To Mulch or Not to Mulch? That is the Great Gardening Question!

4 Materials
2 Hours

Disclaimer: Mulch is a flammable material and once it catches fire, that fire can be very persistent. If you live in an area prone to dry and hot weather, please proceed with mulching project in caution.

Mulching has many benefits but after using it and researching upon the subject I discovered it can also be a detriment if it's done improperly. For years I loved the beautiful, finished look it gave my shrub bed. Just notice the before and after photos when a fresh layer of it was added in the Spring.

Before Mulching
Before Mulching
After Mulching
After Mulching

I would always buy the black mulch so that regardless of my soil color underneath it always looked like there was rich , black earth in my beds. It was easy to apply and held up wonderfully throughout the season.


My dilemma came once I began feeding birds here during Winter in my garden, lots of them flocked here and ate when times were tough. Even in Spring and Summer when the feeders were taken down they hung out here in the safety of my trees and shrubs and foraged for food, raised young and so on.

That's when the mulch became a concern, knowing it was treated with dye and other unknowns I wondered if it would pose any harm to them or other wildlife in the garden??


This was my opinion and my concious decision that I made for specifically for my garden. I switched to other natural options to top dress my flower beds, I buy topsoil and mix my own compost with it. My new way of refreshing in Spring may not be as uniform in color or texture but it still makes a vast improvement.

Before and After with Topsoil Dressing
Before and After with Topsoil Dressing

I get a nice, tidy bed and the and plants get the rich compost added in the mix. I have the peace of mind knowing it's all natural posing no harm to my little garden visitors and their babies.

Momma feeding her baby in my tree
Momma feeding her baby in my tree

In addition to top dressing my beds, at this same time I gently stir in slow release pellet fertilizer near the base of each plant "before" I cover it over with the soil mixture. Instructions are on the container of course as to the amount you would apply depending on plant size and so on.

I buy Shake and Feed because it is so convenient, no more mixing solutions and watering it in with a heavy watering can. It's perfect for my area because it will feed them for 3 months and that's about how long our growing season really is here!

Miracle Grow Shake 'n' Feed
Miracle Grow Shake 'n' Feed

So with a just a little effort put forth in Spring to apply fertilizer and add the top dressing my plants flourish all Summer without much effort. I just need to dead head and water them in dry spells.

* Note: I have all perennials so its key to keep them happy and healthy in their growing season to ensure that theyll return that same way the following year.

* Note: Do Not fertilize "perennials" late in the growing season when Summer is winding down because your plants will continue to grow and produce new growth when really they should be getting ready to shut down and prepare to rest for the dormant season.

Annuals are different since they only live a single growing season so you can continue to feed and deadhead them until they stop producing.

Heuchura, Sedum, Weigelia and Barberry
Heuchura, Sedum, Weigelia and Barberry
September 2018
September 2018

Final Notes

* If you choose to use mulch, apply it moderately and not directly against the plant stem or tree trunk because it can lead to stem rotting.

*Know your garden, if you get a lot of heat and sun mulch can provide great cooling layer and help conserve water loss from evaporation. In my case we do not get a lot of dry heat and I'm not charged for my water usage with a meter which is another thing to consider.

*Do research in gardening books and magazines, ask questions at your garden center and always try to get tips from fellow gardeners in your area, they know the most about your local growing conditions!

Happy Gardening and always garden with a close friend!😉

*Most important to note is that it can pose a "fire hazard" in hot and dry conditions and lead into a spark or hot amber igniting the dry mulch.

2018 Apple Tree Crop
2018 Apple Tree Crop

* Costs and time listed below are very flexible depending on what you buy to top dress and the size of your garden bed.

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Have a question about this project?

3 of 4 questions
  • Lindsey
    on Apr 1, 2019

    OK. What about the weeds that will undoubtedly grow through the soil?

    • Heather cooney
      on Apr 10, 2019

      Be careful not to use cardboard or newspaper near the house as they attract termites and other unwanted pests.

  • Rosemary Richards
    on Apr 6, 2019

    My question is would using an Untreated wood product attract termites?

  • Jackie
    on Apr 7, 2019

    My yard is hard because it have small rocks in the ground what the best plant to plant

    • Tracey
      on Apr 8, 2019

      My advice woukd be to check with your local garden center because different areas are more suitable for certain growing zones. If it has small rocks like pebbles that's fine all plants need drainage, you can add topsoil and compost to the garden bed and most plants and shrubs appreciate the drainage small rocks can offer. If you are saying your soil is mostly rocks there are plants that grow better in poor, dry soils...that's where they are happiest. Thanks for your question.

Join the conversation

4 of 56 comments
  • Nell
    on Apr 19, 2019

    I will definitely try the Shake and Go opposed to the packets to add to water. Love your garden with the black mulch. I have used pine needles, red mulch, and black mulch.

  • Lorinda Mae Lane Silliman
    on Apr 20, 2019

    Very good idea! I just use steer manure. Its solid black, only costs a a bit over a dollar a bag, no odor. It fertilizes as it breaks down, and looks very very clean!

    • Tracey
      on Apr 24, 2019

      Sounds great, it's just I don't have access to that where I live just bagged sheep manure. I heard that you have to be careful over using too much or you could damage your plants. I'm guessing the steer manure isn't like that?

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