How Often Should you Mulch your Yard?

Gloved hand picking up mulch between lettuce plants

We often hear questions about lawn care, such as how often should you mulch. Mulch is not intended to last forever and will break down completely in about five to six years without any intervention. However, it is often preferable to replace your mulch more often. If your primary concern is aesthetics, you might wait until the mulch is no longer attractive or pleasing to your eye. Because mulch offers far more than mere aesthetic benefits, we typically recommend mulching at least once a year.

What Does Mulch Do for Your Yard?

Most people find that mulch improves the appearance of flower beds, but that is not the only reason to apply it. Here are a few of the many benefits mulch can provide to your yard:

  • Provides soil with nutrients through decomposition
  • Discourages weeds and makes them easier to remove
  • Regulates soil temperature
  • Reduces evaporation

These benefits, though unobservable, are much more valuable than those you do see.

When and How Often Should You Mulch?

We recommend that you have your yard mulched at least once a year. To take full advantage of the many benefits it can offer to the soil, some people like to mulch twice a year. While there is nothing wrong with this, it does require more effort and expense. For most property owners, one annual mulching per year is sufficient.

Mulching is best done either just before or just after the growing season. Therefore, most property owners have it done in either the spring or the fall. While it is up to you to choose when to mulch, there are certain advantages of having it done in spring. For one thing, this is typically the time of year when you are cleaning and sprucing up your property for the year. Fresh mulch can do wonders to improve the appearance of your yard.

Furthermore, you are replacing your mulch after it has served you for three seasons, each bringing its own harsh weather conditions. Mulching in the fall means that your plants can’t get the full benefit of it until next spring, and it may not be as effective after exposure to the snow and cold of winter. Therefore, mulching in the spring may be the most efficient use.

How Should You Apply Mulch?

While mulch is generally beneficial for your yard, you must be careful to apply it the right way. Otherwise, it may actually harm your plants. For example, you should never apply mulch so that it is touching the base of your plants, or else you could suffocate them or starve them of water. Around the base of each plant, you should leave two to three inches of empty space, keeping the mulch out of that area as you lay it down around it. This creates a small circle, or “donut,” of space around each plant that it needs to breathe and receive water.

The depth of the mulch you should lay down depends partly on how often you intend to change it. Three to four inches should be the absolute maximum, and mulch should only be that deep if you do not intend to replace it for a few years. If you intend to replace the mulch every year, as recommended, it only needs to be two to three inches deep. The initial depth can be less if you intend to mulch your yard twice a year.

Besides the risk of harm to the plants, part of the problem with laying down too much mulch at first is that you may have to remove and dispose of it before you replace it. If you applied the right amount of mulch to begin with, you do not need to remove it. You can simply turn it over before replacing it, and it will continue to benefit the soil as it decomposes completely.

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