Water before or after mulching | Which is best?

Water after mulching trees, shrubs or vegetable seedlings. Watering will keep the mulch in place and stop it blowing away. Lay the mulch 2-3 inches thick and keep it 2 inches away from the plant stem to prevent stem rot. Lay mulch first and finish with watering to settle soil in around your plant’s roots.

Benefits of watering after mulching your plants

Watering your plants after mulching is best as it will help to hold the mulch in place. Although the mulch will soak up some of the water, most of it will reach the plant roots and at the same time settle the mulch in.

Watering after adding light mulch like straw or hay is important as, it can easily blow away even in light winds. Bark mulch can also be blown away in windy areas so watering the plant after mulching helps to hold it in place.

I always water after applying mulch for all plants including fruit trees, flowers and vegetables.

How to water after mulching

To water after mulching first apply the mulch to the dry soil around the plant. Mulch should be between 2-3 inches thick to allow water to get through to plant roots. Leave a 1-2 inch gap between the stem of the plant and the mulch to stop the stem from rotting. Apply the water with a watering can or spray nozzle on your hose.

Perennial flowers can be mulched with straw, sugar cane or bark mulch.

TIP: Make sure you add enough to water the whole root area and the top of the mulch.

Leave a gap between the stem of the plant and the mulch to allow water to easily reach the center of the plant. Although some water will be absorbed by the mulch, this will not be a problem if you add enough water.

The benefits of adding mulch will be seen over the next days, weeks and months as the mulch holds more water in the soil and prevents weeds. Keeping the soil moist helps to attract microbes and worms which will break down the mulch over time.

When the mulch breaks down will add extra organic matter and nutrients to the soil for your plants. Light mulches like straw, hay or sugar cane mulch will all add organic matter to the soil quickly. Longer lasting mulches like bark mulch will break down into the soil over 6-12 months.

Can you water before mulching?

Watering before mulching will let you see where the water is going and it won’t be taken up by the mulch. If mulch is added after watering it will stay dry and has the potential to move or blow around. If you mulch after watering it is best to spray the mulch lightly with your hose to hold it in place.

Vegetable gardens work best with a light mulch like straw.

Does water seep through mulch?

Water will easily seep through mulch if it is applied around 2-3 inches thick. This will be enough to keep moisture in the soil but also allow rain or water from your hose or watering can to reach plant roots. If the mulch is too thick it can stop water from reaching your plant so remember to keep it at 2-3 inches.

Leaving a gap between the plant stem and the mulch will also make extra space for the water to soak through to the roots of the plant.

Do you have to water more with mulch?

When you first water your plant after mulching it is best to give it a little more water than you would without mulch. This will allow for the mulch to soak up a small amount of the water first.

You will need to water the plant with mulch less over time. Mulch will hold moisture in the soil for longer and stop it evaporating quickly off the surface.

I like to use a bark mulch around annual flowers and citrus.

How often to water plants in mulch

Water plants in mulch when the soil has started to dry around 1 inch below the surface. This can be tested by using your finger and digging down into the soil. If the soil feels moist you can wait to water.

For small seedlings you may need to water every day. This will depend on the type of seedling and the weather. If you have bought seedlings from a garden center or hardware store they will be used to receiving water everyday. When you plan them out, make sure you keep them well watered for the few 1-2 weeks.

Why mulch is good to save water

Mulch will keep water in the soil and around your plants longer than if they were not mulched. Mulch will shade the soil and stop evaporation saving water in the long run. They also stop weeds which would otherwise absorb water away from your plants.

Mulch will also help in sloping areas to stop water from running off the surface of the soil when there is very heavy rain. As the mulch breaks down into the soil, the organic matter will help to build up the structure of the soil which in turn will hold more water.

Best mulch to use before watering

The best mulch to use around your plants is an organic mulch like mixed tree mulch, straw, hay, sugar cane mulch or lucerne. These mulches will help to keep moisture in your soil after you water your plants.

For citrus trees, shrubs, native plants and large trees use a mixed bark or tree mulch. This will contain a range of bark chips, branch and leaf pieces which will break down to a rich compost on top of your soil. This mulch is perfect for holding water in the soil for long periods of time.

I have used a light mulch under my new raspberry plant, adding water holds it in place.

For vegetables it is best to use a light mulch like, hay, straw or sugar cane mulch to keep the moisture in. This mulch will breakdown quicker and can be dug into the soil after the vegetable has finished the season. These mulches are also great for strawberries as they will keep the soil off the plant and fruit.

Water before or after mulching – FAQ

Can you spread mulch when it’s wet?

Mulch can be spread when it is wet but it will stick to everything including you. It is much easier to spread mulch when it is dry so lay mulch before rain for the best result. If you are spreading mulch when it is wet, use a wide rake which will help to shred the mulch with less of it sticking to the rake. Wear old clothes and old shoes and you will be ready to spread mulch when it’s wet.

What should I put down before mulching?

Put cardboard or layers of newspaper on the ground before mulching to help to prevent weed growth. These compostable materials will stop weeds for 3-6 months as they break down slowly. They will naturally mix into the soil over time and when you are ready to apply new mulch, you can also lay new newspaper or cardboard to stop weeds.

How long before mulch gets wet?

Large piles of mulch will slowly soak in rain over time getting wet all the way through eventually. It will take a large amount of rain to reach the bottom of a 4 foot mulch pile. You can move the top layer of mulch away and you may find that the lower levels of the mulch will be dry and easy to spread on your garden.

Mulch laid on garden beds 2-3 inches thick will allow rain to penetrate all the way through to the soil so will get wet during heavy rain. This will help the mulch to break down and feed your soil over time.

What is the best time to put down mulch?

It is best to mulch before watering your plants as the water you add will also help to hold your mulch in place. If you are expecting large amounts of rain, you can mulch after to allow the rain to penetrate the soil deeply.

Should you cover mulch with a tarp?

Keep mulch dry during heavy rain cover mulch with a tarp. After the rain has passed, uncover the mulch and layer it on the soil.  Mulch can be covered with a tarp until you are ready to use it on your garden to protect it from rain and wind. It is important to allow air movement to the mulch around the edges so that it does not overheat in the sun.

Watering after Mulching – Summary

Watering your plants after mulching is the best method as the water will hold the mulch in place, hydrate the mulch and help to start the break down process. All mulches work best when they break down and release their nutrients into the soil. Adding water to the mulch will help to build the soil quicker and help soil microbes to grow.

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