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How to apply mulch


The application of mulch, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, is a simple exercise. However, there are a few tips that will make best use of the material and ensure that its benefit to the soil is maximised.

Whichever soil-conditioning, biodegradable mulch you use, it pays to prepare the soil before applying it. It will give the best results, and save you time and effort in the long run.

How to do it


Fork out perennial weeds and pull out annuals by hand. Take care to conserve as much soil as possible. Tread lightly to reconsolidate loosened soil.


Rake the surface of the soil to level out dips and hollows. Re-firm as necessary. Rake out any compacted footprints to create a fine, crumbly 'tilth'.


Water thoroughly to ensure a moist interface with the mulch to be applied. Allow to drain for up to an hour to prevent smearing the soil when applying mulch.


Fork the mulch material onto the surface of the soil in heaps before spreading it out to an even depth of 6-8cm. Keep mulch away from plant stems.

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Talkback: How to apply mulch
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Marigold6 11/10/2014 at 12:55

I have recently moved and now have a tiny garden, but big enough for a small lawn and plant borders. There are established plants in it, but I need to dig out some rampant plants to make room for others and also feed the soil, or just improve it.
I have read things saying don't mulch in autumn as rain will wash nutrients away, and other articles saying you should mulch in autumn! Also, I am not clear - if I just add fresh compost bought from a garden centre is that enough to help soil, or do I need to mulch as well?
Any advice gratefully received, thanks!

BobTheGardener 11/10/2014 at 14:59

"Mulching" is simply placing a layer of matter on top of the soil and is done for two reasons, firstly to reduce water loss by evaporation and secondly to reduce weed seed germination.

However, if the mulch is organic matter, a third benefit comes into play in that worms will pull the mulch down into the soil and improve its structure and fertility.  Multi-purpose compost is as good as anything else in this respect.

You can mulch at any time you like, but if you have clay soil which you have dug over to allow the Winter frosts to help break up the clods, you would not lay a mulch over it as that would prevent the frost from doing the job.  You should also avoid mulching dry soil as it will make it harder for the rain the penetrate, so only mulch soil which is already in a normally moist condition.

Until digested and excreted by worms, mulches add little in terms of nutrients so add fertilizers as a separate task, as and when needed.

Hope that makes thing clearer for you, Marigold.

Marigold6 12/10/2014 at 14:32

Thank you Bob, that is helpful, I think I just need multi purpose compost as you describe. 

WillDB 12/10/2014 at 19:41

I'm using grow-bags, seems the most economical way to go (five for £7 from B&Q)... as Bob says, the aim is that the organic matter will be worked into the soil over the winter.

obelixx 13/10/2014 at 20:58

Some garden centres and DIY stores sell off bags pf seed and planting compost cheap at the end of the season and some local councils sell community made compost from green waste collected over the year.

In order to improve your soil, whether clay or sand or loam or chalk, you can simply spread a 2 to 3 inch layer of such organic material over all the beds once the herbaceous perennials have died down, annual plants and weeds have been removed and any bulbs planted.

It can be done any time in autumn and early winter and preferable after the soil has had a good soaking from heavy rain but not when it is frozen.    The worms will work it in for you over winter.  Do this every year and the claggiest fo clay soils will improve without all the heavy digging and the lightest of sandy soils will improve in fertility and moisture retention. 


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