Why on earth do we spread the smelly hot "stuff" on our shrub beds? Think to yourself, what makes a good garden? Your answers will probably all be somehow related to the wonderful whimsical mulch.
The dreaded weeding has arrived! All of those perrenials you struggled to plant last year have been overrun by weeds and your yard looks like the Amazon jungle. Sound familiar? This is the main purpose for spreading mulch onto your beds. Shredded mulch is hot, very hot. If you have ever tried to work with the stuff you will know how hot it can get, even on a cold morning. When it lands on your beds it quickly dispatches of any small weeds and some parasites by burning them away. There are many false fears home owners have that you can bring in bugs and possibly termites when you spread mulch. If you are buying it in bags, it has been heat treated, if you have buying it from a wholesaler in large quantities, it has been sitting in a pile burning away parasites.
One purpose is to conserve water for the other plants that you're keeping. The mulch forms a barrier between the ground and the air during dry periods of the season. Another reason is in fact, to look good. There's nothing more satisfying than a very dark set of flowerbeds that stay that way for months. You may even feel the need to spend time outside hunching over to enjoy how fertile your yard looks.
Let's get our hands dirty!
There are many different types of mulch. Mulch is a very broad term meaning virtually any type of ground cover, but in this case we are working with mulch for the practical and esthetically inclined homeowner. One important thing to know is that there is such a thing as dyed mulch. It's dye that turns the McDonald's ground ruby red, and keeps some yards looking black as night from the start to the end of the season. One snag with dyed mulch is that it degrades slower than natural mulch. By the time you are re-mulching the following season you should be close to the point at which you can't tell that you mulched last season. Dyed mulch will take several seasons at least to become, in most respects, "dirt."
After choosing your color, consider how fine or coarse you would like your mulch to be. You can get single, double, or in some cases, triple shredded. They are what they sound like. It is a measure of the number of times the it has been fed through a shredder. They will increase in cost and become more fine as the number of shreds increases. If you choose the single shredded, you will find it rough, but very persistent in color and texture. As you get into the double and triple shredded, you will find it very fine, easy to spread, quick to degrade and a little faster to fade to a brownish grey. They are both very good options.
Before you start your mulching, consider a few things about the material. Mulch you use is not shredded wood (thats wood chips)! It is shredded tree bark, which births the common name professional landscapers have for it, "bark." The nature of the material is that it is very stringy and difficult to move around and work with. The best tool for the job is the pitchfork. The pitchfork is going to allow you to get in deep and pull big lumps out without spilling it all over your grass! Remember, it burns, which means grass and your precious plants will die if buried for too long.
Now that you have your fork, you will need something to cart it around with. If you are working from bags of mulch, this won't be so much of a problem, but if you are having several cubic yards of mulch delivered, you will need a wheel barrel or a cart.
Fill your barrel, or open your bag and head over to the edges of your beds. You should decide how thick to spread your mulch based on the type of plants you have in your spreading area. If you are spreading around small shrubs (up to about knee height) you will not want to go any deeper than a few inches (6-8 cm). If your bed is filled with large landscaping trees, you can feel free to pile as much mulch on as you can carry over, just make sure that you leave a small ring of exposed dirt around the base of the trunks.
The fastest way to get your mulch out of the big daunting pile is to use the fork to fill your wheel barrel then just dump the whole thing into the bed. Once you have gotten all the mulch out of the pile, you can go back and spread it out all at once. Picking it up with the pitchfork and just throwing it is an amusing and effective way to spread the mulch evenly (just keep it off your plant's leaves). One of the professional touches you get from landscaping companies is called "feathering." This is the process of taking a leaf rake or your hands and just brushing the mulch around so it all lays perfectly flat. You would be very surprised what a difference it can make to take an extra fifteen minutes to feather your mulch.
For professional looking yard, you also need to make sure you get clean edges on your mulch. Allowing it to cascade over onto the grass unevenly looks unsightly so use a shovel to neatly "butt" the mulch back into the bed forming a clean line.