Mulching Your Planter

By Sharon Naylor

September 3, 2014 6 min read

For any mulching projects you have planned, you'll want to shop smartly, so that you get enough mulch to create a uniform, attractive and deep enough layer to protect your plants and trees ... and not deal with the hassle of running out. On a financial level, you'll surely want to buy the perfect amount, not several pricy bags extra that will surely be left to just dry out (or mold) in your garden shed or garage.

Buying the perfect amount of mulch means understanding how thick your mulch layer needs to be. "A 1- to 2-inch layer of fine mulch should be sufficient," say the experts at Lowe's, "while a coarser mulch material should be 3 to 4 inches deep." If you apply too thick a covering of mulch, you could suffocate your plants, a rule that some people actually use to discourage any weed growth in their landscaping (A thicker layer of mulch can make it tough for weeds to grow, so some people pile on a thick layer where it won't hurt the growth of their plants and seedlings).

With your type of mulch and mulch depth plans arranged, it's time to do some math. The experts at Lowe's say, "One cubic yard of mulch will cover a 324-square-foot area with 1 inch of mulch." That measurement rule helps you configure your mulch needs for a thicker layer of mulch. Here is a formula to use:

First, figure out the square footage of your bed (width versus length for square- or rectangular-shaped beds). For kidney-shaped beds, measure the estimated square or rectangular shape around it. For a 6f-foot-by-90foot area to be covered with 2 inches of mulch, your formula is 6 x 90 = 540 square feet.

Next, multiply your square footage by the depth of mulch you plan to apply (in inches). For a plan to apply 2 inches of mulch: 540 x 2 = 1,080 square feet.

Next, divide your total by 324 to figure out how many cubic yards you will need. Ex: 1,080 ? 324 = 3-1/2 cubic yards.

Of course, rather than doing the math for this landscaping section, plus other areas you'll mulch, you can use one of the free online "how much mulch do I need?" calculators found at and also at, among others. You just enter your bed's measurements, plus the depth of mulch you desire in inches, plus the type of mulch you're planning to use (for fine versus coarse texture affecting the depth of your mulch application), and the online calculator tells you how many cubic yards of mulch you need, helping further by showing you how many 2-cubic-foot or 3-cubic-foot bags of mulch you should buy.

These measurements also help you plan how you'll transport your mulch purchase. For instance, according to The Mulch Barn, Premium Landscape Products, a standard 6-foot bed pickup truck will hold 2 yards of mulch, while a standard 8-foot bed pickup truck will hold 3 yards of mulch. Knowing your truck's or car trunk's space can help you plan your mulch purchase so that you're not stuck in the expensive situation of needing your garden center to deliver your larger purchase of mulch to your home.

Some additional mulch tips from the gardening experts at Lowe's to help you plan your ideal mulch purchase and application:

--Mulch that's too deep will stimulate root growth in the mulch layer, rather than in the ground, creating a shallow root system susceptible to cold and drought damage.

--Always keep mulch away from your tree and shrub trunks to help prevent rotting and tree damage.

--Consider the area where you're putting down mulch. If it's a hilly spot or a spot prone to flooding, you don't want your mulch to wash away. So choose a thicker material of mulch, such as pine-bark nuggets, to help your mulch stay in place.

--New planting beds require 2 to 3 inches of mulch to help retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.

It's always good to have some leftover mulch, so that any patching or extra layering you need to do will be done with color-matching, same-material mulch as your original application for a uniform look. It can be frustrating to find color-matching mulch in a few weeks or next season. You don't want unsightly clashing spots, nor do you want to rake up the bad-match mulch you just put down, and then have to shop multiple garden centers to find an extra, matching supply.

If you opt to hire a landscaper to supply you with mulch, always be informed of their measurements, making sure their figures match up to yours so that they're charging you for just the mulch needed for your project (not to supply them with many pounds of free extra mulch for other projects). And ask what will be done with leftover mulch from your project. You should always be able to keep the extra supply charged to you.

And remember that while mulch looks fluffy when spread on the ground, bags of mulch can be quite heavy. So wear a back protection belt whenever you're lifting heavy landscaping material bags, or recruit a fit volunteer to carry and lift mulch bags for you.

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