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How to Use Hardwood Mulch in Your Garden

Mulch can be a great benefit to a vegetable or flower garden. In this guide, learn how to properly use hardwood mulch in your garden.
Closeup photo of a person using a garden spade to dig through hardwood mulch

Do you love your garden more than you love yourself? Do you spend more time on your garden’s aesthetics than you do on your own appearance? Then you probably are seeking new ways to enhance the health of your garden all the time. 

One great tool for that is hardwood mulch, a versatile and valuable garden asset for gardeners that offers numerous benefits.

It’s a type of mulch made from deciduous trees like oak, maple, or hickory. These trees shed their leaves annually, providing a source of organic material that can be transformed into mulch. 

In this article, we will explore how to use mulch in your garden maintenance efforts, along with essential tips to maximize its advantages.

1. Prepare Your Garden Beds

Before applying hardwood mulch, it’s essential to prepare your garden beds properly. Start by removing any existing weeds, debris, or old mulch.

Ensure that the soil is well-aerated and adequately moist. If necessary, amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost, to improve its fertility.

2. Apply an Adequate Layer

When it comes to applying hardwood mulch, the general rule of thumb is to spread a layer that is 2 to 4 inches thick. This thickness provides ample coverage to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and regulate soil temperature effectively.

Be mindful not to over-apply mulch. This is because excessive mulch depth can hinder water penetration and air circulation.

3. Maintain a Mulch-Free Zone Around Plant Stems

To avoid potential issues with moisture retention and stem rot, create a mulch-free zone around the base of your plants. This area should be free of mulch for a few inches to allow proper air circulation and prevent mulch from directly contacting the plant stems. This precaution is particularly crucial for young or sensitive plants.

4. Refresh Mulch as Needed

Over time, hardwood mulch will decompose and break down, adding valuable organic matter to your soil. To maintain the benefits of mulching, periodically replenish the mulch layer, typically once a year. Remove any old or decomposed mulch before adding a fresh layer.

5. Choose the Right Mulch Color

Hardwood mulch comes in various colors, allowing you to select one that complements your garden’s aesthetics.

Darker mulch colors like brown and black tend to retain heat and may be suitable for cooler climates. In contrast, lighter mulch colors like natural wood tones and red are better for reflecting sunlight and heat in hot regions.

6. Use Mulch for Pathways

Hardwood mulch is not limited to garden beds; it can also be used to create attractive and functional pathways in your garden. Simply lay down a thick layer of mulch on designated pathways, which not only enhances the overall appearance but also provides a soft surface for walking.

7. Employ Mulch as Decorative Coverings

In addition to its practical uses, hardwood mulch can serve as a decorative covering for areas around trees and shrubs. A carefully mulched area around a tree trunk not only protects the tree but also adds a polished look to your landscape.

8. Utilize Mulch in Planting Holes

When planting new trees, shrubs, or perennials, consider incorporating hardwood mulch into the planting hole. Mixing some mulch with the backfilled soil can help improve soil structure and water retention in the root zone.

9. Avoid Volcano Mulching

One common mistake to avoid when using mulch is “volcano mulching,” where mulch gets piled high against the base of a tree or plant, resembling a volcano.

This practice can lead to moisture retention around the trunk, promoting rot and insect infestations. Here are some more tips to follow when putting mulch around trees:

Create a Mulch Donut

When applying mulch, create a saucer-shaped or donut-shaped ring around the base of the tree or plant, leaving a gap between the mulch and the trunk or stems. This allows for proper air circulation and prevents moisture from accumulating against the base.

Apply Proper Mulch Depth

Apply mulch at the recommended depth of 2 to 4 inches. Avoid excessive mulch that forms a mound.

Avoid Piling Mulch Against the Trunk

Never pile mulch directly against the trunk or stems of trees and plants. Leave a clear space around the base.

Regularly Inspect and Maintain

Periodically inspect your mulch and remove any excess mulch or debris that may have accumulated. Refresh the mulch as needed.

10. Monitor Moisture Levels

While hardwood mulch helps retain soil moisture, it’s essential to monitor moisture levels regularly. Ensure that your garden receives adequate watering, especially during dry spells, to prevent your plants from suffering due to lack of water.

11. Select High-quality Mulch

Good quality hardwood mulch is typically made from various types of hardwood trees, which are deciduous trees that shed their leaves annually. These hardwood trees provide a rich source of organic material that, when processed into mulch, offers several benefits for garden and landscaping purposes.

Some common hardwood tree species used in making high-quality hardwood mulch include:


Oak is a popular hardwood species used in mulch production. It is known for its durability, slow decomposition rate, and attractive appearance when mulched.


Maple trees provide hardwood that can be shredded or chipped into mulch. Maple mulch has a pleasant texture and can enhance the aesthetics of garden beds.


Hickory wood is strong and resilient, making it a good choice for mulch. Hickory mulch can withstand heavy foot traffic and retain its integrity over time.


Beech mulch often has a fine texture and a light color. This makes it suitable for various landscaping applications.


Cherry wood, when processed into mulch, adds an attractive reddish hue to garden beds. Cherry mulch is valued for its aesthetic appeal.


Some gardeners may avoid walnut mulch due to concerns about the release of allelopathic compounds. This can potentially inhibit the growth of certain plants.


Birch mulch can have a light color and fine texture, adding visual appeal to garden landscapes.

Good quality hardwood mulch should be free from contaminants, such as pesticides or herbicides, and should not contain large chunks of wood or debris. The mulch should be properly processed, aged, and stored to ensure it meets quality standards.

When selecting hardwood mulch for your garden or landscaping project, it’s important to purchase from reputable sources that provide high-quality products to achieve the best results.

12. Be Mindful of Termites

While termites typically do not feed on hardwood mulch, they may be attracted to the moisture-rich environment created by mulch. To minimize the risk, maintain a mulch-free zone around your home’s foundation and wooden structures. Also pay attention to the following:

Mulch Composition

Termites are attracted to the cellulose content in wood, and some mulches are made from shredded or chipped wood which contains cellulose.

Hardwood mulches, as mentioned earlier, are made from deciduous trees and may contain cellulose. Termites are less attracted to mulches made from materials that are not rich in cellulose, such as pine straw or rubber mulch.

Moisture Content

Termites require moisture to thrive. If mulch is kept consistently moist or damp, it can create an environment that is attractive to termites. Overly wet mulch can serve as a water source for termites and may encourage their activity.

Proximity to Structures

Mulch placed too close to the foundation of a home or other wooden structures can provide a pathway for termites to access the structure. Termites may tunnel through the mulch and then enter the building, where they can cause damage.

Benefits of Using Hardwood Mulch in Your Garden

As you’ve seen above, there are many uses for hardwood mulch in your home, as long as you take certain precautions. But why would you use hardwood mulch over other kinds? Here are some benefits to consider:

Weed Suppression

Hardwood mulch creates a barrier that inhibits weed growth. It does this by blocking sunlight and preventing weed seeds from germinating.

Moisture Retention

It helps retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation. This is especially beneficial during hot and dry periods.

Temperature Regulation

Hardwood mulch acts as a natural insulator. It protects plant roots from extreme temperatures, whether it’s cold in winter or scorching in summer.

Soil Improvement

As hardwood mulch breaks down, it enriches the soil with organic matter. This enhances soil structure and fertility. 

Erosion Control

Mulch prevents soil erosion by minimizing the impact of heavy rain and strong winds on your garden beds. This is especially important since topsoil loss due to erosion is becoming so common in America and all over the world.

Aesthetic Appeal

Beyond its practical benefits, hardwood mulch adds an attractive and finished look to your garden. It’s an easy and cheap way to make your garden more aesthetically pleasing. 

Hardwood Mulch Is a Silent Benefactor of Gardens Everywhere

If you haven’t started using hardwood mulch in your garden yet, you should start now. It has many benefits and it’s budget-friendly.

Fox Landscape Supply delivers premium hardwood mulch and other gardening supplies. If you are still searching for a reliable supplier of wood mulch, we’ve got you covered. 

Check out our online catalog to get as much mulch as you need for your property!

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