Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mulch'll Do About Anything

It’s September in Texas and I’ve officially forgotten what rain looks like. It’s that wet stuff that falls from the sky, right?

Dorris - it hasn't rained in so long her yard is a desert.

No rain for two months means there’s a direct correlation between the increase in outside temperature and the increase in my city water bill. Some years it’s so bad that I stop looking at the actual Amount Due, and just click the ‘Dear Lord, Yes, Just Pay the !&$^#* Thing’ button when the e-bill hits my inbox. (That way I don’t break out in hives.)

One of the best ways to combat the lack of rain and keep your water bill under control is to make friends with mulch. Why is mulch so important? Two reasons. First, it conserves water by regulating the moisture levels in the soil. For example, normally I have to water my jalapeno and serrano peppers every two days. If I put 3-5 inches of mulch around those babies, I only have to water them once a week.

Plants benefit from a 3 to 5 inch layer of mulch.

The second thing mulch does (and this is important in Texas) is that it regulates soil temperature. Plant roots stay cooler during the heat of the day and retain that heat at night. Insulating plant roots from those crazy temperature swings increases the chances they’ll survive. This same principle applies in winter, so mulch makes plants happy all year round.

Mulch maintains moisture levels in the soil and protects plants from extreme temperature changes, making plants happy all year round.

There are only a couple of things you need to know about mulching. First, there’s no such thing as too much mulch (with one exception – but we’ll get to that). All of my flowers, herbs and landscaping plants have 3 to 5 inches of hardwood mulch over the entire bed. Don’t forget you can even mulch those pots of annuals you have cooking on your back porch.

How much should you get? If you own a truck (or SUV, or drive a really old Lincoln with a big trunk) you can take yourself down to the lawn and garden center and buy it by the bag. Here’s a little trick for calculating how many bags to buy without doing any math. Go outside and look at the flowerbed you want to mulch. How many bags would fit in the bed if they were laid end to end? Just take a guess or you can walk it off, averaging one bag for every normal step. Count ‘em up and that’s how many you buy.

Determine how much mulch you need by estimating bags end to end. No math required.

Of course, if you’re lazy like me (or more than ½ your yard is flower beds), you order a dump truck full from the city. My lot is 1/3 of an acre and easily half is flower beds. So I typically order 6 square yards of mulch at a time.

Dorris - orders her mulch by the truck full, 6 yards at a time.

What not to mulch? Trees. One thing you can kill with too much mulch are trees. Do not mulch newly established trees (e.g. less than 2 years in the ground). If you’re going to mulch around an established tree, be sure to leave at least a foot between the base of the tree and the mulch and keep the depth at 2 inches or less. Why? Because tree roots grow outward from the base, just under the soil surface. Too much mulch will literally suffocate a tree.

One other great thing about mulch is that it keeps your feet from getting muddy when you trek through your garden.

Dorris - enjoying her garden with a favorite tasty beverage.

Tricky Details:
  • Buying tips: I prefer hardwood mulches over the pine, cedar and cypress because the hardwood breaks down quicker and feeds your plants over time.
  • In my area, the City of Plano ( has a yard debris recycling program and offers both bulk and ‘by the bag’ landscaping products for reasonable prices. Check out your city’s website to see if there is something similar in your area.
  • If you are mulching a newly planted bed, you’ll want to wait a couple of weeks -- give those petunias and mums some time to get their roots established before you smother them with love.
  • What about rubberized mulch? Personally, I prefer the natural stuff; however, if you are installing long term landscaping (like shrubs around a house) the rubber stuff is an okay option.


  1. I've got a question. Do you plant seeds IN the mulch, or under the mulch...and if under, then doesn't that hamper the seeds from getting to the surface? :-) And what kind of mulch do you use?

  2. Hi Gale -

    You'll want to plant seeds in the dirt before you put down mulch. Wait until the seeds come up and the plants have a few clusters of 'real' leaves before you put down mulch. (When seeds first germinate, you'll see sprouts come up with a pair of leaves on the end of a thin stem - wait until more leaves appear before placing mulch carefully around them.)

    If you are planting in a bed that already had mulch, you can plant the seeds under the mulch (scrape the mulch away, put the seeds in the dirt, then re-cover with the mulch) but you may have fewer seeds come up (because its harder for sunlight to reach them).

    I use hardwood mulch (the smaller the pieces, the shorter time it takes for the mulch to break down and feed plants).

    Hope that helps!

  3. Thanks Dorris! I've been wondering about that for a while! :-)

  4. I've enjoyed your blog, and love the illustrations. Came by way of Gardenweb Texas forum and am now following.

  5. Great artwork. Do you plan to share photos of your garden? I guess you had better luck with the Plano mulch product than I. I had three yards delivered around four year ago and it was full of trash. Nails, rocks, glass, plastic, you name it.

  6. Hi Bluestem -

    Sharing photos is a good idea! That might be something I do down the road :)

    Wow re: the bad delivery from Plano. Six deliveries here in the last three years, and so far so good, but I'll keep you posted if I run across the same problem.

    And as always, thanks for the comments!


  7. Dorris,
    I love love LOVE the beautiful illustrations!
    They really help convey the content!

    Can't wait to read more!


    1. Thank you, Reed! so glad you are enjoying :)

  8. Great presentation. Simply love it!

    1. And I simply love the compliment :) Thank you!


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