Mulch can make all the difference when it comes to gardening and landscaping. It conserves moisture in the soil, reduces weed growth, and adds to the visual appeal of a well-kept outdoor space.
But, for both experienced gardeners and greenhorns alike, knowing the amount of mulch needed for a project can be a bit tricky.
Whether you’re gardening on a small patio or have acres of land to landscape, having an accurate measurement of the amount of mulch you need is key. For bulk mulch buys, it is usually sold by the yard.
To help us figure out how much we need, we must answer one question: how many cubic feet are in a yard of mulch?
There are 27 cubic feet of mulch in a cubic yard. Knowing how many cubic feet of mulch are in a bag will help you calculate how many yards you need when buying in bulk.
If you’ve only ever bought mulch by the bag at the garden center, or if you’ve never undertaken a landscaping project at all before, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the idea of calculating how much mulch you need and then buying mulch in bulk.
Not to worry, these calculations are actually quite simple and I’ll tell you all about them and a lot more in this article…
A Yard of Mulch Refers to a Cubic Yard, not a Square Yard
Before we go any further along, we need to clear up one common point of confusion. A “yard” of mulch refers to a cubic yard and not a square yard, or areal yard.
This may seem obvious to some, but it’s important to clarify this point so that we don’t end up with the wrong amount of mulch for our project!
A cubic yard is the amount of mulch that would fit into a box 3 feet wide, 3 feet long and 3 feet deep. This is equal to 27 cubic feet.
So, when you buy mulch by the yard, you’re actually buying 27 cubic feet of mulch if it helps to think of it that way. Knowing this makes our conversions and calculations much simpler.
On the other hand, it is still important to understand a square yard, since you can map out the area you need to cover with mulch by that metric.
A square yard is an area 3 feet wide and 3 feet long. So, if you need to cover a 12 foot by 12 foot area with mulch, your calculations could be based on 4 square yards.
Now, knowing that let us move on.
How Can You Calculate How Many Cubic Yards of Mulch You Have from Cubic Feet?
It is easy to convert cubic feet to cubic yards and vice versa. To calculate how many cubic feet of mulch are in a cubic yard, you’ll need to use a simple conversion factor.
To convert cubic feet to cubic yards, you need to divide the number of cubic feet you have by 27. That’s it! This is because one cubic yard is equal to 27 cubic feet.
So, the conversion formula is:
Cubic Yards = Cubic Feet ÷ 27
For example, if you have 81 cubic feet of material that you want to convert to cubic yards, you would simply divide 81 by 27, like this:
81 ÷ 27 = 3 cubic yards
Therefore, 81 cubic feet is equivalent to 3 cubic yards.
Going the other way, to convert cubic yards to cubic feet, you multiply the number of cubic yards by 27. For example, if you have 2 cubic yards of mulch, you would multiply 2 by 27 to get:
2 x 27 = 54 cubic feet of mulch
So, 2 cubic yards of mulch is equivalent to 54 cubic feet of mulch. Not as hard as you might have been thinking, eh?
How Many Bags of Mulch Are in a Yard?
Figuring out how many bags of mulch are in a cubic yard is super simple if you know what a given bag contains.
This is important info for preliminary calculations when working up your estimate.
Most bags of mulch sold in the US, of any kind, contain 2 cubic feet of material. Therefore, one cubic yard would contain 13.5 bags of mulch:
13.5 bags x 2 (cubic feet per bag) = 27 cubic feet.
That means a total of 27 bags are needed for two yards of mulch, or 54 for four yards, and so on. Easy. If you’re buying larger bags, or smaller, just plug in the volume (in cubic feet) above.
But, don’t take this for granted and always, always check the volume of the bags if you are buying bulk bagged mulch!
Keep in Mind that the Type of Mulch Affects Coverage
The type of mulch you buy plays a huge role in how effectively it covers the ground in your garden or landscaping.
Organic and inorganic mulches have different textures, structural densities, durability, and coverage areas, which affect the ground cover.
Organic mulches include natural materials that were previously living, such as wood chips, leaves, and straw.
They are typically lighter and fluffier compared to inorganic types, leaving more space for air pockets between the materials.
They provide excellent coverage ground coverage and prevent soil erosion. Organic mulch covers ground areas effectively, but it also has varying density.
Different types, for instance, large barks and small wood chips have unique textural differences. Smaller materials typically settle more swiftly, reducing their ground cover.
Inorganic mulches don’t decompose and maintain their original structure over time, providing an extended service life compared to organic materials.
Synthetic materials like rubber and natural material like stone are readily available in garden centers, and are popular owing to their durability and low upkeep requirements.
Ground coverage with inorganic mulch material is typically effective since it doesn’t settle as readily as organic types, and covers a broad range of locations.
Still, the density of inorganic mulch can affect its coverage because the materials are often highly compact.
Understanding the structural differences and characteristics of mulch types can further inform your estimate.
Effective Coverage Might Mean You Need More or Less Mulch
And on that note, remember that you don’t always need a 3” deep bed of mulch.
For decorative purposes, and combined with a good bed liner, 1 ½ inches of mulch might be totally satisfactory from an aesthetic standpoint. But if you want to put down mulch for weed suppression you’ll need a much thicker layer.
This will have a big impact on the amount you need, so do some testing and figuring before you order!
How Can You Figure Out How Many Cubic Yards of Mulch You Need?
To figure out how many cubic yards you need for your project, your first need to know how much effective coverage, in square feet, you’ll get from a known quantity of mulch.
I like to use a single bag of mulch (2 cubic feet) since this is the common size and it is easy to extrapolate from there.
For example, let’s say a single bag of mulch covers 10 square feet, and you have a total area of 500 square feet to cover.
To figure out how many cubic yards of mulch you need, divide 500 by the 10 square feet per bag:
500 ÷ 10 = 50 bags
Then multiply the number of bags times 2 (the amount of mulch in a cubic foot) to get the total number of cubic feet needed.
50 x 2 = 100 cubic feet
Next, divide that result by 27 (the amount of cubic feet in a cubic yard) to get the total number of cubic yards:
100 ÷27 = 3.7 cubic yards
Therefore, you need approximately 3.7 cubic yards of mulch to effectively cover your 500 square foot area.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.