Should You Till Mulch Into a Vegetable Garden?

If you’ve embarked on a mission to mulch your vegetable garden, you’ve made the right choice! Mulching has numerous benefits for your garden soil and the vegetables you grow. However, you don’t want to undo all that good with an outdated practice like tilling. 

You should not till mulch into a vegetable garden. Tilling can weaken soil, disrupt organic matter in your soil, and cause soil compaction. Mulch is a beneficial addition to your garden soil, but there are other ways you can add it in without causing damage. 

Below, we will talk about the pros and cons of tilling and some alternative methods for adding mulch to your vegetable garden. Then, I will explain why adding mulch can be so beneficial for your veggies. 

The Pros and Cons of Tilling 

To be completely transparent, tilling does have a few benefits that it could offer your garden. It can help to aerate your soil and help loosen it for planting. However, the benefits do not outweigh the consequences, especially with so many other tactics that work just as well with the same labor. 

Tilling has been proven to weaken the aggregates that store water and nutrients, make you lose organic matter, and damage soil quality over some time

No-till farming does require a little more work than tilling. Typically, you’ll need to cut your plants just above the soil rather than pulling them from the soil below to ensure your soil is getting organic material. 

Additionally, you can utilize other methods for weeds, like cover crops or crop rotation. It will take a little work on your end to problem-solve the things that drove you to tillage, but your soul will thank you in the long run.

How Do I Add Mulch to My Garden?

Many people think tilling is necessary before you add mulch to your garden. As we discussed above, tilling can be detrimental to the composition of your soil. Instead of tilling to add mulch, you can follow a few simple steps.

You can add mulch to your garden by spreading layers manually or with a shovel directly over your garden bed. Remove any weeds and make sure the soil is sufficiently moist before putting the mulch down. You can buy tools like a wheelbarrow or rake to make this process go quicker.

Depending on the size of your garden, you may need some extra support in spreading mulch. Small gardeners will be able to spread their mulch just by sprinkling layers over their garden, while a farmer may need to utilize other tools. Below, I’ll talk about the step-by-step process for mulching and offer some recommendations for supplies. 

Picking Your Mulch 

Picking your mulch is as much about what it looks like as it does. Some people opt for darker mulches for an aesthetic look, while others may choose lighter mulches to match their garden. 

You want to find high-quality, organic mulch packed with microorganisms. Additionally, depending on your budget, you’ll need enough to cover the entirety of your gardening space.

I’d recommend looking over a few options for mulches and going with the one that hits your priorities. Consider your budget, aesthetic appeal, and the quality of the mulch when checking. Then, make sure you can get enough to cover everything that needs to be covered. 

Decide what you want your mulch to do the most, then find the best product for you. You can find mulch at gardening stores and home improvement stores. 

Preparing Your Gardening Bed 

Tilling might be your first instinct when preparing your gardening bed but get to the root (pun intended) of why your gut reaction is to till. Is it because it makes for an easy way to aerate your garden, pull up weeds, and open up the soil?

There are ways to do this without tilling, and they’ll be much easier in your garden. Pull up weeds and matter with gloves. Make sure to avoid your living plants when you do this. You could also gently rake your garden, which is vastly different from the process of tilling. 

To prepare your garden bed, make sure whatever is in the garden you want remains. Mulch is excellent for suffocating out weeds, but it’ll be easier to do this if you get the living weeds out first. Additionally, ensure your garden has a nice amount of water because mulching can absorb excess hydration. 

Applying Mulch 

Once your garden bed is prepared, you can start to apply your mulch. 

You can add mulch to your garden by spreading layers over the surface of your soil. For large spaces, you may consider putting mulch into your wheelbarrow and dumping it over portions of your garden, then using a rake to spread the mulch out across the surface area of your garden. 

This video shows what this might look like:

In the video, you can see that different methods work for different-sized gardens. With a small gardening bed, you may get away with just simply dumping the mulch onto the garden and spreading. 

For extensive gardens, you can also throw portions of mulch with a shovel to reach those hard-to-reach areas and prevent needing to push your wheelbarrow through soil (which may cause compaction). 

Using Other Tools for Mulching

If you still need some more support with mulching, there are quite a few tools online that are made just for that purpose. Additionally, check out this video to see what a professional landscaper does when mulching large areas:

In general, you might need:

  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Rake
  • Gardening gloves 

I’ve seen some use their snow shovel to mulch because it can carry large amounts of heavy matter. Digging it into the soil and pulling up the dirt is more similar to tilling and can damage your soil in the same way. Additionally, a leaf rake will work fine for pulling weeds and sticks as long as you’re using it gently and avoiding the plants already in your garden. 

Should I Add Mulch to My Vegetable Garden?

Mulching happens to be a staple of no-till gardening. So, if you’ve decided that no-tilling means no-mulching, I hope you’ll reconsider. Mulching has numerous benefits for your garden, even if it does take a bit extra work to get it in.

You should add mulch to your garden, as it suppresses weeds, adds organic matter, and regulates the temperature of your soil. Additionally, in the off-season, mulch will protect the surface layer of soil from compaction and erosion. It is also a great way to boost your vegetable garden. 

The Mulch and No-Till Connection

Tilling has become an outdated and often harmful practice. The practice, which is often referred to as plowing on a larger scale, is a practice that dates back nearly one hundred years

As more farmers and backyard gardeners go no-till, they’ll find that mulch is one of the ways you can replace tilling in your standard gardening practices. But why is this?

Mulching replaces digging because it adds all the goodies up top that you’d expect from turning the soil down low. Using mulch adds nutrients and gives you more fertile soil while also suffocating your weeds. 

What Mulch Does to Gardens

It may be counterintuitive to till mulch into your garden because mulching often replaces tilling practices in organic, no-till gardening. However, mulching benefits extend beyond how you get it into the ground. Mulching is great for:

  • Suppressing weeds
  • Adding organic matter
  • Preventing compaction
  • Regulating soil temperature 

In addition, you can add mulch to your garden to create organic pathways and add an aesthetic appeal to your space. 

Suppressing Weeds 

With a layer of mulch over the top layer of soil in your garden, weeds will have a difficult time germinating on the surface layer of your soil. Pulling weeds can be a huge time consumer in the garden and damage your plants as weeds tend to suffocate your less-healthy vegetables and flowers. 

You don’t want to use chemical weed killers when growing fruits and vegetables. These could not only kill your vegetables but could get onto the vegetables and fruits you intend to eat. Mulching is a great non-chemical alternative to weed suppression. 

Adds Organic Matter 

Mulch is filled with nutrients and organic matter to support the health and vitality of your garden plants. Organic matter is vital to a successful garden. Adding mulch can help balance and regulate your soil pH, which determines how many of the nutrients in your soil are accessible to your plants. 

Vegetables love nutrients and organic matter. Peppers, tomatoes, squash, and eggplants benefit significantly from mulch. 

Prevents Compaction 

Soil compaction makes gardening all the more difficult, especially when gardening fruits and vegetables. You’ll know your soil has become compacted, often from overwatering or too much pressure on the surface by vehicles or feet, when the soil sticks together so tight that nothing can get through. 

As a result, your plants will have difficulty digging their roots, the soil will have a hard time absorbing water, and organic material will have trouble surviving.

Mulch can support your garden by absorbing excess water and protecting the top layer of soil during adverse weather. Putting mulch down in the fall or early winter will protect your garden from the snow, which will give you more time to focus on the actual gardening come spring. 

You can read my other article on fixing soil that doesn’t absorb any water here: How to Fix Soil That Doesn’t Absorb Any Water

Regulates Soil Temperature 

As mentioned above, mulch can support your garden in absorbing extra water. It can also help to regulate the temperature of your garden, both insulating in cold weather and shading in warm weather. 

Some vegetables are susceptible to temperatures, like peppers, so regulating temperature with mulch can mean a bountiful harvest once your plant has produced its fruit. 

Final Thoughts

Mulching is a terrific idea for your vegetable garden. It provides temperature regulation, helps prevent soil compaction, adds beneficial microorganisms to your soil, and can help suppress weeds. 

However, tilling mulch into your garden may be counter-intuitive. Tilling has many consequences for gardens, and though it may be convenient for a season, these consequences often show up over time. 

You should consider traditionally adding mulch with a shovel, wheelbarrow, and rake before you consider tilling if you want your garden to get all of the positive benefits of mulching without any consequences.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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