13 Fall Mulch Tips

Make the most of your fall garden mulching by following some key tips.

Photo By: Mid-Atlantic Timber Frames

Photo By: Southview Design

Photo By: Roger Wade Photography

Photo By: The Morton Arboretum

Photo By: UGA Extension

Photo By: UGA Extension

Photo By: The Morton Arboretum

Photo By: UGA Extension

Photo By: Southview Design

Photo By: Morton Arboretum

Photo By: UGA Extension

Photo By: Landscape Studio

Photo By: National Association of Landscape Professionals

Fall Update

Installing mulch in the fall is beneficial because it protects plant roots from extreme temperatures in the winter months and also helps to preserve moisture if your region does not receive enough precipitation.

Spread It Around

Here's a general rule for when to mulch a yard: Wait until after a hard frost in the fall to apply winter mulch. You don't want to apply it too early in the fall because mulch can delay the soil freezing process by retaining heat in the soil, according to experts with The Morton Arboretum in Illinois. 

Cooler-Weather Curb Appeal

The recommended mulch depth is 3-4 inches for medium- to coarse-textured materials, say experts with The Morton Arboretum. Spread mulch under trees, shrubs and throughout planting beds, as seen at this home by OakBridge Timber Framing on 5 acres on Lake Erie, Ohio.

Think of Donuts

Keep mulch away from the base of a tree, creating a donut-hole affect, advises The Morton Arboretum in Illinois. The mulched area should extend to the drip line of the tree branches, or at least cover a 4-5 foot diameter area around the trunk. 

Avoid This

Avoid volcano mulching, which is created when mulch is piled up around the trunk.

When Mulching Goes Bad

When mulch is placed right next to the tree base, you can see the ill effects on the trunk, says Josh Fuder, agriculture and natural resources agent for UGA Extension-Cherokee County. Too much moisture will gather around the base, and the bark can decay. 

Decay Fighter

When decay occurs, serious disease organisms may more readily enter the plant, The Morton Arboretum says. Mulch is correctly applied around this tree.

Island Life

Think about tree safety. Josh Fuder, agriculture and natural resources agent for UGA Extension-Cherokee County, put a mulch island under a magnolia tree that had been pruned up. The mulch island is a little more in proportion with the size of the tree.

Smart First Steps

Mulching can be a big task in the fall, if you have multiple garden beds. Here's a tip from The Morton Arboretum in Illinois: Organic mulch should be composted or otherwise treated before use. The step kills insects, weed seeds and disease microorganisms. The texture of composted mulch generally is more uniform, which also means better curb appeal.

Organic Options

A long-lasting organic mulch option is pine bark or shredded bark, according to The Morton Arboretum. Other options are grass clippings, as well as animal manure (mixed with a coarse-textured material). Composted leaf litter will work, but it may increase weeds if not thoroughly composted. Colored mulch can be more expensive and you need to be careful around edibles, says Josh Fuder, agriculture and natural resources agent with UGA Extension-Cherokee County.

Cheap Chips

For a cheap and possibly free source of mulch, ask a local tree service for wood chips, says Josh Fuder, agriculture and natural resources agent for UGA Extension-Cherokee County. Municipalities also may make them available. If chips are not composted, The Morton Arboretum suggests applying a nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of a half pound per 100 square feet of chips.

Soft Layer

Don't forget about hidden nooks, such as this spot with a mossy garden gnome. Medium-textured mulch is best because fine particles will pack down and retain moisture, which evaporates before reaching plant roots, according to The Morton Arboretum in Illinois.  

Keep It Covered

One mistake that people make is putting down less mulch to trying to stretch their dollar, says Josh Fuder, agriculture and natural resources agent for UGA Extension-Cherokee County. Make sure to keep the standard 3-inch layer. If the mulch is not thick enough, it won't do its job of insulating roots and reducing moisture loss.