The Q&A Archives: Mulching On My Own

Question: Over the past three years, we have added perennial gardens around our entire home. During each phase the landscaping company handled the mulching for me. I would like to do the mulching this year on my own. I need to know how to determine how much mulch I should order and what types of tools I will need to handle the job. Also, when is the best time to mulch the garden. The gardens have a variety of perennial plants, inkberry bushes, japanese holly bushes, various evergreen bushes sand cherry bushes and river birch trees.

Answer: Mulching is certainly within the capability of most home gardeners. It can really be done any time of the year except when there is snow on the ground. A good rule of thumb is to maintain a layer just a few inches thick year round. Shredded bark (a common organic mulch) can be spread with the hands or tipped out of a wheelbarrow or garden cart and raked smooth, being careful not to bury and smother perennials or mar tree bark with your tools. It also should not touch the bark of woody plants. Use a comfortable shovel to move the mulch from the pile into the wheelbarrow or cart, and allow yourself plenty of time to get the job done.

When you order it, be sure it is an aged mulch rather than freshly chipped wood. It may be sold by the truck-load or by the "scoop" which can be of any size or by the cubic yard. A cubic yard should cover about 100 square feet to about two or three inches. If you are mulching in the spring, you might add any topdressing materials such as compost or fertilizers to perennial beds before you mulch. Mulch settles after it is applied and will break down over time so it is not a problem if you apply a bit too much or a bit too little at any given time. Like so much of gardening, it is an ongoing process.

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