Why go through the cost of mulch installation every year? Mulch makes our landscapes and gardens look more attractive with that uniform and tidy ground layer. More important, landscape mulch helps the soil retain moisture, it decomposes to release vital nutrients to the soil, and mulch installation helps the soil structure. What type of mulch is best for your garden? When should you do the mulch installation? How much does mulch installation cost? How much mulch should I install? What other garden services are best done with the mulch installation?
Triple ground, natural hardwood mulch is the highest quality common mulch installation. It is the best mulch for the health of your landscape plantings and the soil. It has a natural brown color and it does fade to a brown grey. It is not treated with chemicals or dyes. Shredded bark mulch is an even better option. But, it is much harder to find and more expensive. If you have base, alkali high PH soils, acidic pine straw mulch is a great option where available.
Dyed mulch installation is a popular option because the color holds up better, longer. Some people like that black or dark brown, or even red mulch aesthetic. The dyes used are chemicals, so this would not be a good option for the organic gardening folks. The chemical dyes may also harm the soil micro-organisms. But dyed mulch is likely still better than not mulch for the nutrients added and the water retention.
Stone mulch is popular for people who believe that it will be a lower cost and less maintenance option in the long run. Some people also like the appearance of stone mulch installation. This is probably OK for ‘zero-scape’ minimalist, drought tolerant and Mediterranean gardens. But for regular garden, it does have drawbacks. The stones get hot in summer and heat the soil and thus the plant roots. Stone mulch installation reduces the amount of water penetration into the soil. And stone mulch does not provide and nutrient or soil structure benefits. In the long run, stone mulch silts in with debris and looks dirty. Then it needs refreshed. It is also challenging to weed. Overall, I don’t believe the long term cost of stone mulch is any less than the ongoing annual costs of wood mulch installation.
Mulch installation is commonly completed in the spring during the garden clean ups. It is easiest to install mulch before the plants push out the new seasons growth. But mulch can be installed at any time during the season. Some people like to clean up and cutback gardens in the fall, then mulch before winter. This does help moderate the soil temperature and retain moisture through the cold dry winters.
The cost of mulch installation varies by the type of mulch, the thickness installed and the regional labor costs. In our area, labor costs seem to range between $40-$50 per hours for general landscape labor (we bill $45/hr.) We generally install about 1 cubic yard of mulch for every 100+ square feet of garden bed. If the garden is simple with generously spaced shrubs, we can install about 1 cy of mulch in just over an hour. For a more fully designed garden with detailed shrub and perennial arrangements, we take about 1.5 hr. to install 1 cy of mulch. Those are average times. If we can back a truck right to the landscape beds, it will take less time. If the gardens are in the back, through a gate, and up a hill, it will take more time. In 2017 we will change $35/cy for triple ground hardwood mulch delivered. So our cost can range from $80 per cubic yard to $120 per cubic yard for mulch installation.
We typically do a range of additional horticultural garden services when we install mulch. First we prune shrubs and trees and cutback the perennials. This facilitates efficient mulching times. We also add organic fertilizer so it is down under the mulch. Finally, we spread a pre-emmergent herbicide to help minimize weed growth.