Mulching the flower garden helps to protect the plants and can improve the looks of your garden.  Nature uses mulch all the time by way of fallen leaves, animal droppings, and dead plant material laying about the forest floor.  What nature does well, we try to improve on.  By using the right amount of mulch, applying it at the appropriate time, and using high quality materials that decompose quickly.

Before you start tossing mulch into your flower garden you really should think about the soil that you are planting them in.  Poor soil means poor plants and although mulch by itself will eventually improve the quality of the existing planting bed it can be done faster if you do a few things before planting.  Adding compost to the garden best and mixing it with your soil will lighten and make it flower friendly.  Compost will help both with drainage and water retention.  Add a couple inches of compost and mix it into the top 6 inches of soil.  While you’re tilling you should be removing rocks and breaking up dirt clods.   Finally rake the soil smooth with a slight grade going out of the bed.  Adding a slight grade to the bed will help water to run off and not pool in the area and potentially drowning your flowers.

If you are mulching a bed that is already planted this is the perfect time to clean up your plants.  Once you get that pretty layer of mulch down you don’t want to have a bunch of yellowing leaves or flower droppings messing things up.  Cut off any leaves that look damaged and deadhead your flowers.  If you do this before you mulch and your garden cuttings are not diseased you can toss them on the bed prior to mulching and no one will ever know it is there.  If you do have diseased plants – get them out of there.  These diseased plants should not be used as compost or mulch.  They should be sent off with your trash pickup.

The proper time to mulch is a strangely controversial subject.  You’d think everyone would agree on this but they don’t.  Everyone does agree that you should mulch but when to mulch can get you into trouble with gardening gurus.  My personal opinion and experience tells me that bare soil is bad.  I mulch a bed that isn’t going to be planted for awhile, I leave mulch on in the winter, and I replenish mulch in the spring, summer and fall.  I’ve got some good dirt.  This is how I do it but you may develop your own mulching philosophies.

The next thing to do is decide which mulch you want to use.  I like to use only organic mulches.  There are synthetic mulches available but I love what mulch does to the soil.  My preferred mulch, if I can get enough, is simple shredded leaves.  I like to use these because it is cheap mulch that decomposes within 1 year.  Bark can hang around for many years and get in the way of my planting pursuits.  If you decide to use a certain color of mulch and then a few years later change colors you’ll be hard pressed to get rid of all the old stuff.  You’ll be finding chunks of red bark in your black mulch for years to come.  Cocoa bean hulls are another quick to decay mulch option.  It’s just a bit more expensive than leaves.

Mulch should be applied 2 – 4 inches deep.  Try to keep the mulch from touching the crowns of your plants.  Many plants are prone to crown rot and placing the mulch right up to the plant can cause you problems later.  Because mulch is used as a water conserving agent you should water your flower garden before and after mulching.  By having a well watered garden before mulching you won’t have to deal with trying to get water through the mulch later.  Watering the mulch itself will help to keep the mulch in place until it settles in.

A garden fork is a great way to get the mulch around your flowers.  It works better than a shovel for scooping and transferring mulch from one place to another.  Once you have the mulch in the bed just spread it around either with your hands or a rake.  Try to get even coverage.  You don’t want lumps in some areas and bare soil in others.  After it has been in place for a few months it can settle and compact.  Don’t be afraid to fluff and clean your mulch if it seems to be keeping rain out or plastering itself to your flowers.

The magic in the mulch is that it vanishes over time.  After a few months or a few years depending on the type mulch becomes compost.  Compost being one of the most desired and useful gardening ingredients.  When you notice that it is getting a little thin just add some more on top.  Get it back to 2 to 4 inches.

Mulch isn’t a fertilizer.  It does contain some of the same nutrients as fertilizer but will not be a balanced fertilizer on its own.  Depending on the type of flowers planted you may need to add fertilizer a couple times a year.  Many native plants won’t require this but for some of the fancy varieties to get the best bloom you need to add at least some fertilizer.  Research the plants in your garden to determine what you need.

Mulching your flower bed for winter can help some of the more tender plants to survive.  One of the big causes of winter die off in the garden is the freezing and thawing of the ground.  This can cause plants to heave out of the ground of to become too wet and rot.

The main reasons that people choose to mulch their flower gardens is to conserve water, prevent weeds, improve soil, and improve the looks of the flower bed.  The fact that you can get one thing that does all 4 of these at the same time makes using mulch the best thing you can do for your flowers.