Should You Remove Old Mulch? Garden Tips 2024

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Adding mulch to your garden every year is highly beneficial. Not only will it keep moisture in the soil but it will also suppress the growth of weeds. But what happens when that mulch gets old? Do you need to remove it?

Should you remove old mulch: Old mulch does not need to be removed from your garden unless it has signs of rot or disease. However, all types of organic mulch, including bark, straw, and grass, will decompose over time. It is therefore recommended to add a fresh layer of mulch to your garden every year.

When to apply mulch?

It’s generally recommended to add a fresh layer of mulch to your garden once a year. While this can be any time, spring is a good opportunity as you will be cleaning up your garden.

Spring is when you naturally plant new flowers and shrubs, so you will have a better idea of how much mulch you need.

While you can simply add mulch around existing plants, you should wait for any seeds to sprout before you add mulch in these areas. This way you won’t accidentally smother any seedlings.

Lastly, you should add mulch around trees but don’t place the mulch next to the trunk. Otherwise, it can suffocate the trunk and lead to rot.

Types of mulch

There are many different types of mulch that you can use. Generally, go for one that is easiest and available.

Bark mulch

The most common type of mulch is bark mulch. This is made from small scraps of wood.

You can find bark mulch in different shapes, including chips and nuggets. Contact your local city or landscaping companies to see if they have free or discounted bark mulch.

You can also find different colors of bark mulch. Red, brown, and black are the most common colors and you can choose which will compliment your plants the best.


Even though straw mulch does not last as long as bark mulch, it still has plenty of uses. It can be used to insulate plants, especially in the winter.

Straw is also beneficial if you want to lay it down over freshly seeded grass as it will provide shade and moisture.


When you cut your lawn, it’s always best to leave the grass clippings behind. They will naturally degrade and provide nutrients to your lawn.

While you can add larger clumps of grass clippings to your garden as mulch, it will not last long and will instead give off a strong odor as it decomposes.

Newspaper or cardboard

If you have a shredder in your home, you can make your own mulch from newspapers. Nowadays, newspapers use vegetable ink which is organic.

Again, while this is a cheap, easy way to provide mulch to your garden, it will not last long, especially once the newspaper gets wet.

Do you need to remove and replace your old mulch?

On the whole, you do not need to remove your old mulch. It will slowly degrade through the year and become a part of the soil underground. This is beneficial for your plants as it adds more nutrients to the soil.

As your mulch naturally decomposes, it will leave your soil exposed and your plants will lose the benefits mulch offers. So, if your mulch starts to thin, as it naturally should, then you will need to add more mulch.

The main takeaway is that you can simply add new mulch on top of your old mulch, as long as the underlayer has no signs of disease.

How often should you replace your mulch?

All organic types of mulch will degrade over time. Some, like bark mulch, can take a few years to fully degrade while others, such as grass, are done in just a few weeks.

If you are using bark mulch, which most gardeners prefer, then adding a fresh layer every year is best. Springtime makes the most sense as it not only provides fresh nutrients to the area but will improve the aesthetics of your garden.

How often you remove your mulch is also dependent on the thickness of the original layer. If you had a lot of mulch the previous year, a few inches thick, then it will probably still be on the ground. But thinner layers will start to decompose a lot quicker.

How to remove or replace mulch

To determine if you need to remove your mulch, be sure to inspect it really well. Look for any signs of rot or fungus on the bark pieces.

If you see that your mulch is not in good condition, gently rake it into piles. This can be a bit tricky if you have a lot of small plants in the area, and you may need to use a hand trowel to complete the task.

Once you have your old bark mulch in larger piles, scoop it all into a bag. Unfortunately, you will need to throw this bag into the garden.

Any time you have something with disease or fungus in your garden, it can’t be used again. Adding it to your compost will simply spread the disease to other parts of your garden.

Once the mulch is gone, wait a few days or weeks before you add any new mulch. Make sure there is none of the old stuff still in the garden to avoid any cross-contamination.

Can you reuse your old mulch?

Whether you can reuse your mulch depends on if there are any issues with it. If you see any signs of disease or rot, then you cannot use it again and instead will have to throw it in the garbage.

If your mulch is fine, and just old, then you can reuse your old mulch by placing it in your compost. You can also use it in other areas of your garden, especially if you are turning the soil for new plants.


Mulch is incredibly useful for your garden. Over time, bark mulch will naturally decompose so you don’t have to worry about removing it unless there are signs of disease. Continually add new mulch on top of your old mulch to keep the cycle of nutrients in your garden.

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