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What To Do With Old Mulch – Clever Ideas

Mulch is a great addition to your garden, but it can be difficult to figure out what to do with the old mulch when you are done with it.

Mulch comes in large amounts that can go unused for up to a year.

A few decades ago, using large mulches was the rule of thumb for getting gardeners off of their knees.

Nowadays, small amounts are more practical and eco-friendly.

They also allow for much more control over moisture levels since smaller volumes require constant monitoring.

Additionally, a well-placed layer of mulch will protect the soil from invasive weeds.

These are some of the reasons mulch is considered a gardener’s best friend.

The first step to deciding what to do with your old mulch is to consider if you are going to use the same kind of mulch next year and whether it’s biodegradable or not.

If mulch is biodegradable, then it is a good idea to do away with the mulch and let your soil “breathe”.

On the other hand, if it’s non-biodegradable, then you will need to decide whether it is going to be used in another place or disposed of it properly.

Is old mulch still viable to use?

As mulch breaks down, the remaining mulch becomes increasingly smaller particles that have a certain quality to them.

For example, at first a layer of mulch will have leaves and stems embedded into it.

If the mulch is not contaminated with weed seeds, then it is a safe assumption that the majority of it will biodegrade within a few months.

However, as time passes and the leaves are broken down into smaller pieces, you will begin to see weeds come out of the mix.

If you will be using old mulch to cover your garden, then it is a good idea to check this out before you start working with it.

Your goal should be to remove any weeds found in the mulch.

If the mulch has weed seeds in it and are lying dormant, they will often sprout when they are disturbed by digging.

Also, old mulch that has already started decomposing will not be good to use in your garden and it should be removed.

Only reuse mulch that’s still in good shape so that it carries out its purpose of protecting the soil.

How do you know if old mulch can be reused?

Mulch is important as it protects the soil from gusty winds and water erosion by covering the surface below it.

When using mulch, you should try to keep it away from areas that have a tendency to have standing water.

By keeping mulch away from areas with high water retention, the mulch will not end up contributing to the soggy soil below.

When working with old mulch, keep in mind that too much is going to be just as bad as not enough.

When too much is applied, it can become an eyesore and it is difficult to keep it from sagging in places.

It will also suffocate the plants and prevent oxygen from reaching the roots.

Reusing mulch is never a bad thing.

It maintains the soil’s structure and it can help keep your garden looking lush, green and healthy.

However, if you do have leftover mulch, it should be good to use.

To determine this, scoop some mulch into your hands and check whether it’s broken down into smaller particles or not.

If it’s decomposed to the point it looks more or less like dirt, it won’t function as mulch, so be sure to remove it and throw it away.

On the other hand, if it has retained its structure and feel, then you can reuse it to protect the soil.

What to do with old mulch: 5 practical ideas

Loosen or turn over old mulch

One way to reuse old mulch is to simply loosen it or turn over the old layer that’s been used.

Oftentimes, an old layer becomes crusted due to prolonged exposure to the sun.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to loosen the old layer and expose the new layer under it.

The new layer will be easier to turn over and it will have a more uniform appearance due to the layers being more consistent.

Furthermore, you’ll want your plants and the soil in general to receive proper circulation of air and water.

Loosening the mulch will do this by keeping the soil loose and aerated.

Get a rake that you can safely place into the mulch.

You will want to move the rake in a circular motion while taking care not to tear up the soil under it.

The goal is to loosen or turn the mulch.

This creates room for new mulch to be applied while allowing the soil to breathe.

This is especially important in climates where the winters are extremely cold.

Add old mulch to compost

Another way to reuse old mulch is to add it as an ingredient in your compost pile.

If you do decide to add old mulch, you should also consider adding other biodegradable material, such as leaves and grass clippings.

The more organic matter you have in the pile, the faster it will decompose.

When it comes to decomposition, compost piles that are kept under ideal conditions can be broken down in as little as four weeks.

If you have an old layer of mulch that may not be ideal for its original purpose, then it’s a good idea to throw it in the compost pile.

A compost pile can be a great way to get rid of leftover mulch and the old material will be happy there once the time comes.

It will add to the compost’s overall quality and provide nutrients that can be used by plants.

The truth is more people are now growing their own fresh, healthy organic food than ever before.

They have discovered the benefits of compost, and they are now cultivating their own garden.

All of this should be taken in consideration when deciding what to do with old mulch.

If you decide to add the old layer to your compost pile, then you should use a material that’s not too big or too small.

It should also weigh around 20% of the total weight of the pile.

The smaller it is, the better it will break down and pass into the soil as part of the compost mixture.

Reuse old mulch elsewhere

While this takes a lot of effort, it will also save you the cost of having it hauled away.

If your soil isn’t too bad, then you can give old mulch a try in other spaces.

By giving the mulch a new purpose, you will be able to reuse it again and it won’t cost you anything.

By taking back old mulch and giving it a new purpose, you’re essentially recycling something that would have otherwise ended up being thrown away.

You can also use old mulch in the garden to prevent soil erosion.

Oftentimes, gardeners will simply place new mulch over their entire garden and leave.

However, by adding older mulch that has not decomposed, you can turn your dirt into better (and healthier) soil for your plants.

Mix old mulch into the soil

In case your old mulch has decomposed to the point it’s not usable for its original purpose, you can still give it a new purpose and create better soil for growing.

By leaving the old mulch in the soil, it will break down and add nutrients to your garden that your plants will need.

You will need to mix the mulch into your soil so that it becomes part of it.

You can do this by tamping the mixture into the ground.

If you have a wheel about an inch in diameter to use, then you can simply roll the mulch into place.

There’s no need for a shovel or a tiller.

Just roll it over the soil and your plants will love you for it.

With that being said, certain mulches such as sawdust shouldn’t be mixed into soil that grows nitrogen plants.

This material uses up the nitrogen in the soil during decomposition.

As such, it may temporarily inhibit the growth of the plant until the mulch breaks down and the soil can replenish.

Throw biodegradable mulch in the trash

If your old mulch has already decomposed, don’t throw it in the compost pile or reuse it elsewhere.

Throw it in the trash.

Doing so will prevent any animals from ingesting the rotten material.

You never know what’s been on that mulch and there’s a chance that some of it could be harmful to the birds and animals around you.

Since its biodegradable, the mulch will naturally decompose.

This means there will be no consequences to the environment.

So long as you don’t use the mulch for purposes it should not be used for and throw it away if it’s decomposed to the point it’s unusable, you’re doing your part to help the planet.

As for the non-biodegradable mulch, take it to a waste disposal center where it can be safely disposed of.

For instance, you can call the city’s dump or in some cases, a waste disposal company will come out and pick it up for you.

It’s important to know that some mulch can contain material that shouldn’t be left haphazardly on the environment.

Make sure you don’t contribute to the buildup of this type of waste by disposing of it safely.

Going green is more fun than you think.

In Conclusion

One of the best things to do with old mulch is to turn it back into useful material.

By giving it a new purpose, you’ll be able to reuse it again and save yourself some money in the process.

The best course of action though is to determine when the mulch has decomposed so that you know when to take good care of your garden by taking away accumulated mulch materials.

When it comes to mulching and composting, there’s so much to learn.


Can you put mulch in compost?

Yes, you can put some types of mulch into the compost pile.

It improves their quality and gives the compost an all-natural look.

What is the decomposition rate of mulch?

Decomposition rates of mulch vary depending on what type of material it is made out of.

For example, leaves decompose much faster than sawdust.

As such, you will want to take note of what your mulch is made out of and how fast it decomposes before you decide to put it into the compost pile.

Does mulch have a shelf life?

Yes, it lasts up to a year before requiring to be thrown away.

Furthermore, it can be reused in another part of your garden.


  • Jen Wheeler

    Jen Wheeler, co-founder of Recycling-Revolution.com, holds degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford. A renowned environmentalist, she's championed sustainable practices at global events and leads EcoBright Solutions, focusing on recycling education and eco-friendly products.

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