Mulching is an important agriculture and gardening practice.
During the mulching process, organic materials such as leaves, hay, sawdust, straw, and rotten manure are used to cover the soil.
This helps retain the moisture. It also protects the roots of plants from extreme cold or heat.
Some homeowners and landscapers mulch every year and sometimes even twice a year in the spring and fall.
When removing old mulch, we suggest putting it in a yard waste bag (like the brown paper bags sold at hardware stores).
Put the waste bag out on your curb so it can be collected and composted with the yard waste that your local authorities collect.
What Is Old Mulch?
Old mulch refers to mulch that you applied almost a year ago and is still intact after a year has passed.
For plants that complete their cycle in one growing season (annuals), you need to remove old mulch before adding compost.
If you are adding mulch to plants that live on up to three years (perennials), you should remove as much of the old mulch as possible before adding more.
Adding a fresh layer of new mulch over the old one can cause plants to rot, be deprived of nutrients, and even die.
Removing Old Mulch for Disposal
To ensure proper disposal of old mulch, you need to ensure that you remove it properly.
The removal process takes about seven steps. Let us take you through each one of these steps in detail before you are ready to dispose of old mulch:
Step 1: Use your hand to remove the mulch from the ground. Ensure you wear gloves because it is very likely for the mulch to host several diseases, fungi, pathogens, and bacteria. Do not remove all of the old mulch at once. Strip little by little every week. It would be best to perform the removal process during overcast days so that harsh sunlight does not damage the plants.
Step 2: For the places where mulch is stuck, such as the garden’s edges, use an edging tool to loosen it up. You can achieve this by running the blade of the edging tool around the perimeter of the garden.
Step 3: Once you have loosened up and lifted all the mulch from the ground, use a rake to break the mulch clumps. Set the clumps into piles. Be careful as you rake around your plants as you could damage them if you rake too vigorously. Always leave a few inches of space between your rake and a plant’s stem.
Step 4: The next step involves scooping out the piles of mulch that you formed in step 3. You can perform this step with the help of a shovel. Shovel the piles onto a tarp or inside a container.
Step 5: Use your gloved hands to brush away any mulch remaining at the base of the plants. Deposit it on the tarp or inside the container, whichever you are using.
Step 6: If you can still see little bits of mulch that are hard to pick, use a leaf blower to blow them away. Make sure that you do not use the blower for a long time. This is because it can get hot, cause soil dryness, and blow it away.
Step 7: Last step is to dispose of all the old mulch you have collected on the tarp or inside a container. It is safe to dispose of it in the trash or a yard waste bin if untreated and 100% vegetative. We will learn more about this step ahead.
Also read: Is Burlap Biodegradable?
Disposing Mulch in a Yard Waste Bin
Yard waste is any organic and vegetative matter that is produced through yard or garden maintenance.
The most natural and untreated mulches qualify for the yard waste bin.
So, as long as your mulch is natural, biodegradable vegetative matter (wood chips, straw, hay, bark, etc.), it will qualify as yard waste.
It would help if you kept in mind that dyed or plastic mulches such as tarps and landscape fabrics are not considered yard waste.
Please do not add them to yard waste bins.
Remember to separate your yard waste from your regular trash because when you put yard waste into the trash it:
- Emits greenhouse gases from organic matter breaking down in anaerobic conditions or doesn’t allow the matter to break down at all. Organic matter requires oxygen to break down. Being buried under a ton of trash does not allow the matter to breathe.
- Takes up a lot of precious space in landfills. Yard waste is approximately 10% of all household waste. Imagine what would happen if everybody started mixing it with their trash.
- Wastes valuable nutrients that you could use to fertilize your garden and lawn naturally.
Disposing of Wood Mulch
If you have 100% wood mulch, there is an alternative way to dispose of it rather than disposing of it in the trash.
Untreated wood mulch can be disposed of naturally via composting. However, many gardening experts warn against adding wood chips to compost.
They say that it can tie up oxygen that helps break down matter. That is true, but there are two ways in which you can mitigate this:
- You can add more high-nitrogen sources to your compost pile. Most experts suggest keeping the carbon to nitrogen ratio to 30:1. However, since you will be adding wood mulch that ties up nitrogen, you can increase the nitrogen ratio to create a balance.
- If your shrubs and plants with deep roots are surrounded by wood mulch, you can let the mulch decay in place. The upper layer of the soil will experience a lack of nitrogen. But, the plant’s roots will be able to reach nitrogen present deeper in the soil.
How to Dispose of Dyed Mulch
Depending on what was used to dye it or it was sourced from, dyed mulch can be toxic for your plants.
Dyed mulches are mainly produced using recycled wood.
Even though it may seem like an environmentally friendly option, mulch made from recycled wood can contain some amounts of CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate).
This substance is dangerous for plants, humans, and animals.
Even if dyed mulch does not contain CCA, the recycled wood used in its production is very likely to have been treated to prevent biodegradation.
As a result, dyed mulch is not safe for composting either.
Check your local municipal guidelines on how to dispose of dyed mulch.
But one thing is for sure: you cannot compost dyed mulch or add it to your yard waste bin.
We suggest that you box up the dyed mulch and take it directly to your waste management facility for disposal.
What Can I Do with Old Mulch Instead of Disposing of It?
Although it is pretty tempting to get rid of old mulch altogether, you must not take its value for granted. Many gardeners believe that old mulch can also serve a purpose.
Aside from wasting money (mulch is expensive), getting rid of old mulch seems like throwing away a natural and organic fertilizer.
Mulch is a biodegradable material that decays with time, so many people don’t see the logic behind disposing of it.
When added to compost soil, old mulch can nurture the plant bed and provide nutrients needed for healthy growth and development.
Old mulch covers the soil and protects it from extreme weather conditions. It also keeps the weeds off, serving as a barrier.
Old mulch also serves as a slow-release fertilizer and retains moisture in the soil.
Old mulch gradually releases nutrients to the plant bed until it decomposes. This is something that dyed or plastic mulch (non-biodegradable) cannot do.
As long as the old mulch retains its size and texture and size, you can use it!
Can I Layer New Mulch Over Old Mulch?
Yes. It is safe to layer new mulch over old mulch only if it is from a natural source and not dyed or treated.
Old mulch tends to break down under new mulch and returns a lot of nutrients to the soil.
However, you cannot always layer new mulch over old mulch. You must remove the old mulch if:
- It is matting or clotting to become one layer. This type of mulch will prevent rain and oxygen from reaching the soil. As a result, fungal diseases might start to take over.
- It is already two to three inches thick. You don’t need to add new mulch unless you want to improve the appearance. You will still have to remove some old mulch to add enough new mulch while ensuring that the mulch layer does not get too thick for your plants.
Tips for Reusing Old Mulch
- Pests like larvae like to hide in mulch during the harsh winter season. Do not reuse old mulch belonging to plants infected with early blight, root rot, and wilt disease.
- Even if old mulch looks faded and not as vibrant as the new mulch, it is still valuable. You can use a mulch renovator to revive it and bring back its old, deep brown color.
- When preparing the soil, rake the old mulch and let the soil breathe. Allow the water to reach the topsoil. Do not add new mulch to a hard layer of old mulch. You must loosen up the old mulch first with the help of a rake.
The art of mulching seems challenging, but it is pretty easy to master if you know how old mulch can affect your plants.
We hope that by reading this article, you have learned how to dispose of and reuse old mulch from your garden for as long as it is valuable.
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