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Can You Burn Old Mulch? (And What’s the Best Disposal Method?)

Can You Burn Old Mulch? (And What’s the Best Disposal Method?)

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It is an excellent time of the year to get outside and do some spring cleaning in your yard or garden before your plants and trees spring back to life. There is so much to do if you are cleaning out old limbs and raking leaves.

Perhaps you find that you have lots of mulch that is beyond its usefulness — it is faded by the sun, has washed away, has fungus growing on it, or you want to start fresh. So do you burn it? How can you get rid of it?

This article will help answer these questions for you, plus it will give you a general guide for why you would get rid of mulch, how you do so, and some of the best care instructions for your mulch.

Why Would You Remove Old Mulch?

That’s a great question because it is a lot of trouble to remove the old mulch. Mulch can do a lot of great things but also can contain bacteria, fungi, and other diseases that can harm your plants.

If you spread too much mulch, it can also become harmful or keep young plants from growing properly. Most people remove their mulch in the spring, so that young plants can grow at that time.

For the best results, ask yourself, why is this mulch here, and what is it trying to accomplish for the garden? For most of this article, the focus is going to be on mulch that biodegrades. But recognize that some people call small pebbles and stones mulch as well.

For this article, the focus is on the most common kinds of mulch that are used in backyard areas.

What Are the Best Ways to Remove Mulch?

A few steps and you are done, but it is not usually suggested to be a one-day project — for your sake and your garden’s.

  1. Remove mulch by hand. Wear gloves because of the problems noted above that your mulch may contain. This step is the part of the mulch removal process that usually is best done over several weeks to give your plants a chance to adjust and not be damaged by sunlight now that they are unprotected.
  2. Use an edger to loosen mulch in places where it is stuck. Thankfully, this often happens around the edges of your garden, so it is a perfect task for an edger to accomplish.
  3. Break up the mulch into clumps. You can then rake clumps into piles. Leave as much soil in place as you can.
  4. Scoop the piles of mulch. It is best to place them into a container, in a wheelbarrow, or on a tarp.
  5. Carefully brush the mulch away from the base of plants. Pick it up with your gloved hand, or you can blow away small bits quickly with a leaf blower.
  6. Dispose of your old mulch in the trash or leaf bags for disposal. Do not burn the mulch!

Why Not Burn Mulch?

Bottom line: mulch is combustible. It can be easily ignited by smoking materials, for example. Hundreds of fires begin this way annually. Small fires can turn into big ones quickly too, and homes are at risk because of this.

In fact, many places have codes that limit how close mulch can be placed to buildings because of its combustible properties.

For example, one mulch fire in Massachusetts was a $6.7 million loss. The fire started from a smoking material being discarded in a mulch bed.

Safety Guidelines

Homeowners rarely worry about mulch in the way commercial properties do. Consider some of these standard practices that properties use to help you better watch out for potential mulch fires.

  • The standard is to keep mulch 18 inches away from materials such as wood (including decks) and vinyl siding.
  • Rock or pea stone gravel is a better choice to use next to your home or around gas meters, HVAC units, and decks.
  • Do not smoke around mulch. It is too risky!
  • Keep mulch beds moist. This moisture helps your plants, but it also keeps down any fire hazard, especially during dry seasons.

If You Smoke

Please remember the following if you smoke:

  • Properly dispose of your smoking materials.
  • Do not discard smoking materials in mulch or any potted plant.
  • Wet butts before throwing them out.
  • Never dispose of a cigarette out of a car window. It is a fire risk, and it is illegal to do so.

How Mulch Fires Start

  • Mulch can smolder under the surface for some time before bursting into an open flame.
  • Remember that mulch is combustible. If it is piled deep, it can spontaneously catch fire on its own.
  • Mulch fires start quickly when the weather is hot and dry.

How to Store and Spread Mulch

  • Large piles of mulch can spontaneously combust. The distance between mulch piles keeps a fire from spreading from one pile to another. Check your area’s regulations for mulch storage.
  • Never spread mulch more than three inches thick. It is wise to spread it thinner than that so that your plants and trees can breathe and get the water they need.

Please dispose of much correctly, and do not consider burning mulch for all the alarming reasons mentioned above.


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