How to Mulch to Save Water in 5 Steps

How to Mulch to Save Water in 5 Steps

“Water is the driving force of all nature,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci. Years later, the same remains true. Crisp water allows our yards, flowers and trees to flourish. Yet in 2014, drought affected 40 percent of the country, particularly California, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. With another growing season ahead, gardeners from coast to coast are asking, “How can I save water in my yard and garden?”

Luckily, one of the most effective ways to save water in your garden is also the easiest: mulching. Mulch also suppresses weeds and looks beautiful.

Learn how to mulch to save water in five easy steps from Shawn Fitzgerald, ISA certified arborist and technical advisor at Davey Tree.

1. Choose the right mulch. To save water in the garden, use organic mulch because it breaks down and conditions the soil. Non-organic mulches remain on the surface and block water and air, meaning you may have to remove them later.


Fitzgerald says pine needles give you the biggest bang for your buck because they retain the most moisture and suppress weeds better than any other mulch. Hardwood bark works wonders as well.

2. Ready the space. Before mulching, remove weeds from garden beds to eliminate hours of weeding later in the season.

3. Apply mulch. For most plants and garden beds, apply 2-3 inches of mulch and spread.

If you have sandy soil, apply about 1 inch more mulch.

If you’re mulching shallow-rooted plants, such as hydrangeas, boxwoods or azaleas, apply a bit less. 

4. Use mulch to mimic the wild. Cover the tree or plant’s entire drip zone, which is as far as the leaves grow out, to “mimic the wild” as Fitzgerald says. Doing so mirrors the forest ground and allows plants to thrive. 

When mulching trees, cover as much of the drip zone as you can. The larger the mulch ring, the greater the benefit to the tree. 


5. Avoid “volcano” mulching. “Volcano” mulching, or over-mulching, is piling mulch around a tree trunk or plant stem, which prevents deep roots from growing. Fitzgerald warns, “Volcano mulching is one of the worst things you can do to a plant or tree.”

To avoid volcano mulching, pull mulch at least 1-2 inches away from the tree trunk, stem or flare.

Need help mulching or planting trees this season? Contact your local, professionally trained Davey arborist for a free consultation.

  • The Tree Doctor July 27, 2015 >Hi Jacqueline! Thank you for reaching out to Davey on our blog. We appreciate your comment. According to the Davey Institute's technical advisors, the conditions you describe are normal for your Chinese pistache tree. This species' shallow, gray scales flake off to expose the salmon-colored inner bark. Thank you!
  • jacqueline yee July 24, 2015 >my tree on my front lawn, the barks on the tree is crack and falling off. Is that a sign of dought damage or some kind of disease? Will the bark grow back or is the damage reversable? The leaves and the braches has grown out.
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