Last year I mulched some of my gardens with wood chips .I have read that it is important to remove the old mulch before adding new this spring. Honestly that seems like such a waste of mulch and a lot of work ! Is it really necessary and if so why?
mulching, gardening, landscape
  23 answers
  • Susan Owens Susan Owens on Apr 21, 2014
    I personally do not remove the old mulch unless for some reason there are some unsightly chunks that will make the new layer uneven. At some point, it will all break down and turn into soil anyway so you might as well leave it there!

  • Katie Katie on Apr 21, 2014
    That's one of the reasons I don"t use wood chips for mulch except to mulch my fir trees. Every spring I just take my pitch fork and "fluff"it. Then if it needs it, I add more. I think the issue of removing it is to deal with mould/mushroom spores, and any weeds that have found a spot in the mulch. Like you, I think that's a waste and very expensive endeavour. In my perennial beds, I leave the leaves piled on from last year. Over the course of the season the earth worms deal with them. Happy Gardening!

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Apr 21, 2014
    I have never heard of removing old mulch before adding new. One of the benefits of mulch is that it decomposes and feeds the soil. Why would you do anything that gets in the way of that?

    • @Douglas Hunt Totally agree with you. The only mulch I'd suggest removing is the toxic shredded rubber mulch used in childrens' playgrounds that has been found to cause health issues. No such need with natural materials that feed the soil.

  • Polly Polly on Apr 21, 2014
    I just keep adding to it. My son went to so much trouble one year sifting out all the usable sized chunks to mix in with the new mulch!!! DUH! "We ain't got time for all that!"

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    • Bonnie Bassett Bonnie Bassett on May 08, 2014
      @Jeanette S I know what you mean I have so much to do I am glad I do not have to remove the mulch !!!!! lol

  • Pamela Knott Pamela Knott on Apr 21, 2014
    I've never heard of removing the old mulch either. We always add on top of the old.

  • Sow and Dipity Sow and Dipity on Apr 21, 2014
    I'm with Douglas on this, the purpose of mulch is to add nutrients and to build up your soil. Leave it and add more :)

  • Willow Gates Landscaping Willow Gates Landscaping on Apr 22, 2014
    Some dyed mulches are mostly wood chips, and these break down slowly. We only put on about an inch each year. If we see a buildup of old mulch (say over 3-4") then yes we'll remove it. Also, you should always remove old mulch around tree trunks before remulching. But otherwise, I'd never remove mulch. And we spread a lot of mulch each year. :)

    • Bonnie Bassett Bonnie Bassett on Apr 22, 2014
      @Willow Gates Landscaping Hi ....may I ask why you would remove the mulch from around tree trunks ?

  • Lawns & More Lawns & More on Apr 22, 2014
    We never remove the old mulch. Adding more just adds to the decomposition progress which is beneficial. However, there are numerous kinds of mulch and you need to look at each one to see what is most beneficial for your specific use.

  • Bonnie Bassett Bonnie Bassett on Apr 22, 2014
    Thank you all for your replies, I will not remove the mulch !!!

  • Sage Custom Contracting Sage Custom Contracting on Apr 22, 2014
    The only time i would remove mulch is if it was getting too thick. You should fluff the mulch that you do have and add mulch if needed. When mulching around flowers or trees, 2"-4" should be your depth. Some people make a mound around trees which can lead to excess moisture and heat. This can stress the plant and also cause root rot, insect infestation, and disease problems for the plant. A safe rule of thumb would be to leave a good 2" open circle around plants with no mulch and about 4" for larger plants and trees to keep them healthy and happy. I hope this was some help to you.

  • Willow Gates Landscaping Willow Gates Landscaping on Apr 22, 2014
    You don't want a buildup of either mulch or dirt around the trunk. It will encourage rot & insect infestation, and will generally harm the health of the tree. Leaves may become smaller and more sparse, and some branches may die.

  • Annie Smith Annie Smith on Apr 23, 2014
    Remember that wood chips have not composted and as they decompose, can cause problems. UC suggests using five different types of materials for mulching to alleviate this problem. I use coco coir as mulch here in Southern California with no problem and replace and amend yearly. The following article has some great info on mulching. Also, the colored wood chips contain dye which is toxic to plants.

  • Annie Smith Annie Smith on Apr 23, 2014
    For those who don't want to read a long article, remember that compost is made up of browns and greens in balance, browns as carbon and greens as nitrogen. As browns decompose, such as wood chips, they require nitrogen and draw it out of the soil. As you soil becomes deplete of nitrogen, your plants will die. Therefore, you were told to replace the wood chips yearly before this process occurs. That's why the multi-medium mulch is a more viable solution since it offers both carbon and nitrogen based elements.

  • Margie*Lee Margie*Lee on Apr 23, 2014
    I have never had to remove my old mulch and I use wood chips. I do, however, add to the mulch each year. I live in southern MI and have never had a problem using wood chips. I like how it makes my beds look and they do a great job of keeping out weeds.

  • Janis Hill Janis Hill on Apr 23, 2014
    It depends on the part of the country you live in. In the deep south the mulch deteriorates and there is no need to remove it. In your area you may need to completely remove it every year or every other year. You might even be able to add just a thin layer over the old mulch to refresh it.

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    • Janis Hill Janis Hill on Apr 24, 2014
      @PRRG there are always variables, but if the mulch is a couple of inches thick then I would remove it and replace it.

  • Michelle Eliker Michelle Eliker on Apr 23, 2014
    Use compost for mulch and then you don't have to worry about dyes, nitrogen or removing the old. The worms and other critters will do the work for you. :)

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    • Bonnie Bassett Bonnie Bassett on Apr 28, 2014
      @Michelle Eliker My compost never seems to have time to breakdown to very fine from one season to the next so it is somewhat unfinished ...chunky... so I will try it but I probably won't have enough for all of my gardens and shrubs

  • Lori J Lori J on Apr 23, 2014
    I have three raised beds around trees. This year, for the first time since we put these in four years ago, I did clean out mulch. I wanted to top dress with compost/manure and since it is dyed mulch, I figured anything I could rake out wouldn't be missed. I can't build up the soil there too much or it overflows the rings.

  • PRRG PRRG on Apr 24, 2014
    Thank you, Janis Why is it bad after a couple of inches???

  • Bonnie Bassett Bonnie Bassett on Apr 24, 2014
    well, most of you said leave it on and a few said take it off if more than 3 inches or so, well I think I will go with leaving it on and maybe just raking it into the soil a little and then adding a little new mulch on top ty all for your input !

  • Felicity Woodruffe Felicity Woodruffe on Apr 28, 2014
    would adding chicken manure rich in nitrogen help or planting things with nitrogen fixers on there root nodules/nodes like the sort you have on clover and beans and peas

  • AmAtHome AmAtHome on Nov 10, 2018

    You don't have to, but do make sure you don't get too deep of a layer of mulch. You also want to "stir and fluff" the old mulch before putting the new mulch on top.

  • Dustin Dustin on May 16, 2019

    Keep in mind, the more you add, the more deprived of the proper moisture and sunlight your plants get ..yes mulch decays and becomes almost a natural compost, however it can effect your trees and plants ,and in some cases will cause mold and fungus to grow under layers

  • Deb K Deb K on Oct 07, 2021

    Hi Bonnie, The answer is indefinite. You can cultivate the existing mulch before adding the new layer, provided that there is no sign of any fungal disease. Cultivating helps loosen the mulch and allows rain to get into the soil. ... Depending on how much is needed for a new mulch, old mulch must never be removed.