Mulching your shrub beds will help reduce weed growth, hold moisture in the soil and help rainfall and irrigation system water penetrate the ground more readily. In the 21st Century dyed mulches have gained popularity over the natural wood-based mulches since they hold their color longer.

There are several types of mulch you can use:

Shredded mulch
Mushroom manure
Decorative stone
Rubber mulch
Bark nuggets

  A "yard" of mulch
One cubic yard of shredded mulch is equal to 27 cubic feet. Therefore, to calculate how many "yards" of mulch you need to cover a given area, find out the cubic footage by multiplying length x width x depth (in feet).

Doing the math:
An area 10 feet x 45 feet x 1-1/2 inch mulch depth (.125 feet) = 10 x 45 x .125 = 56.25 cubic feet
56.25 cubic feet 27 cubic feet (one yard) =
2.08 cubic yards of mulch needed for the area

One cubic yard of mulch =
27 cubic feet

How to calculate how much mulch you will need

Shredded wood mulches

Generally speaking, finer ground mulches (or smaller sized decorative stone) will provide more coverage, since it can be spread thinner. With shredded wood mulches, a depth of one to 1-1/2 inches should be adequate, especially if you plan to mulch every year. Wood mulches stay looking their best if they are top-coated every year (two years at the most). Beyond two years, most of the mulch will have disintegrated and you'll be down to soil or unsightly landscape fabric.
Applying mulch several inches deep year after year will lead to mulch build-up. In some cases, you may have to remove some of the old mulch layer before applying fresh mulch. Mulch should be held back from contacting the trunks of trees and shrubs.

Landscape fabric and black plastic weed barriers

Landscape fabric works well under decorative stone mulches, but we don't recommend using it under wood, bark or mushroom manure mulches. While it may serve well at holding down weeds for the first couple years, weeds will eventually begin to grow on top of the fabric. Also, a landscape fabric or black plastic underlayment will prevent mulch from breaking down and adding organic matter to the soil. Since any underlayment inhibits the natural breakdown of mulch, it also contributes to mulch build-up, where you may eventually end up with too deep of a mulch layer.



  Getting your beds ready to mulch...

Once beds have been cleaned-up, it is time to edge the beds. The simplest way to create an edge is illustrated here: Cut an edge with a power edger or sharp spade, then spray the grass and weeds inside the cut with glyphosate. If you desire a "deep edge look" you'll need to remove soil along the edge with a spade or power trencher.
Grass bed edge was cut with a power edger and then sprayed with glyphosate
Dig out the edges along sidewalks and driveways so you have enough depth to apply your fresh coat of mulch. You'll also want to remove excess mulch from the area around your air conditioning unit (if it rests on the ground) to allow for the application of new mulch.
Walkway edge dug out to allow enough depth for new mulch
Now it is time to apply any fertilizer or pre-emergent herbicide you intend to use. Nitrogen fertilizer will help compensate for what is removed from the soil when wood based mulches breakdown. Pre-emergent herbicides help prevent the growth of weed seeds in the soil. Some products combine fertilizer with pre-emergent herbicide.




  Now it's time to spread your mulch...

Having the right equipment will make your job easier. We recommend a 6 cubic foot wheelbarrow with a pneumatic tire. Small spaces, and areas with difficult access, can be mulched using plastic tubs or 5-gallon buckets. 
Tip: It is much easier to shovel off a paved surface than tarps or grass, however, some mulches (dyed) may stain pavement.
6 cubic foot wheelbarrow with a pneumatic tire
Hand tools
Flat scoops work best for shoveling off pavement. We prefer a long handled #2 coal shovel, but we've even seen homeowners using snow shovels!
Flat scoop for shoveling mulch
Spreading mulch
A pitchfork works well for handling most mulch products, as long as they aren't too finely ground. You will need a shovel for fine textured and decorative stone products.
Pitchfork being used to scoop mulch out of a wheelbarrow
Smoothing out mulch
After scooping a pitchfork full of mulch into your landscape bed, use a back and forth motion to smooth out the mulch (as indicated by the white arrows in the photo on the right).
Note: The mulch in the photo is double shredded, dyed brown, wood mulch.
Pitchfork being used in a back and forth motion to smooth out mulch

More about mulching:

Landscape Mulches

Mulch Photos

Mulch Problems

Decorative Stone Mulch

How much mulch you need



Sandy's Garden Blog

Master Gardener Tips


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