Mulch is a highly useful ingredient that is added to flower beds and gardens to help them flourish and provide nutrients to the flowers or plants. Mulch, like anything else, has a shelf life.
When the mulch is old and no longer serves its purpose, you’ll be left with mulch that isn’t very useful in your garden bed. So, what should you do with all the old mulch you’ve accumulated?
The good news is that you can repurpose that old much that has been left on top of your vegetable or annual flower beds after it has done its job.
There are two types of mulch: biodegradable mulch and non-biodegradable mulch.
After six months, mulch that takes a long time to decompose will be of little use in your garden or vegetable bed. Keep that biodegradable mulch on hand because you’ll be able to use it again in the future.
Rather than focusing on non-biodegradable mulch, in our guide, you can learn more about how to dispose of old mulch. (Read Best Mulch For Vegetable Garden)
By the end, you’ll know how to deal with bio-degradable mulch and answer your own questions: Can you compost old mulch, or can you till mulch into soil?
How Do I Get Rid Of Old Mulch?
Newer gardeners frequently ask the subject of what to do with old mulch. Old mulch can still be helpful if separated from the soil. If the old mulch has broken down into fragments and is no longer recognized as mulch, use it as a soil amendment instead.
However, unlike other gardening needs, mulch has a limited shelf life. Old mulch, when mixed with compost, can provide the plant bed with essential nutrients.
Aside from protecting the soil from harsh weather and weeds, mulch also acts as a slow-release fertilizer. Soil nutrient release until decomposition.
You can reuse old mulch if it has good texture and size. It can be used as a soil cover. In contrast, it may be tempting to toss out the old mulch, don’t.
It can still help your soil in the following ways:
- Weed barrier
- Retains Moisture
- Ground cover
However, it may be too settled and not enough to cover your bed dirt enough. A 3 to 4-inch layer of mulch should be applied. To fill in the gaps in the bed soil’s coverage, add new mulch on top of the old.
After a growing season, old mulch will inevitably compact and flatten against the ground. You can loosen the mulch with a rake and place it in a wheelbarrow or at the side of your garden. Check to see if it can still be used as mulch.
The previous mulch elements are still visible in the new mulch. You can now reposition it on top of your bed.
Maintain a 3 to 4-inch layer of mulch and add new mulch as needed. The thickness of mulch in your bed has a significant impact on its performance.
Mulch that is too thin will not keep stubborn weeds out of your bed, while mulch that is too thick will restrict water absorption in the soil. (Read What Kind Of Mushrooms Grow In Mulch)
Tips For Reusing Old Mulch
Mulch, like plants, goes through the growing season and dormancy cycles.
Mulch becomes a second home for overwintering and soil-borne pests and pathogens when they get infected and infested with insects.
So, for repurposing old mulch, there are some exceptions.
- Old mulch from plants affected with fungal diseases such as root rot, early blight, and wilt disease should not be reused.
- The spread of plant diseases is also encouraged by improper mulching. When the leaves and fruits come into contact with the earth, something happens. As a result, ensure sure the mulch thickness is consistent.
- Using an old mulch will most likely be faded and less bright than the new mulch. You can apply a mulch renovator to restore its deep brown color because it’s still beneficial to the soil.
- When storing old dyed mulch, place it on a sheet to avoid staining your concrete surfaces.
- Some pests, such as larvae, can survive the severe winter season by hiding under the mulch. If your plants were infested this year, it’s best to get rid of the mulch completely.
- During soil preparation, rake out the old mulch to allow the soil to breathe and water to reach the topsoil. By repurposing old mulch, you can save money on new mulch for the following growing season.
- Volcano mulching should not be used on trees or tree seedlings since it can suffocate and kill them.
- To a firm layer of mulch, don’t add more mulch. To let the soil breathe, loosen the old mulch using your rake.
- After a few months, turn the mulch to loosen the compacted top layer.
- Loosening the mulch prevents mold growth on the top layer.
How to Repurpose Old Mulch
The life of a mulch, like all things, ends.
Natural mulch that has been reused for a long time can become worn down. Because it is an organic matter, it breaks down into pieces when exposed to the sun, winter, and extreme weather conditions.
- Dealing with worn-out plastic mulch is a different matter.
- If the old mulch is close to decomposition, use it as a soil additive for soil preparation.
- Before applying the old mulch to the soil, mix it with compost for greater results.
- Allow the compost and mulch mix to combine on the bed soil with the spade. Replace the mulch on top of the bed as needed.
- You can mix it with compost and use it as an organic soil additive under the soil bed if it decomposes.
- Wood chips are the finest mulch for trees because mulch retains water released slowly into the soil and is more effective at reducing the soil temperature.
- As a soil amendment, mulch feeds healthy microorganisms and emits wastes beneficial to the soil. Soil will become more fertile and less compacted.
Tips in Repurposing Old Mulch
- Instead of buying new soil supplements, most gardeners save money by repurposing existing mulch as a soil amendment.
- Before using mulch made of wood components as a soil additive, it should be mixed with compost first.
- When old wood mulch is combined with compost, microorganisms speed up decomposition and make nitrogen available to your plants quicker.
- When compared to wood chips, sawdust is renowned for causing more significant damage to the soil.
- Add nitrogen-dense organic ingredients like manure or lawn clippings to help the wood products break down faster.
- After mowing your grass, let the clippings remain on the soil for a while. It will act as a natural fertilizer while also saving you money on lawn plant food.
- It’s critical to keep the clippings small enough to settle and decay appropriately in the soil and avoid matting.
Do You Remove Old Mulch Before Putting In New?
Even if vegetable and annual flower beds are bare in the harsh winter season, they are mulched. This is done to preserve the soil in your perennial beds from the upcoming winter. You don’t want strong winds or bad weather to blow away your hard-earned garden soil.
Scoop mulch altogether and start moving it about. The soil should be replaced if it has broken down into fine particles and looks like dirt.
If your soil still feels and looks like it did when you first laid it down, you can reuse that mulch. Remember that even if it seems brand new, mulch only lasts around six months in your garden bed. (Find the Best Mulching Push Mower)
However, it is important to know the one exception to this rule. If you have plants infected with a disease in the garden bed or your vegetable gardens, you need to remove them and dispose of them correctly.
It will vary depending on where you live, but you will need to check with local officials how to dispose of such material and replace mulch with new that has no disease.
Mulch Hasn’t Decomposed Too Much
- After inspecting your mulch, rake the old mulch aside to prepare the planting bed if it hasn’t degraded.
- Shovel the mulch into a wheelbarrow and dumping successive loads to a tarp set aside.
- Apply compost to your vegetable garden or flower bed and till or work it into the soil with a spade.
- It is this action that needs you to remove your mulch.
- After tilling, re-apply the old mulch to the vegetable beds or garden bed. You can finish all of this work well before planting time.
- When it’s time for transplanting plants, remove the organic mulch from just the area you’ll be transplanting and leave you with empty beds.
- With mulch in place, weeds don’t stand a chance to grow and cause problems.
What If Mulch Has Decomposed?
Maybe your garden mulch has decomposed too much to reuse. You can work it into the soil as organic matter. This will be a soil amendment when mixed with compost. All you need is new mulch to replace it by the fall to protect your soil.
Cover crops or living mulches offer many uses. Cover crops are used in agriculture more than in landscaping.
Winter protection cover crops are sown into your annual flower or vegetable garden beds in the fall. When spring comes around, and you’re ready to plant again, a cover crop gets in the way.
Cover crops can be tilled under the garden to save time. This frees up your garden for spring planting and adds nutrients to the soil. That’s bad news for your garden.
Types of Mulch
Mulch refers to things that cover your garden soil, and besides your regular wood chip mulch, there are other types you can find, so it is handy to know what these are.
This is another free or low-cost mulch option. Remember that if you take grass clippings from your own lawn, return some to it as they act as a natural fertilizer.
Collecting grass clippings and using them as mulch is a great way to provide nitrogen to your gardens. Grass clippings are also an excellent mulch for vegetable gardens.
Straw and Hay
You can successfully mulch your garden with weed-free hay, salt hay, or straw. It not only looks good, but it also keeps moisture in the soil, adds organic matter, adds valuable nutrients into the soil, and keeps weeds at bay. Before using this type of mulch, make sure the hay is seed and weed free. If you don’t, your garden will suffer.
Don’t pile straw or hay up on your vegetable beds or fruit tree trunks to mulch properly. This encourages rodent and slug damage to your plants and slows their growth.
Living Mulches or Cover Crops
Although cover crops, or living mulches, you find cover crops in agricultural circles rather than landscaping circles, some homeowners may find them helpful.
Sowing seeds of cover crops over a vegetable garden bed or annual flower beds in the fall to protect the soil. When spring arrives, and you’re ready to in your garden beds or annual flower bed, your cover crop must be removed. (Read What To Put Under Mulch To Prevent Weeds)
However, there is no need to rake the old mulch as the living plant material can be used where it is. Tilling cover crops under frees up the garden for spring planting and nourishes the soil as a biodegradable material.
Mow cover crops first, then till them using a garden tiller. Mowing first makes garden tilling easier because you’re tilling shorter vegetation. After mowing, spread compost over the same garden bed and till it in as you would any non-cover cropped beds.