Backyard Mulching Guide


Mulching is a great way to keep your garden looking great. Did you know it can also be a great way to keep your garden healthy? This mulching guide will help you figure out what to mulch, and how much you’ll need. (As well as a few tips for saving some $$.) If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of using mulch, check out this post

How much mulch do I need 

The first step in determining how much mulch you need is measuring your space. When mulching, expect to make your mulch layer 2-4 inches deep to get the maximum impact. With this depth in mind, “one yard” of mulch will cover about 162 square feet. 

Once you have the dimensions of your garden space, multiply the length by width to find the area in square feet. Divide that number by 162 to find the number of yards of mulch needed to adequately cover your space. 

Here’s an example. We are mulching along our fence line where we have privacy trees and shrubs. The fence line is 44 feet long. The garden bed is curvilinear, but we’ll say on average, the bed is about 5.5 feet deep. 

44 x 5.5 = 242 square feet 

From there, I want to know how many yards of mulch I need. 

242 / 162 = 1.49 yards 

So, to mulch this whole bed, I need about 1.5 yards of mulch. 

How many bags of mulch in a yard

To mulch one yard, or 162 square feet, you’ll need about two bags of mulch from a standard box store. Keep in mind there are different sized bags of mulch which will– predictably– cover different amounts of space. Be sure to read the bag’s label so you know what and how much mulch you are buying. 

Chip Drop Staff | Chip
Photo from Chip Drop

How to get cheap mulch 

Standard mulch tends  to not run too expensive, but staying away from synthetic and dyed mulch is a great way to reduce cost as well. 

Of course, if you have a large project or space to mulch, bagged mulch can get expensive quickly. Buying mulch in bulk from a landscape company is the best way to ensure you’re getting the best price on mulch. A truck is required to purchase bulk mulch, however if friends and family aren’t available to help, some contractors can move it for you. 

Now if you’re using mulch as organic matter to amend soil (and don’t care what it looks like), you’re in luck because there are plenty of free ways to create your own mulch. 

One of our favorite ways to get free mulch is through Chip Drop ™. This service helps keep tree waste out of landfills, and reduces costs for both contractors and homeowners. It’s absolutely free to sign-up and get free wood chips delivered to your home! Check it out at 

How to make mulch 

It’s also possible to go totally DIY on your mulch. Most organic material can be used as soil- conditioning mulch around garden beds. Some of these materials include cardboard, woodchips, sawdust, paper, leaves, and grass clippings. 

As long as the material is properly shredded, it should serve well as mulch. Especially for leaves and grass clippings, just run ‘em over with the lawn mower (preferably with a bag attached) and spread them where you’d like them. 

Mulch vs Pine Straw

Mulch and pine straw are both used as garden covers, but they serve different purposes. Pine straw is lighter, less expensive, and easier to spread. It’s also lighter than mulch, and therefore less likely to cause crow rot around trees and shrubs. 

Mulch is denser, and retains more water in the soil. Mulch is more expensive, but it does provide organic matter to the soil, and tends to stay in place better than pine straw. 

What to mulch

Any garden bed will benefit from a layer of mulch, especially as we move into winter. It’s also a great way to support trees and shrubs. Mulch helps keep the soil, and therefore roots, insulated so they do not freeze. It also adds organic matter back to the soil as it breaks down. 

How to Mulch around Trees and Shrubs 

Many trees and shrubs have died because of improper planting and mulch. It’s important to keep in mind that when mulching for trees and shrubs, we are trying to insulate and nourish the roots of the plant– not the trunk. 

When dirt and mulch are applied too deep, the crown of the plant risks staying damp, increasing the chance of rot significantly. When mulching around a tree or shrub, be sure to leave about two inches of space between the trunk (or trunks) and the mulch. Create a bullseye, not a blanket. 

What color mulch looks best 

The best answer to this question is whatever you like! From a design standpoint, I feel mulch should be quiet, not a focal point. With that in mind try to avoid colors that “pop” such as red and true black. 

Another point to keep in mind, rubber mulches and dyed mulches may contain chemicals that are not good for the soil long term. In fact, chemicals which leech from rubber mulch contain carcinogens and toxins which can poison plants.  

How to get Rid of mulch fungus 

One of the downsides of using wood mulch or wood chips is the possibility for fungus and mushroom blooms. Fungus is a completely natural part of mulching– the fungus is what’s breaking down the mulch into usable plant food. 

However, large flushes of mushrooms may not be aesthetically pleasing to the home gardener. If you really can’t stand your mulch fungus, here’s a few eco-friendly recipes you can use to get rid of it. 

  • Mix 2 teaspoons of baking soda in 1 gallon of warm water. Stir until combined. Spray this mixture over your mulch wherever you are having fungal issues. 
  • Mix 1 part white or apple cider vinegar to 4 parts water, and spray over the infected mulch. 

With both of these methods, you will need to reapply several times a week for a few weeks to get the best results.

What to do with old mulch 

As long as your mulch is made from natural materials (cardboard, paper, grass clippings, wood, etc) leave it be, and work it into the soil. 

Before adding fresh mulch, simply rake over the old mulch to further integrate it with your soil. Its organic matter will break down and improve soil. 


Mulching is a great practice for your garden. It helps keep the garden beds looking tidy and clean, while also helping to nourish the soil, and help our plants grow bigger and healthier. We hope this mulching guide has helped you feel more confident about using mulch in your garden!

Mulching Guide | Barefoot Garden Design