Mulch Ado about Landscaping: 7 Tips for Apartment Properties


A fast, easy way to shore up the apartment community landscape is applying mulch to beds and trees, and now is the perfect time to mulch around the apartment community. A good, quality mulch that’s been fully composted will provide nutrients to plants as well as keep beds weed-free and looking neat and crisp.

Mulch helps control and keep moisture levels constant, while providing additional protection from high or low extreme temperatures to roots. As mulch breaks down, or decomposes, and becomes organic matter, the material becomes a high source of nutrients.

Mulch is nature’s way of making any property look orderly at any time of the year while helping plants thrive. So whether the weather is currently cooperating or not, here are seven important landscaping tips for the proper use of mulch.

Choosing the Best Mulch for Your Property

Mulch is created when shreds of bark, usually pine wood or hard wood, are left to decompose or break down, the process by which organic substances are reduced into simpler forms of matter. Mulch needs to be aged, requiring turning, tilling, and spreading and piling. While breaking down, the mulch pile releases heat as high as 160 degrees. Heating steams out or kills any seed or inert matter that’s in the material, as well as controlling fungus.

Like many things, mulch is only as effective as it is composted. Many cities offer free mulch, usually from Christmas tree recycling or tree trimming, but the material often lacks the essential ingredients to benefit the landscape. City piles often are not turned enough to generate the heat that eliminates grass and weed seeds. Thus, it may appear that you’re doing a great thing for your beds – and keeping the cost low – but you’re really introducing an entire new crop of weeds that you will fight all summer long.

Frequent Mulching is Generally Safe for Plants

The benefits of applying mulch far outweigh potential problems. Frequent mulching usually does not cause an issue with plant life, but in some cases overuse may cause changes in the soil’s acidity levels, known as soil PH, that can affect growth rates.

Applied too often, pine bark mulch, for example, may cause the soil to become too acidic for plants to grow. On the other hand, too much hardwood bark mulch could raise alkalinity levels. Alternating types of mulch can avoid soil condition issues.

Avoid Piling Mulch by Foundations

Typically, mulch can build up along foundations when applied year over year. Buildup enables water to rise and penetrate weep holes and other places in the structure. Allow 2-4 inches of exposed foundation when applying mulch to avoid water saturation. Ideally, you want the foundation exposed 4-6 inches before spreading mulch.

Avoid Mulching Around the Crown

Be careful not to mound mulch around the crowns of shrubs or trees. The crown is the very bottom, 4 inches on a tree or shrub. The sub surface of plants and trees is used to having a lot of moisture, but crowns need to stay relatively dry. Piling mulch over the crown will prevent the base from breathing and eventually rotting. Ideally, mulch should be spread up to the base of the crown, just enough to cover the ground.

Ensure Beds have Positive Drainage

Make sure that your beds have positive drainage away from the building when applying mulch. Avoid creating a trench next to the foundation as a result of pushing dirt back too far to manage the proper depth of mulch next to the structure. Sometimes, it is necessary to remove old material and start with new to maintain a consistent grade.

Creating Borders for Mulch

To cap the perfect bed with mulch, install metal edging or cut a beveled edge about three inches deep in front of the bed. This will prevent rain from washing the mulch onto the grass or walk, leaving a mess for later cleanup.

Avoid Colored Mulch

Colored mulches offer a different look but may reduce the benefit of the material plus create clutter from debris that falls during the natural course of plant life and weather. Mulch soaked in paint or dye tends to discolor from sunlight; red mulch becomes pink. Also, because brown is a naturally occurring color in landscape, any debris that falls into the bed of another color will stick out like a sore thumb. With darker, natural mulches, fallen leaves and grass clippings are less noticeable.

As the seasons transition from winter to spring, mulching beds will make your property visually appealing to residents and prospective renters. It also gives your plants a head start on the growing season.

Image of mulch spread around the base of shrubs next to an apartment building.

Proper usage of mulch around shrubs.



President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

2 responses to “Mulch Ado about Landscaping: 7 Tips for Apartment Properties”

  1. Gotta love your play on Shakespeare. Thanks for all this information on mulch. It can definitely “dress up” the planted area on a property. Thanks for mentioning the tip on alternating types of mulch to keep the soil healthy.

    • Michael Cunningham says:

      Mulch may not be sexy, but it is fascinating. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Michael Cunningham
      Managing Editor

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