All about Mulch

After I do a thorough spring cleanup, including edging, pruning, dividing and transplanting in a client’s garden, it is time to mulch.  Everyone has their own thoughts on mulch.  For some it is cost prohibitive. They cannot see the value of adding woodchips to their garden.  Others are turned off by the mulch itself.  Feeling that the mulch is too large and clunky for the top of their refined flower garden.  Whatever the reason that you don’t like mulch…GET OVER IT!  

Mulch can be one of the most beneficial things that you can do for your garden if applied correctly.  Apply it after a clean-up, once the majority of planting has occurred and before the plants are at their final size in the garden, preferably by June. How much mulch do you apply in your garden?  Are you ready for it?  4” of mulch for your first application is preferred.  The reason being that as the mulch settles, it will shrink to about 2”.  It will help conserve moisture in the garden, keep the soil temperature fairly even and help prevent weeds from germinating.  You will have the odd weed still, but it will be easier to remove.  For subsequent years of mulching, apply between 2-4”.  Your garden will ‘eat’ the mulch.  This is a great thing.  As your mulch decomposes, it adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil benefitting its nutrition and structure.  

If your garden is large enough, a delivery of mulch is the easiest way to go.  The driver can dump on your driveway or a weighted tarp if preferred.  If you do not require a yard or more of mulch for your flower beds, try bagged mulch.  Purchasing by-the-bag is very convenient.  Even an owner of a small sedan can go to the garden center and pick up bags of mulch.  

The type of mulch to use in your garden that will offer the most nutrition and aesthetic value is finely ground composted wood mulch.  You do not want to use fresh mulch.  It can suck the nitrogen from your soil and cause a lot of distress to the plants. There is an existing Carbon/Nitrogen ratio in every garden.  The perfect balance is 25/1.  Typical fresh wood chips from a tree company that are looking to get rid of their debris is anywhere from 100/1 to 400/1.  Does this mean that you can’t use them? You really shouldn’t use them fresh.  They need to be well composted.  If you have the space to store and compost mulch, then go for it!  The typical homeowner does not.  I have found some clients have an extremely large area that they are covering and free fresh wood chips makes sense to them. Adding some commercial garden fertilizer when spreading the mulch can help break down fresh wood chips and stop them from stealing the nitrogen from the soil.  

There are soft or hard wood mulches available.  Personally, have found no difference.  You can also choose between pine and cedar.  The only real difference in my opinion is the smell.  What do you prefer?  I try and get a mulch of natural colour.  I am not into the dyed mulch.  I have never seen a red tree decaying in the forest!  I tend to go with the darkest natural mulch available and as close to soil colour for me as possible.  I am not looking for the mulch to be the focal point in my garden.



  • Spring is the ideal time to apply mulch to your garden
  • using composted mulch helps keep weeds down, moisture in, and temperatures constant
  • Apply mulch 4” thick for your first application and 2-4” thick for subsequent years application
  • Try to use natural, composted mulch. Let your garden be the star, not the colour of the mulch
  • HINT!... Peonies do not like mulch or soil against their stems