Preventing Mulch from Washing Away 10 Methods that Work

Mulch is the gardener’s and landscaper’s best friend. It can add a touch of class and beauty to virtually any property, and it also serves several vital purposes when it comes to squashing weeds and helping to keep moisture in the soil so that it can help your plants.

root crops planted under leaf mulch in raised bed
root crops planted under leaf mulch in raised bed

The problem with mulch is it has a horrible tendency to wash away anytime there are heavy rains, ponding, minor flooding and other surface water events.

Not only can this make the rest of your yard look pretty bad, but you’ll have to waste time and effort cleaning up and recollecting the mulch to redeposit it in your beds where you want it. Talk about a pain!

The best thing you can do is try to keep your mulch from washing away in the first place. There are lots of ways to do that, and I’ll tell you about 10 of the best ones down below…

What Can I Use to Keep Mulch In?

You can use all sorts of things to keep mulch in, from purpose-designed edging and barriers to improvised tools that are perfect for coping with severe weather.

Of course, sometimes the reductive approach is best, and removing dirt and other obstacles that are directing the water towards your mulch instead of away from it is all that it takes to keep your beds looking good and your mulch safe and sound.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and many more ways than that to keep your mulch in place.

What Kind of Mulch Doesn’t Wash Away?

I hate to disappoint you, but every single kind of mulch can wash away when subjected to enough water moving quickly enough.

Water exerts a ton of force, but considering most typical rainfall events small stones, gravel and even heavy recycled rubber, mulch is less likely to float away because it is so much denser than typical wood mulch or pine straw.

However, if you have your heart set on using wood and all other considerations be damned, choose a dense variety that is not prone to floating, like oak, holly, ash or, best of all, beech. Be prepared to pay for these nice hardwood mulches!

How Can You Keep Mulch from Washing Off a Hillside?

This is one of the most difficult tasks if you’re trying to protect your mulch from washing away. Hillsides, or rather any sloped surfaces, give water maximum advantage over your mulch.

The water will be moving much faster and your mulch will be significantly less stable. That’s a recipe for seeing all of your mulch go bye-bye.

You do have a few options, though, ones we will discuss in more detail below. You can try, for example:

  • hitting the mulch with adhesive to lock all the pieces together
  • channeling the water around the mulch
  • or installing it sturdy edging to block and redirect the water or reducing the slope that the mulch is resting on to give it a better chance of staying put

That’s all the preamble, let’s get to the actual methodology.

10 Ways to Prevent Your Mulch from Washing Away

1. Address Ponding

One of the single biggest killers of nice, tidy mulch beds is ponding. You know that spot on your property where, every time it rains, even a little bit, you have a large puddle or a small pond there? That’s what we are talking about.

If this ponding occurs anywhere you have placed mulch, virtually every kind of mulch except stone or the heaviest rubber we’ll begin to shift or even just float away entirely.

Sure, if the ponding isn’t too bad you can just make it a point to go out there, rake it up, and put it back after it’s over but who wants to keep going through that?

Instead, nip the problem in the bud by whatever means necessary.

You could try improving the drainage of the soil through cultivation and other means, or by using a combination of methods we were going to discuss in more detail below. Whatever it takes, stop the ponding and your mulch will stay put.

2. Add Edging and Barriers

One of the simplest, most effective and most direct methods for keeping your mulch from washing away is to install edging and barriers around it.

This can take the form of decorative stone, resin, plastic or other blocks, or even small runners that look like miniature fences.

You might even resort to the cheap and trusty rolled black edging that you can just drive into the ground around the perimeter of your beds.

All of them can do the job if they’re sturdy enough to resist moving water and tall enough to actually contain the mulch if ponding begins.

Speaking of ponding, edging won’t help at all in case of major flooding that breaks the banks of the edging, and if you don’t allow for drainage with whatever your edging solution is it might actually cause more ponding in your mulch beds.

But for stopping relatively weak moving surface water, edging is excellent and highly adaptable.

3. Increase Friction in Mulch Bed

This is a component of preventing washout that most people overlook. Increasing the friction that your mulch has with the ground can actually do quite a bit to prevent loss in cases of heavy rains and relatively slow-moving surface water.

How do you do that? Here’s the part that people won’t want to hear. Remove your bed liner or ground cover. I know, I know. I can hear some of you screaming already.

Yes, you might have a few more weeds to deal with but your mulch will have more friction with the ground and that can help to prevent it from washing away.

This isn’t nonsense, either. Most of those ground covers and bed liners are a slippery, satiny sort of fabric that basically turns into an oil slick when it gets wet and that means it’s an easy thing for your mulch to start slipping and sliding and then floating away entirely.

Don’t worry about the weeds, I’ve got a solution for those a little farther down…

4. Cut Trenches and Culverts to Direct Flowing Surface Water

Now we’re talking about more involved methods, but ones that are probably warranted if you constantly deal with fast-moving surface water.

Cutting trenches to direct water before it ever reaches your mulch beds will cut down on so much loss you won’t believe it. It works especially well in conjunction with edging.

Depending on where you live and how your property is situated, this might be an easy project or a major undertaking, so think through all the factors before you embark and start hacking up your grounds.

Keep in mind, too, that it might be possible to redirect the vast majority of the troublesome water far away from your beds and home.

The next time it rains really hard, take the time to go out in your raincoat and try to track down where the water really starts to gather strength. A little bit of diversion there might be just the ticket.

5. Employ Gutters, Downspouts and Drains to Redirect Water

For mulch beds near your home, gutters, downspouts and drains are your first and best defense against losing your mulch.

Water that comes cascading out of a short downspout elbow, or even worse rocketing over the edge of a roofline that doesn’t have a gutter at all, is going to play hell on your mulch.

Putting extensions on gutters to let the water discharge past your mulch beds is easily done with a few minutes’ time and might make all the difference.

Installing gutters is a little bit harder, but completely within the reach of anyone with even a little bit of DIY skill.

Lastly, for areas that get a ton of water consider the installation of below-ground drains, with the classic French drain being one of the best.

French drains have the advantage of evacuating the water off of the surface and away from the beds before it can accumulate and they maintain the appearance of your landscaping and other installations. Again, it can be done easily enough by a savvy homesteader.

6. Reduce Slope of Mulch Bed

Definitely a more involved option, and one that won’t be practical in all situations.

If your mulch bed is on a slope, there’s probably not much you can do to change the pitch of the hill or rise itself, but you can change the pitch of the mulch bed a little bit.

You might be able to raise and level the bed itself without spoiling the appearance of your landscaping, or just elevate it somewhat and bias the angle however it’s needed to take the edge off of the running water.

In extreme cases, if you have the time and the budget, you could terrace your beds (which usually look absolutely stunning) and will also protect it from washing away in conjunction with a little bit of edging.

7. Use Mulch Adhesive

Mulch adhesive is precisely what it sounds like: Glue for mulch, designed to hold it together. You probably look as shocked as I was when I first discovered it.

It sounds completely crazy, like why would anyone want to glue mulch together, but it’s actually pretty genius when you think about it.

By gluing your mulch together, or at least gluing most of it together, you go from a bunch of tiny, light pieces that will float away easily to one or more large, heavy pieces that will not float away easily.

If you have crafted a truly manicured look for your landscaping, and aren’t regularly replacing your mulch as you would say in a garden or raised vegetable beds, mulch adhesive is absolutely awesome.

You can get it at some well-equipped hardware stores and garden centers, or order it online at lots of outlets.

One more quick note, make sure to read the use instructions before you purchase.

Some require you to toss the mulch in the stuff before you lay it, others you can spray across already laid mulch or drizzle it on, and so forth. The method of application will make a difference for your situation!

8. Cover Mulch with Screen

If you have an emergency situation where serious rain or flooding is known to occur, you can prevent the worst of the damage and wait for the waters to recede by covering your beds with improvised screens made from chicken wire or other metal mesh and simple wooden edges.

You can then weigh or stake down these mesh covers to physically lock your mulch in place and prevent loss.

Done correctly, you don’t have to worry about the covers shifting or floating away, and you can depend on them to keep your mulch in place.

Obviously a hasty solution for emergency use; it would look quite tacky otherwise.

9. Add More Mulch

It might seem counter-indicated under the circumstances, but sometimes all you need to do to keep your mulch from floating away just add more of it.

Piling more mulch on top of your existing beds will help to weigh everything down and lock things together.

Even in cases where you lose a little bit of mulch there will be enough left where your beds still look presentable with a little raking and primping.

Also, adding more mulch can be done in conjunction with other methods, specifically improving friction by removing your ground liner.

Adding more mulch will increase the weed squashing capability of it hopefully preventing weeds from taking hold entirely, meaning you won’t miss the liner when it is gone.

10. Change Mulch for Different Type

The very last thing you can try, if all other methods have failed or they just aren’t practical for whatever reason is to change out your mulch for a heavier type that is less likely to float away.

If you live on a property that is especially flood prone or suffers terribly from fast-moving groundwater whenever it rains hard in your area, this might be your best bet for your property and your sanity.

Yeah, you might not like stones or pebbles as much as rich mahogany mulch, and heavy recycled rubber is no one’s idea of high-end, but either will do the job with far less tendency to be affected by water in all situations.

Don’t look at it like you are admitting defeat. Instead, think of it as winning the war on mulch loss in a different way!

How Do I Keep My Mulch from Blowing Around?

Keeping your mulch from blowing away is an entirely separate problem from preventing it from floating away.

Keeping it from blowing away is mostly a matter of installing what windbreaks you can, if possible, and choosing a type of mulch that’s less likely to blow away in a stiff breeze.

In an emergency, you can soak absorbent mulch with water to make it heavier, or cover it with a weighted screen or tarp as detailed above to help keep it in place.

You Can Stop Your Mulch from Floating Away with a Little Ingenuity

Losing mulch to surface water, flooding and other weather events is always a pain in the butt, but it’s not something you have to put up with if you employ the right techniques and the right hardware to stop it.

I guarantee you; at least one of the options on this list will improve the situation.

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