

Tips for buying mulch

You can purchase mulch by the bag, or in bulk. Bagged mulch usually comes in bags of 2 or 3 cubic feet. Bulk mulch is sold by the cubic yard. One cubic yard is equal to 27 cubic feet, and should cover an area of 100 square feet at a depth of 3 inches.

Bagged mulch is more expensive than bulk, but it’s ideal for homeowners who don’t need a lot of mulch, or want to use several different types.

Bulk mulch can be purchased at most garden supply stores and you can have it delivered by the truckload for a fee. Buying in bulk is ideal for large projects that require a lot of mulch, and you can usually have the truck dump it in a convenient location.

If you own a truck or trailer; you can buy mulch in bulk directly from the distributor without having to pay the delivery fee.

How to spread mulch

Spreading mulch is relatively easy and it only requires a few basic tools like a wheelbarrow, rake and work gloves.

Mulch is heavy so it helps to use a wheelbarrow to transport it around your yard. If you don’t have a wheelbarrow, an old bed sheet or tarp will work.

Use the wheelbarrow to strategically dump the mulch around your flower beds and landscaping. Then, spread the piles around evenly using the rake and your hands.

Ideally, you want to spread the mulch to a depth of no more than 3 inches. One common mulch mistake is piling it high around the trunk of a tree, creating a “mulch volcano.” Even if you like the way it looks, piling mulch too high around trees can oversaturate the roots with water and cause fungus and decay problems.

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