Mulching Trees and Shrubs

Mulch helps minimize weeds, conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, and make your yard look good. 

Related To:
Tree with Mulch in Front Yard

Tree with Mulch in Front Yard

If you are wondering how much mulch to apply in the fall, the standard is 2-3 inches of mulch, according to the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

Photo by: National Association of Landscape Professionals

National Association of Landscape Professionals

Tools and Materials

  • Mulch material
  • Shovel
  • Hoe
  • Rake

Step 1: Choose appropriate mulch. 

Organic mulch adds to the health of your soil, but attracts insects and may be flammable. These mulches decay at different rates, depending on the size and composition of the pieces and the climate. Large chunks of bark last the longest, while grass clippings and shredded leaves need frequent replacement. Inorganic stone or sand mulch is fireproof and suitable for arid and coastal landscapes, but may attract cats and ants.

Step 2: Determine mulch area. 

The sizes of the plants and turning radius of your mower determine the size and shape of the mulch area. Calculate the area you need to cover in square feet, then use the mulch calculator to determine how much mulch you need. Mulch out to the drip line or edge of the widest branches, if possible. Group shrubs and trees into beds, instead of mulching around individual plants, to save mowing time and unify your landscape plantings.

Step 3: Eliminate weeds and turf. 

Clear all the weeds and grass from the area you intend to cover to prevent them from growing up through the mulch. Pull weeds by hand or hoe them out. Remove lawn grass by slicing under it with a spade, being careful to dig only into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil. Shake the soil out of the turf before discarding it to maintain the soil depth around your trees and shrubs.

Step 4: Spread mulch.

Cover the cleared area with 2 to 4 inches of mulch. Rake the mulch into a flattened doughnut shape, keeping it at least 6 inches away from the trunk or stems of the plant. Make a neat outer edge by leaving a small gap between the mulch and the edge of the surrounding lawn.

Step 5: Maintain mulch. 

Replace mulch as needed during the growing season to maintain the 2- to 4-inch depth. Rake up and replace organic mulch in the spring, especially around roses and fruit trees.


Lay landscape fabric under gravel mulch to help prevent weeds. Never use plastic mulch for trees or shrubs because it prevents water and air from reaching roots.

Preferred mulches include bark chunks, shredded and composted fir bark, and weed-free straw. Avoid weedy hay and water-repellant peat moss as well as toxic mulches made from pressure-treated lumber, eucalyptus, walnut, redwood, or cedar sawdust. Do not use mulch that smells like vinegar, ammonia, or sulfur.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Prune Shrubs

When you prune a shrub depends mostly on when it blooms. Here are the basics of pruning woody plants.

How to Plant in Gardening Containers

To ensure that plants in gardening containers grow and perform as well as possible, you need to plant them properly.

How to Grow an Avocado Tree: Guac 'n' Roll

Tips for turning that avocado pit into a thriving avocado tree and your next bowl of guacamole.

Twig Newton: How to Grow a Fig Tree

This resilient fruit tree thrives in colder regions and provides a yummy snack.

How to Build a Tree-Encompassing Deck

Bring nature into your outdoor entertaining area with a deck built around existing trees.

1,000+ Photos

Browse beautiful photos of our favorite outdoor spaces: decks, patios, porches and more.


Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.