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How to Keep Hardwood Mulch Beds Looking Great

Mulch beds are prone to wear and tear. Keep hardwood mulch looking great all year round by following our tips and tricks.
Top-down photo of a bed of hardwood mulch

The demand for hardwood mulch is on the rise! In 2021, the global market for woodchips was worth $10243.40 million and it’s expected to grow steeply by 2029. It’s tough to beat beautiful, natural hardwood mulch beds and all the benefits that come with them.

The problem is that without help, they won’t look great forever. It takes ongoing maintenance for mulch beds to look their best year-round. Only then can they provide excellent protection to the ground beneath and the plants they surround.

Let’s dig into this subject in more detail and explore how to keep mulch beds looking their best.

Why Hardwood Mulch Is a Great Choice

Hardwood mulch is a popular and economical choice. It is medium cut, meaning that particles are usually around an inch in length. Many gardeners appreciate its rich, warm tones that add beauty as well as function to your mulch beds.

Not Attractive to Termites

Hardwood mulch doesn’t include softwoods like pine. This is good if you’re concerned about termites in your area.

Homeowners spend over $2 billion per year on termite treatments. Hardwood mulch is not an attractive food source for termites. However, you still need to be careful that the mulch is not too thick; otherwise, they may take refuge in its cool, damp protection.

Easy to Apply, Hard to Remove

Shredded hardwood mulch goes down very easily. It’s easy to distribute. And it is also resistant to rain and is not easily washed away.

While this is a positive point, over time, old mulch can become compacted. It is less prone to this than other finer types of mulch, but over time it will happen without regular mulch maintenance.

The mulch then forms a barrier over the soil and stops rainwater and other nutrients from getting to the soil and the roots of your plants. It’s important to turn the mulch regularly to stop this from happening.

Keeps the Ground Moist

A mulch bed should provide protection for the ground and roots beneath. But hardwood mulch beds do this in a special way.

This type of mulch is highly absorbent. It then gradually releases the water back into the soil where it is needed. At the same time, it protects the soil from heat and the evaporation that would otherwise take place if it were unprotected.

Prevent Weeds

Hardwood mulch can provide excellent weed control by denying them the light they need to grow. Weeds need sunlight to germinate. If they get that far, they continue to need it to grow and establish themselves.

Many weeds simply can’t cope with the dense darkness that mulch beds provide. They also provide a physical barrier that makes it harder for weed seeds blowing in the air to reach the soil.

Winter Protection

Plainfield, IL, and the surrounding area can get pretty cold in the middle of winter! With an average low of 16.1°F, your plants will appreciate a little insulation to protect them. Hardwood mulch provides just what they need.

Keep Hardwood Mulch Beds Looking Great

Hardwood mulch is built to last—it can still do its duty for up to ten years. But to keep it looking at its best and to make sure it’s still doing its job, it needs to be checked twice a yard.

Springtime Checks

In early spring, head out and give your mulch beds some attention. After the winter, they will probably not be looking at their best, especially if you have had a lot of rain.

All mulches will start to fade eventually. If the old mulch is looking a little past its best, do a little digging. First, we need to make sure that it’s still doing its job before we decide on the next course of action.

Check that the mulch bed is between 2 to 4 inches deep. If it’s getting on the low side, plan to top it up with fresh mulch.

Take handfuls of the mulch and assess its quality. Hardwood mulch should be like shredded wood, but over time it will decompose and become like dirt. If that’s happened to your mulch, it won’t work correctly any longer.

Make plans to remove the old, rotten mulch. At this point, you might want to consider adding a herbicide to keep weed growth at bay. Then top it up with fresh mulch until you’ve got the right depth again.

If the mulch is getting too deep—beyond four inches—your plants may not be getting the water they need. Check the entire mulch bed and remove any mulch that is beyond 4 inches.

Stop Mulch Compacting

All forms of mulch will naturally become compact over time without a helping hand.

Around late spring, spend a couple of hours visiting each of your mulch beds and turning them over. You can also apply new much at this point as needed. This will help keep the mulch permeable and reduce the risk of plants suffocating because of compacted mulch.

Regular Weed Checks

Mulch is there to prevent weeds, but it’s not 100% foolproof. Every week when you’re in your garden, scan your mulch beds to see if any weeds are starting to emerge.

If they are, remove them immediately. Try to remove the entire root, because some varieties will grow back if part of the root remains. 

Try your best to remove all weeds before they start to spread their seeds. According to Michigan State University, a single common mullein plant can produce and distribute 200,000 seeds

If you notice weeds coming through regularly, it may be that the mulch level is too low in that area and needs topping up.

Fall Mulch Checks

It’s important that there’s a good level of mulch on the ground throughout the fall and winter. This will protect your plants from the wet and harsh conditions that are coming their way.

Repeat the spring checks, ideally after the first frost. Test the depth and top it up to 4 inches as needed. 

Be Careful With Acid Loving Plants

Your mulch beds can thrive as the hardwood mulch breaks down and nourishes the soil. But it’s important to remember that if left unchecked, it will alter the soil’s pH.

Hardwood mulch is naturally alkaline. As it breaks down it will make the soil more alkaline. If you’re growing plants like azaleas and bleeding hearts that love acidic conditions, consider adding an acidic fertilizer to the soil.

This will help to keep your mulch beds looking at their absolute best.

Think About Mulch Bed Edges

Mulch beds look their best when there’s a sharp line dividing them from the lawn. If you don’t currently have one, you may find that your mulch often washes onto the lawn and creates a ragged edge—not a great look.

To elevate your mulch beds, make a project this summer of tidying up your edges. Mark out a clean line and use a sharp spade or an edging tool to mark the edge.

Make sure that you’ve removed the roots of any grass or weeds along the edge. You have many options for edging materials, including:

  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Edging stones
  • Bricks

Metal is great for straight edges, especially aluminum as it won’t rust. For more intricate or curved edges, plastic or edging stones can be very effective. 

Hardwood Mulch FAQs

Hardwood mulch is an excellent choice for most gardens. Here are the answers to a few burning questions that can reassure you it’s the right choice for your yard.

How Much Mulch Will I Need?

Hardwood mulch is usually sold by the cubic yard. One cubic yard is enough to cover 150 square feet to a depth of 2 inches. Two inches is the minimum depth you should be aiming for if you are applying mulch for the first time.

If you’re topping up your mulch, aim for a depth of between 2 to 4 inches.

Do You Need to Remove Mulch to Apply Fertilizer?

No, there is no need to remove hardwood mulch to fertilize your beds. That’s because mulch beds are designed to be permeable. It’s best to use liquid fertilizer rather than granular.

This will wash through the hardwood mulch and into the soil without the need for you to scrape it back.

Can You Apply Compost Over Mulch?

It is not recommended to apply compost over mulch. Mulch is designed to be the top layer. It’s decorative and adds character to your beds.

Compost can be added to a very thin layer of mulch. But after laying the compost, you will need to top up the mulch to a thickness of 2 to 4 inches.

Choose Fox Landscape Supply for All Your Mulch Needs

Mulch beds are an excellent way of helping your plants to thrive. They also look great year-round if you maintain your mulch by following these hints and tips.

At Fox Landscape Supply, we stock a large range of mulches. From hardwood mulch to aromatic cedar, we’re your one-stop shop for all your Illinois mulch needs.

Browse our extensive range of landscaping materials and place your order today!

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