How Do I Mulch? and More...

Updated on October 01, 2008
M.L. asks from Raleigh, NC
8 answers

Hi! Can someone please tell me about mulching? What time of year is the best time to do it? I've read Spring, but I wanted to see if I could do it now. Do I need to do anything to the soil before I put that landscaping fabric down? I have that awful clay soil.

When we moved in we originally put lava rocks down under our bushes. We noticed however that due to the drought and clay soil, the poor bushes couldn't breathe, so the roots started coming up from the ground. So we recently removed all of the rocks. I'd like to put mulch there. I'm afraid though that we'll still have the same problem with the soil.

I bought some of those Miracle grow stake things to enhance the growth of the bushes. I haven't opened the package yet though because I thought I should do something with the soil first. Is that true? I read about natural fertilizer, or some composting, would this help? Also do I need to do anything to the ground before I put the landscaping fabric down to prevent the weeds? Also should I or can I put the fabric down, then wait out the winter, and then in the spring put down the mulch? Should I just leave everything alone until Spring? Those Miracle Grow spikes for the bushes say to do them in mid fall.

I know that's alot so thank you!!!!

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So What Happened?

Everyone gave such great advice! Thank you! Unfortunately I haven't gotten to implement any of it. I'm afraid that I'm too late with the colder weather. However, today is supposed to be 74, so maybe I can do it very soon.

More Answers



answers from Nashville on

My husband is in landscaping and here are his thoughts:

You need to amend the soil as much as possible by adding sand, compost, organic matter, etc whatever you can do to improve the soil. You need to till it all together or mix it in the best you can. This makes it more dirt-like and improves its profile. This can be done at any time, spring or fall, sooner the better. Fabric is not necessary but feel free to mulch in the fall to protect the plants through the winter. You are going to get weeds whether you lay fabric or not so it is better for the soil to not lay fabric. You can spray herbicide/round up whenever you see them or you can pull them. The fabric breaks down and adds to the soil, the mulch will not get to the soil b/c the fabric is a barrier. The weeds can grow from your yard or blow in and grow in the mulch. Having the fabric does not prevent weeds. You are wanting to grow your soil and make it more organic so you need the natural land and mulch to help mix with your soil for long term health. Hope that makes sense, I made him explain it in woman's terms! ha ha Use the compost and and natural fert if you want all helps. Using Miracle grow does help. The mulch protects the bushes through winter so start now. Reapply mulch in Spring if needed and spray for weeds regularly.

Good luck, and good for you taking care of all things by yourself. Hopefully your husband will be home soon.




answers from Parkersburg on

i have always cleaned it all up and watered it good and put it to bed. so i always did all the yard mulching in the fall. trim most of the bushes after the first frost and most of the "sap" will be down in the colder months. i love a yard full of flowers and a house full of plants good luk and God bless you. i enjoy the daily meditations,and read the bible in a year,little mag's


answers from Nashville on

You are right! You should put something in the soil. If you have clay soil, gypsum will help break it down. You can find it at true value, they have a whole section of organic soil ammendments and fertilizers. I like to use organic methods for a number of reasons, one being that non organic plant food is usually a petroleum based product, which means that over time, it will deplete your soil, and you will have to use more and more. If it were my garden, here's what I would do;
I would amend the soil with gypsum first, then add a layer of cardboard or newspaper and spray it with a hose to get it to lay down right. If you have access to compost or aged manure(I know it sounds gross, but aged manure loses the stinkiness and stickyness of fresh and is the ideal fertilizer) add a layer of that. If you don't, no biggie, but you may want to add blood meal or bone meal in with the gypsum. On top of the paper add a layer of mulch. This doesn't have to be from a bag. You can use lawn clippings, fallen leaves(one good trick is to take the bags of leaves your neighbors leave at the side of the street), wood shavings, or straw(which you can buy at your local farmers co-op.)
This concoction will enrich your soil, and you can add to it as you like, knowing that you are helping to retain moisture and nutrients, and breaking down that yucky clay soil(I have it too).
Now is a great time to start a compost pile in your backyard. You can build or buy a bin, and instead of throwing away things like veggie scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds, you put them in the pile. Layer each deposit of goods with some dried leaves or newspaper, and turn the pile every few days. In a while you will have your own crumbly compost for your next project!
Good luck on your gardening adventures! Hope this helped.



answers from Lexington on

That clay is a curse for sure. Yes you can mulch now. A cheaper way to go about it is to wait until people have raked and bagged their leaves for fall. If you have a mulching mower, you can run over the leaves to chop them up and use that in your beds. Personally, I don't like using the weed mat, because it's important to turn your soil.It would be a real good idea to turn the clay with sand and compost. In smaller beds, I have actually dug about a foot down and then replaced the soil with sandy loame. I would definately recommend composting. I save all of my organics and compost them and put them in my garden. Grass clippings are great to put into your beds as well. In time, you will have wonderful rich soil that you can just reach down a grab a handful. (not possible with clay. Plus once your soil is in good shape, weeds just simply slide right out. Happy gardening and God Bless,



answers from Raleigh on

Ellen gave some good advice concerning calling your agriculural extension agent, so try that.

As far as mulch is concerned, it doesn't matter whether you mulch in the spring or fall. I think you just see more people mulching in the spring because they want to get their yards looking nice for the summer.

I don't use landscaping fabric. Mulch breaks down & enriches our clay soil. If you use landscaping fabric, the mulch won't be able to do that. A good layer of mulch will help stop weeds. Even if you put down landscaping fabric, weeds will sprout from seed in the mulch & you'll have to pull those.

One trick I've used in flower beds where the soil is in really bad shape: Get "leaf mulch" from the City of Raleigh yardwaste facility. Put that down, then put the nice looking hardwood mulch on top of it.

"Leaf mulch" is partially composted leaves that the city collects each fall. It breaks down & enriches the soil faster than hardwood mulch. It costs about $16 to get a truck load of it, so you need access to a truck. Your extension agent may have better ideas about how to improve your soil.

Good luck & have fun in your yard !



answers from Hickory on

I am far from a master gardner, but this much I feel safe telling you: You can mulch anytime; for sure do it before winter. Water real well before you put in the Miracle Gro spikes, but go ahead and use them in the next couple of weeks. To clay you can add gypsum, or topsoil, or compost. Anything should help. The object is to break up the soil so the water can get through it to the plant's roots. If you don't have a "Garden Claw" (a spiky kind of hand tiller that comes waist-high so you can use it standing up), get one. Look at a hardware store with the shovels, rakes, and hoes. And plant perennials! Good luck.



answers from Chattanooga on


Mulch is a good thing, don't be worried about using it. It helps the soil to retain moisture. Your roots will not come up looking for water. However if you have clay soil, that would be the reason for the roots coming up. You need to get some good soil down. Call your local agricultural extension, try your city hall, they should have the number. Send in soil samples and they will tell you what you need to do to condition the soil. Now is a good time to do it as you can put all sorts of nutrients in the soil now and it will help it to revive for spring.

Good luck,




answers from Chattanooga on

Hi, M.!
My husband and I live in SE Tennessee, and have issues with that hard clay as well. This spring (actually late spring), we bought a truckload of mulch and a truckload of organic top soil - meaning they had mixed all kinds of things in with it, from bark to bones!
I purchased a garden "kit" from a seed company, and we put it in this past May. We had pulled two tough old hollies out that were in front of the porch, so we dug out a little farther, worked out the shape of the bed, and then mixed a little top soil in with the clay (someone had added river rocks at some point, and they had actually helped keep the soil by the house loose). I got out in the yard as much as I could and pulled out as many plugs of grass as I could, along with weeds, and then worked up the soil to loosen it.
And Fall is a great time to do planting! I was just thinking about things I need to do here while I was out watering. Bulbs, cold-hardy trees and shrubs, all work well planted now. What you do (so I've been reading) is to water plants in really well just before the first frost, and add an extra layer of mulch to help overwinter them. Don't be afraid to go ahead and use the Miracle Grow spikes, either - they'll only help!
Check out some web sites, too, or Google "fall gardening" or something like that. Better Homes and Gardens is a great resource, as is P. Allen Smith's web site. Gardening is great, and the best teacher of all is time! Good luck and have fun!

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