Homesteading, Gardening, and Off-Grid Living

How to Keep Mulch in Place and Prevent it From Washing Away

By: Zac Friedman

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When there is heavy rainfall or strong winds, mulch can wash away into your yard and onto your sidewalks and driveway. This makes your yard look messy. It also makes mowing difficult. Cleaning it up also gives you another job to do. If you don’t replace the mulch, your flower beds will have bare spots. They may start sprouting weeds and drying out. This guide outlines how to keep mulch in place and prevent it from washing away during storms.

If there is enough rain and wind, some mulch will be displaced. It’s unavoidable. Choosing the right mulch, edging your beds, and removing landscape fabric can greatly help to prevent mulch from floating away. Digging trenches to direct flowing water around your beds also helps.

When I moved into my current home, I installed some nice rock and bark mulch in the flower beds in the front yard. After the first storm, I found mulch washed all over the yard. I had to rake it up and look for a solution. Here are some tips I found to keep my mulch in place. 

How to Keep Mulch in Place and Prevent it From Washing Away

1. Choose the Right Mulch

Some mulch materials hold up to rain, flooding, flowing water, and wind better than others. The best kind of mulch depends on the weather conditions you’re dealing with.

Shredded wood or bark mulches are a good choice. This is because the pieces tangle together. They hold each other down. Look for medium to coarse ground mulch. 

Straw and pine straw are also good choices. The needles entwine into a mat and hold each other in place. Grass clippings can also work well for this reason. Pine needles in particular are a great choice for sloped ground. 

Heavier mulches, like rock, can also be a good choice. Pebbles and gravel won’t be affected by flooding because they don’t float. These smaller stones can be displaced by flowing water. Larger rocks, like river rocks, will stay in place better because they are heavier. Rubber mulch can also work well. It’s heavier and more dense than wood. 

brick edging around garden bed
Leaves can blow in during a storm

Wood chips and bark chips can float away in heavy rain and flooding. If you use wood mulch, try to go with larger nuggets. These will be heavier and less likely to float away. Also, go with hardwood mulch rather than softwood. Hardwood mulches, like oak, beech, ash, or holly, tend to stay in place better than softwood mulches, like pine, because they are less buoyant. 

Of course, all mulches will wash away if there is flooding and flowing water. It’s also important to remember that organic material also degrades away over time. You will need to add some fresh mulch every year or so.

rock mulch
Rocks stay in place during storms

2. Remove Landscaping Fabric

Landscaping fabric is made from a slippery plastic material. When the landscape fabric gets wet, it becomes even more slippery. The water reduces the friction between the fabric and your mulch. Your mulch can slide right off the plastic sheeting. Particularly on sloped ground. 

Removing landscaping fabric increases the friction between the ground and your mulch. Your mulch will stay in place better if it’s sitting directly on the ground. 

Of course, if you remove your landscaping fabric, you will have to deal with more weeds. There are tradeoffs. 

3. Edge Your Garden Beds

The best way to keep your mulch in your flower beds is to edge it with physical barriers that are tall enough to prevent it from floating out. Ideally, the edging should be at least 2-3 inches high.

There are a number of different materials you can use to edge your beds. Landscaping edge is a purpose-made material. Several versions are available including plastic, wood, stone, and metal. These look kind of like a small fence around your garden beds. The cheapest and most basic option is the black plastic edging that you drive into the ground. Brick edging is also a popular choice.

Plants can also make good edging to hold mulch in. Plant them around the border of your beds and they will act like a barrier. Hostas and Monkey Grass are popular choices.

Really any ground cover plant can work as an edging. If you use plants, be sure to plant them close together so they grow into a wall. Plants will require some maintenance. You will have to trim them occasionally so they don’t grow into your garden or lawn.

Pine straw can also work well. Make a berm around the edges of your beds to keep another type of mulch in place. Try to make the berm about a foot wide.

Edging won’t work if there is major flooding. If water flows over the edge, mulch can flow out. Also, the edge can hold water in. This can be an issue if you’re experiencing a lot of rainfall. 

A tree edged with bricks
Edging can help keep mulch in place during a storm

4. Dig Trenches to Divert Flowing Water

Another technique is to dig a small v-shaped trench around the garden bed. The trench only needs to be 3-4” deep and 6-10” wide. Fill the trench with gravel or pebbles so it can drain.

The trench will divert water away from your beds. It will also keep mulch off of your lawn. Some mulch will wash into the trench. You can easily rake it back into your bed after the storm. 

Trenches help to reduce erosion. They also help to protect your plant roots from root rot because they will allow the soil to drain. The soil won’t remain saturated after heavy rain. 

Exactly how big and how extensive your trench system needs to be depends on how much water you’re dealing with. If you may need multiple trenches to divert water away from your flower beds and home.

Next time you have a big rainstorm, go outside and see where the water is flowing. This will help you determine where to dig your trenches. A couple of small trenches diverting water away from your beds can really help. You can also use trenching in addition to edging if you have a serious problem with flowing water. 

5. Use Gravel or Pebbles

Rock mulch doesn’t wash away as easily as wood mulch. This is because rocks sink. They won’t float away if your beds flood. They are also heavier and denser than wood so they don’t wash away as easily when water is flowing over them. 

Water can also flow through the spaces between the gravel or pebbles. This helps to reduce erosion.   

Mushrooms sprouting after a storm
Mushrooms can also pop up after a storm

6. Use Mulch Tackifier (Mulch Adhesive)

A mulch tackifier is an adhesive that is designed to hold your mulch in place. It’s basically mulch glue. It is a sticky liquid that comes in a bottle. When it’s applied, it quickly dries to hold your mulch in place.

When you glue your mulch together it becomes one large and heavy mass that won’t float away. This can be a really simple solution. 

This product works best if you don’t regularly replace your mulch. If your mulch is mostly for aesthetics, a tackifier can give your beds a nice manicured look. Everything stays perfectly in place. 

You can buy mulch tackifier at some garden stores and hardware stores. If you can’t find it, you may have to order online. It’s not a very common product but it’s out there. It’s affordable and it lasts a long time. 

Before buying a tackifier, read the instructions. A few different versions exist. Some types require that you toss the mulch in the tackifier before you apply it. This is best if you’re applying new mulch. Some types can be mixed with water and sprayed or poured on top of mulch that is already in place.

7. Build Terraces On Slopes

Keeping mulch in a place on a slope is difficult. Eventually, it will wash down the hill. If you have steep slopes in your yard, one option is to build terraces. This way, you’ll have flat areas where the mulch will stay put. As an added benefit, you’ll have more space for your vegetable garden. 

Of course, building terraces takes a lot of hard work. It’s a big job. You’ll have to move a lot of soil and build retaining walls. It may be worth it if you have a sloped yard.

Alternatively, it may be possible to eliminate the slope by filling it in with new soil and building a retaining wall.

8. Add Another Layer of Mulch

If you have a thick layer of mulch, bare spots are less likely to develop if some of the mulch moves around. Also, it doesn’t matter if some mulch washes away if you have a thick layer. You’ll have plenty left to cover the soil. The top inch could wash away and you’ll still have a few inches of mulch left. Organic mulches degrade away over time. Once in a while, you’ll have to add some fresh mulch.

Ideally, your mulch layer should be 3-4” thick. Be careful not to add too much mulch. If it’s thicker than 4”, it can block water and air from passing through to the soil. This could harm your plant’s health. Pests can also be drawn to a thick layer of mulch. The mulch may also not decompose properly it is too thick.

a pile of mulch next to a wheelbarrow

9. Use a Different Type of Mulch

Some types of mulch shift around more than others. If you find that you are constantly having to rake your mulch back into place, you might consider replacing it with another type of mulch that can stand up to wind and moving water better. 

The best mulch for your yard depends on the weather conditions you’re dealing with. For example, maybe you live on a property where flooding is an issue. In this case, your bark nuggets may float away every time it rains. You might consider replacing them with pebbles, which won’t float away. If you deal with high winds, you probably won’t want to use pine straw. Wood chips may be a better choice.

10. Install Gutters On Your Home to Redirect Water

Rainwater running off your home can wash mulch away from your flower beds. Water runs off of your roof and splashes mulch away if your house doesn’t have gutters. You may notice bare spots where the water drips. Even if you have gutters, water can run out of the gutters and flood the beds that are near your house. 

One way to solve this is to install gutters and downspouts on your home to direct the water away from your beds. If you already have gutters, you can install extensions on the downspouts to direct water out of the beds. You can also dig trenches to direct the water away from your home.

If you’re dealing with a lot of water, you can install below-ground drains. French drains are a great option. A French drain is a trench that is filled with a perforated pipe and gravel. This is a great way to move water away from your home. 

The drawback of installing gutters and drains is that it is expensive if you have to hire a professional. A gutter system might cost $2000-$3000. If you’re a DIY homeowner, you can do it yourself for much less. 

I used to have this problem at my home. The house didn’t have gutters when I moved in. Water would run off the roof and splash into my beds. This would displace the mulch and splash mud all over. Installing gutters solved the problem. 

11. Regularly Maintain Your Garden

Regular maintenance can also help keep mulch in place. To start, you should keep the mulch clean. If you allow leaves and other debris to build up on the mulch, it can slow drainage or direct the water where you don’t want it to go. 

Once in a while, you should check your mulch to make sure it’s evenly spread and that all of your garden is covered. Cover any bare spots to reduce erosion. When the mulch gets thin, add a fresh layer on top of the old mulch.

When it’s raining, you should check your drainage once in a while. Make sure the water is flowing where you want it to. If you find some flooding, find a way to direct the water away from your mulch.

Some mulch will wash away if you experience heavy storms. It’s unavoidable. After the storm, you’ll have to rake the mulch back in place to keep your garden looking clean. 

12. Use a Soaker Hose

Sometimes irrigation can cause mulch to wash away. If you use a powerful sprinkler, it can create bare spots where the jet of water hits. It could also cause flooding if your beds don’t drain well or if you overwater. 

One solution to this problem is to use a soaker hose. This will gently water your plants without displacing any mulch. When you use the soaker hose, turn the water on low so the hose doesn’t cause flooding. 

13. Build a Rain Garden

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape where you divert rain water. It is designed to collect rainwater and slowly absorb it into the ground. This helps to prevent flooding and erosion in your yard. The water is diverted away from your mulch and into the rain garden. 

Most rain gardens are filled with natural plants, grasses, shrubs, and perennials. These plants help to soak up some of the water. The rest soaks into the ground over time. 

The first step in building a rain garden is choosing the right location. For best results, the rain garden should be placed on a naturally sloped section of your yard. An area that naturally experiences ponding would be a good spot to build a rain garden. 

For more info on rain gardens and how to build them, check out this guide.

14. Install a Windbreak to Prevent Your Mulch from Blowing Around

In windy areas, you might have trouble with your mulch blowing into your yard when there is a strong gust of wind. One way to prevent this is to build a fence around your property or plant some hedges as a windbreak. This will reduce the windspeed in your garden so your mulch doesn’t blow around quite as much. 

15. Cover Your Mulch With a Screen of Chicken Wire

This is really only a temporary solution if you’re expecting a major storm and flooding. You can protect your mulch by spreading some type of screen over the top of it to hold it in place. You could use chicken wire or some other type of metal mesh. 

Hold the mesh in place by placing some heavy rocks on the edges or driving some stakes into it. This mesh will hold your mulch in place and allow water to freely pass. It won’t float away. When the water recedes, remove the mesh.  

You would only want to do this in an emergency situation, such as a flood. It won’t look attractive but it will prevent your mulch from washing away. 

Final Thoughts

Chances are, some mulch will wash away during a heavy storm if enough water flows over your mulch. You can greatly reduce this by taking some simple precautions. 

As you can see, there are plenty of different ways to keep your mulch in place. For most gardeners, the solution will be a combination of different techniques.

Start by choosing the correct mulch for your situation. Removing landscaping fabric and edging your gardens is a great solution for most cases. In areas where flooding is a problem, digging some trenches can really help. On sloped ground, a tackifier is a good solution.

What techniques do you use to prevent your mulch from floating away during storms? Share your experience in the comments below!

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