10 Ways to Keep Mulch from Washing Away

No matter how crisp you’re at home’s exterior looks, no matter how nice the landscaping is, it just isn’t finished until you’ve mulched it.

solarized garden soil after tarp is removed
When I remove the tarp, all that is left is dead surface material and the leaves I used as mulch under the tarp.

There’s something almost indefinable about mulch when it comes to beautifying a landscape. It just adds crispness and class to any property.

It also serves very practical purposes by helping to eliminate weeds and other unwanted plants from growing, and keeping more moisture in the soil so your plants stay hydrated.

Lots of benefits, but mulch comes with one big drawback and that is its tendency to float away whenever it rains or floods.

Aside from being an annoying cleanup job and making your property look a little shabbier, you’ll also be wasting money because you have to replace the mulch.

I say enough is enough; it’s time to protect mulch from washing away with these tips…

What Sorts of Things Can Keep Mulch in Place?

Before we get to the actual list of methods, it might be helpful to look at what we can use to help keep our mulch in place. The good news here is that you have lots of options.

You can use your standard issue roll edging to help hold mulch in place, wood, resin, or concrete barriers and a lot more that can add beauty and functionality at the same time.

On the other hand, you might be forced to resort to DIY solutions or improvised methods in a pinch.

Sometimes you don’t have the time or money to buy something nice from the garden center, or you need to whip something together fast to help keep your mulch in place during suspected bad weather.

Both of these approaches can work, and you’ll see both on our list below. With that out of the way, let’s get right to it.

1. Deal With Ponding Water

As with so many things we have to deal with in life, as boring as it is prevention is always the best cure as the saying goes. The same goes for our mulch beds.

The first thing you should do before we tackle the problem directly is to assess your property.

Notice anywhere where you always have standing water? Especially standing water that’s near the mulch beds?

Yeah, that’s a problem, because if ponding occurs where the mulch is, it is going to start floating. That’s just the way it is unless you have some really heavy mulch.

Eliminating this ponding will keep it in place, though if you have a heavy type of mulch or if the ponding is limited to an area very near your mulch beds you might ignore it and just rake the mulch back into place- assuming it is not too bad or too frequent!

2. Make Sure You Have Adequate Downspouts and Drainage

Like I said, the water gets into the ground from somewhere, and if it isn’t falling directly onto the surface, it is cascading off of your roof or the roofs of nearby buildings.

Likewise, it might sit on the ground and accumulate for a while before it overflows and starts moving.

This is where making sure your gutters, downspouts, and above or below-ground drains are up to par. If you’re letting a literal waterfall pound your mulch as it comes off of your roof, no wonder you’re losing a lot of it.

Likewise, this cascading water that accumulates near your home is going to affect most if not all of your mulch beds.

A comprehensive approach here is usually best. Install gutters, downspouts, and drain pipes that are above or below ground that will direct and discharge this water well away from your mulch.

If you have chronic water problems near your home, it probably calls for a solution like a French drain.

I know this sounds like a major project, but you be surprised how easy it is to DIY these solutions…

3. Redirect Water with Trenches, Ditches and Culverts

Another preventative method, and one that’s a little more involved than eliminating ponding but still equally important and effective.

Depending on the topography of your property and the path that the surface water likes to take generally, you might have fast-moving water that can absolutely sweep your mulch away wherever you happen to have it.

The water might be coming onto your land from a neighboring property or originating on your property if you aren’t managing it correctly.

Whatever the case, it’s easier to work with the water than try to eliminate it in such scenarios.

Cutting trenches, ditches, and culverts can route the majority of the water away from the vulnerable areas where your mulch is, and give you control over the problem.

You might not even need a ditch that is very deep. Consider this if aesthetics aren’t a big issue or if the amount of water is really substantial.

4. Install Edging on Beds

Another elementary solution, but one that you would be surprised at how many people omit or forget about.

Installing a physical barrier around your mulch beds is going to keep the mulch in place until the water rises high enough to lift it over your edging.

As detailed above, edging can take the form of a rolled material that you can drive into the ground, interlocking connectors made out of plastic or metal, or even stuff that is more decorative and made out of resin, concrete or stone.

All of them are adequate, it’s just a matter of how much weight you want to move and how much you care to spend.

You can even make your own simple edging in the form of a miniature picket fence if you have the time and materials.

Obviously edging only works to a point, and if you’re dealing with major flooding, even the most aesthetically pleasing edging won’t be tall enough to keep it in place.

Make sure you allow for drainage so you’re edging doesn’t actually cause ponding where the mulch is.

5. Try Mulch Adhesive

This is one of my favorite solutions for dealing with mulch that always gets carried away, and one that a lot of homeowners and homesteaders don’t even know about.

Mulch adhesive is exactly what you’re imagining, nothing more than an adhesive (usually a spray), that can glue your mulch to itself and to the ground or your bed liner.

If you are scratching your head at this, consider that you are basically turning your mulch from a bunch of tiny, lightweight things that can easily float away to one, big thing that is much heavier and less prone to floating away.

It works like a charm and requires very little work to execute. It makes things a little bit more annoying when it’s time to take up the mulch, but assuming you are just periodically refreshing or adding to it, you can put down a fresh coating of the glue and then dump the new stuff right on top of it.

Once it dries, it will look perfect and pristine for a good long while. Two nice benefits in one product!

6. Just Add More Mulch

A somewhat counterintuitive method but one that’s nonetheless pretty effective, simply piling on more mulch might prevent it from floating away in the first place or at least prevent significant damage.

It makes sense when you give it more thought: adding even more mulch is going to add more weight to the pile overall, and that weight will help to keep the majority of the mulch pressed down, and also increase the friction between the individual pieces overall.

This is an especially good method to use in conjunction with others on this list for maximum effectiveness.

At the very least, adding more mulch and making your beds deeper means you won’t be left with a scraggly, patchy bed if a little bit does get carried off. Another benefit is that it makes weeds and grass much less likely to take root in the bed.

7. Cover with Chicken Wire

An improvised method that works for dealing with occasional serious flooding or heavy rainfall that you know or suspect will be coming.

It’s possible to DIY a sort of frame or side rails that you can use to hold a large panel of chicken wire that will fit over your mulch beds from edge to edge.

So long as they are weighed or staked down, your mulch isn’t going anywhere.

This is a great option for dealing with some significant flooding, and works like a charm to prevent you from losing even a single piece to mere heavy rain.

The obvious drawback, of course, is that you have to manually deploy and take up each screen for each mulch bed and the fact that this is a terrible eyesore, so it’s not something you can leave in place…

Nonetheless, for flood-prone properties that don’t experience an actual disaster, these work wonderfully and will save you tons of time on the back end.

8. Try Denser Mulch

If you’re putting down mulch for the first time, or if you are replacing your existing mulch with something new, try using a denser, heavier mulch that is simply less likely to get carried away by the water.

I know this is painful to hear for those of us who like our cheap and pretty wood mulches, but wood floats and several kinds of lightweight softwoods, like pine, are notorious offenders.

Luckily, there are many types of mulch out there that won’t float at all or are only vulnerable to being swept away by large volumes of fast moving water.

Recycled rubber is a good choice, even if it can be expensive and sometimes tacky looking, but you might decide to give up on wood entirely and go with river rock, pumice, or pebbles.

9. Remove the Bed Liner

I know this is absolutely blasphemy to some people, but if you were constantly dealing with your mulch shifting and skittering around whenever it rains, it might be your bed liner or ground cover that’s causing it. In such a case, you might consider removing it.

Please don’t shoot me: if you use a plastic bed liner, that stuff gets really slippery whenever it gets wet and because it gets slippery the mulch has less traction on the surface below and that means it is more likely to get loose, start sliding, and then start floating.

I know, you’re probably worried about weeds and grass starting in your mulch, but if you use good control methods and avoid spraying grass clippings into your beds you shouldn’t have a problem.

In any case, there are other ways to deal with them, like using cardboard panels or something that offers more friction even when wet while still blocking weeds.

10. Reduce Slope

If the mulch is located directly on a hillside or other slope, or if you have a torrent of water racing down the same to demolish your mulch, the best prevention might be to reduce the slope if at all possible.

How practical and even achievable this is depends entirely on your property itself. For some of us, leveling out a hillside might as well be moving a mountain.

Conversely, it might be possible to terrace a mulch bed on that same hillside to spare it from the worst of the water.

Where there is a will, there’s a way, so don’t write off this method until you really understand what’s achievable and if it’s even worth trying.

Is There Any Kind of Mulch That Won’t Wash Away?

Pretty much every kind will wash away under the right, or perhaps wrong, circumstances.

Even the heaviest mulch types I described above like stones and recycled rubber can get swept away by the power of moving water if there is enough of it and if it is moving fast enough.

That being said, heavier mulch is always an advantage and it have a much better track record of staying put in the case of simple heavy rain or even ponding.

Just know that moving surface water is going to be a major test for any mulch that comes into contact with.

How Can You Keep Mulch in Place on a Slope?

Like I alluded to above, if you have mulch located directly on a hillside you probably won’t have many options aside from trying to terrace the beds themselves.

Even then, chances are you’ll need it to use it in conjunction with sturdy and relatively tall edging to hold the mulch in place.

If that isn’t an option, the only other thing that you might try is using a combination of edging placed upslope in conjunction with trenches and drains to direct the flow of water around the mulch entirely.

Another potential option could be using mulch adhesive to lock it all together, and then putting a few strategic stakes or spikes throughout to basically pin the mulch down.

None of these options are guaranteed though, if you cannot terrace.

Is There an Easy Way to Recover Mulch That Washed Away?

It depends on how far it washes and where the water ends up. Generally speaking, if your mulch isn’t going very far, such as in the case of captive ponding, it’s easy enough to wait for it to dry out and then just rake it up.

With a little luck, you’ll only have to pick out a little bit of yard debris.

However, if your mulch is getting carried away, really carried away, when it rains or floods, then it’s almost certainly not worth your time and effort to try and collect it.

Just buy another bag of the stuff and replace it, and commit to doing better in the future using the tips I gave you above.

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