Mulch Love: 6 Steps for a Better Mulch Bed
I love mulch beds. Like a lot. Like more than a friend. They're so pretty and versatile, and they really make a yard look complete. They can clean up awkward spots, like that patch under the weird tree, or the spot next to the house that's not quite lawn, and not quite garden, and also a little bit sandbox for the chickens (for the record, we're still trying to figure out how to get chickens and mulch beds to play nicely).
Mulch beds are the perfect place to put the annuals that your husband keeps "accidentally" bringing home because, "seriously, it's a really rare breed," or the cracked out hedgehog solar light that your kid got you for mother's day.
As well as being beautiful, mulch also serves a practical purpose. When done correctly, mulch will help retain water in your garden beds and will prevent weeds from coming up. Quality mulch will even decompose over time turning into super great organic matter for your plants. In other words, good mulch = healthy plants.
The downside is that mulch beds can be a lot of work. They grow weeds, the edges get ratty, and the perennials can completely take over. The mulch itself breaks down and needs to be replenished, or even removed and completely replaced.
Thankfully we have installed and reinstalled and refreshed and re-refreshed a LOT of mulch beds. We've made some terrible mistakes (like the great mulch flood of 2016), and learned a ton. So we've come up with a few secret weapons to get super pretty mulch beds that will last for years with minimal maintenance.
1. Weed it good. The first step is to weed the beds thoroughly, making sure to pull the weeds up by the root as much as possible to minimize growback (What? It's totally a word).
2. Trim it back. After pulling the weeds out, you'll be able to see what perennials you're working with. Now is the time to trim them way back and get them under control. Don't be afraid to go a little crazy here. Most perennials will fill back in pretty quickly, and after a good trim, they will often come back healthier and with more blooms. When in doubt, trim a little more than you think you should. They might look a little droopy and sad at first, but don't worry, they'll perk right up after a couple of days.
3. Define your edges. Once your beds are cleaned out, take the time to really define the edges of the beds. You can reshape them, or just use the existing lines. They key is to give them a really sharp and deep edge. This will give the mulch space to rest against the turf so that it doesn't spill over onto the lawn. Edges really make a mulch bed look clean!
4. The right stuff. It's important to use a good quality mulch for your beds. We use a premium triple shredded mulch. It covers better, looks nicer, and will decompose into really lovely organic material that will keep your plants healthy for years to come. Cheap mulch is easy to spot; it will have larger, irregular pieces, the color will be inconsistent, and will often be dyed, which can run off and stain your yard or even your house.
5. Lay it on thick! We recommend using at least 3 inches of mulch. This helps keep the mulch from running off leaving bare patches, and will help with water retention and weed prevention.
6. Skip the sheets. Landscaping fabric is used by almost everyone when making a mulch bed. Personally, we hate the stuff. It doesn't break down nicely, it's a pain to plant new things in, and after a couple of years it's just another ratty thing to get tangled in your rake. If you follow the steps above (weed thoroughly, get quality mulch, and spread it thick), there is no need to use landscaping fabric. No, seriously.
That's it! Ok, it feels like a lot... But really, most of it is small tweaks to a process that most people already use when they're creating or refreshing their mulch beds. And if there's one thing we've learned about landscaping & lawns, it's that shortcuts never work out. Do the work the right way the first time, and you'll save a lot of headache down the line.
Have fun in your beds!