Bark mulch in fall

When Should You Put Down Fall Mulch?

I wanted to write about mulch because I see that a lot of gardeners are gearing up to put some down soon. And I have seen many loads dumped on driveways and beside homes getting ready to put it down. Maybe not many share my opinion, but I think it is too early to put down mulch. Way too early.

Unfortunately, it is that dreaded mulching time coming soon. I always dread mulching more in the late fall than I do in spring. Maybe you don’t put mulch down?  I like to put it down just because it makes the garden look so much “neater” for the winter. But remember, the ground needs to be frozen first, before you put the mulch down.

Mulching The Hypertufa Gardener

To judge when you should put the mulch down, put a stick or some object in the ground. When it is frozen in place, then that is the signal that it is time to mulch. Seriously.

The cold weather makes the roots go dormant as a natural course. If you put mulch on too early, it keeps the roots too warm for too long, delaying the natural process and the roots could suffer damage.

It is best to put mulch down only after the first hard freeze at the earliest.  It is best for the roots of your perennials to have the protection later after the ground has begun to freeze and they have started their normal process of going deep and dormant. If you put it on too early, it is warmer for them due to the decomposition of the mulch. It keeps the roots active instead of going dormant as nature intends. Remember how hot that pile of mulch is when you reach into it?  Don’t heat up your ground with that too early.

The mulch is pretty flattened now

Also the mulch is protecting the soil underneath from a warm winter sun warming the soil too much, causing the “heaving” of the plants roots.

  • Mulch should be in a thin layer. 2″ or 3″ at most
  • Keep mulch away from base of the plants
  • Don’t put mulch against your foundation: It’s an invitation for termites!

(Stepping up on Soapbox: Keep your foundation clear of any mulch, whether wood or gravel etc. Termites like where it is cool and moist and they will hunt a way into your house. Wood mulch is a nice food supply , but they will live under gravel mulch too.  And don’t wet down the area against your house or buildings with your sprinkler. Keep that soil dry and unattractive to termites.)

So wait til colder weather – as late as you can – if you are doing mulch this fall. And have a bonfire and toast marshmallows! Tell yourself the mulching was fun!


  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this important information. This is my first year to mulch and I was going to put it on too early. Thanks to you I will be waiting until after the first freeze. I also appreciate the other information you shared.

    1. Thanks, glad to help. It will be cooler then too for all that work. Really hot and humid here now.

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