When you’re looking to lay mulch, you need to know the proper mulching techniques in order to avoid making major mulching mistakes. Whether you’re adding mulch to a commercial park, community garden or front yard, it’s all too easy to innocently put mulch in a bed where it ends up killing bulbs or overdoing it in a way that suffocates plants. That’s why you need to know the key mulching tips in order to make the most of your project. With that in mind, here are a few of the top mulching mistakes to look for, along with tips for mulching in a way that avoids problems in your landscaping efforts:

  1. Confusing mulch with wood chips. Think wood chips will work just as well as mulch? Think again. While wood chips decay quickly, they decay too quickly — and you’ll have to replace them more often than mulch. What’s more, wood chips have not been aged properly the way mulch should be, so they can rob your plants of nitrogen. Stick to proper mulching instead.
  2. Confusing mulch with stone or rock. If you’re thinking of using decorative rock or stone as mulch in a landscaping bed in lieu of mulch, stop. Stone and rock aren’t mulch. While mulch holds moisture and helps plants maintain an even temperature, rock and stone don’t. In fact, they radiate heat, which can stress and damage plants. Use actual mulch instead.
  3. Laying large pieces of mulch in annual flowerbeds. Mulch isn’t made for everything. When you lay large pieces of it in annual flowerbeds, for example, you can increase humidity enough that it ruins the flowers and prevents them from blooming. Instead, be sure to stick to fine mulch, spread to only a depth of less than an inch, in annual flowerbeds.
  4. Mulching the bottom of a tree. When you gather mulch in a mound at the bottom of a tree, it might look pretty, but it harms the tree’s roots. The mulch traps moisture against the tree bark, which makes it easy for bacterial and fungal disease to occur. Likewise, deep mulch around the base of a tree can cause the bark to rot. In worst cases, this can even kill the tree. When you want the attractive look of mulch around your tree without the potential damage, spread the mulch in a doughnut around the tree, tapered away from the trunk.
  5. Mulching on top of a plastic barrier. When you put mulch on top of plastic or fabric weed barriers, you aren’t helping your plants; you’re depriving them of the mulch’s value. The barrier prevents the mulch’s benefits from seeping into the soil. If you’re going to use mulch, do it without a barrier.
  6. Buying bad mulch. Do you know where your mulch comes from? You should. Otherwise, you could end up with mulch that has construction debris, metals or even arsenic inside it. To ensure you have quality mulch, shop at a reputable mulching source where you can ask about the product’s origins and contents.
  7. Overdoing it. Avoid overmulching. When you put excessive mulch in beds, you can suffocate the plant and do more damage than good. For a general rule, stick to 2-3 inches of depth for your mulch, spread evenly in beds.
  8. Not doing it. On the flipside of overdoing mulch is not using it at all. When you decide not to use mulch in your landscaping, you miss out on a great opportunity to reduce moisture loss and minimize weeds. By using mulch, you can achieve cooler soil temperature, healthier plant roots and reduced soil compaction. Plus, as the mulch decomposes, it adds essential micronutrients and minerals like carbon into your plant bed, promoting better growth.

Wherever you’re mulching this season, keep these mulching mistakes to avoid at the forefront of your mind. By knowing what to look for in your landscaping projects, you’ll be better equipped to use mulch in a way that enhances, not damages, your plants.