Do You Need To Pull Weeds Before Mulching?

Mulching is a fundamental component of maintaining a healthy, happy, and thriving garden. Mulch improves drainage, water retention and enhances the appearance of a garden bed; it also prevents weeds from growing, but do you need to pull weeds before mulching, or is mulching alone enough?

You should weed the desired area prior to mulching as it helps to prevent weed growth by reducing the sunlight that reaches the soil. This initial weeding allows the mulch to better control weeds, improve water retention, aesthetics, and compost the soil.

As with most agricultural and gardening endeavors, preparation is crucial to ensure the effective implementation of an intervention, such as mulching. But how does weeding actually benefit the mulching process? When can you leave weeds before mulching? And what happens if you do not weed first?

Weeding And Mulching, The Relationship Investigated

Weeding, mulching, composting, pest controlling, and watering all share in that they are essential for a healthy garden. We can obtain the most from our lawns and gardens by taking these proactive (sometimes reactive) measures and interventions

Although none of these are used in isolation from one another, there are some definitive relationships between certain interventions.

Below the relationship between weeding and mulching is investigated.

The Purpose Of Mulching

Mulching is, fundamentally, putting some sort of material over the soil as a type of cover.

This material (although not restricted to) is usually organic, and examples include:

  • Woodchips or chipped bark
  • Sawdust/wood shavings
  • Grass cuttings
  • Dried and shredded leaves
  • Shredded newspaper 
  • Pine needles
  • Straw 

There are several reasons for adding this layer over the soil in garden beds or other areas where landscaping is underway. These reasons include:

As the mulch decomposes, it further benefits the soil structure, adds nutrients, and improves drainage and nutrient retention. 

How Does Weeding Impact Mulching?

Although mulching plays a role in controlling weed re-growth, it is not 100% effective. Think of mulching as a band-aid. Depending on the “wound’s” severity, a simple band-aid alone may or may not be sufficient to control infection and facilitate healing.

However, if you add some antibacterial cream when used in conjunction with a band-aid, you will better facilitate your body’s healing capabilities.

The same principle applies to mulching. Mulching facilitates the soil; however, applying mulch alone will not be enough if there is an “infection” (weeds) in the soil. The underlying issue (the weeds) needs to be addressed and dealt with for the “salve” (mulch) on top to be fully effective in what it needs to do.

Mulching effectively controls weeds by blocking sunlight from reaching the soil and developing weeds. However, some persistent weeds will still manage to push their way through the two to three inches of mulch.

By weeding before mulching, the soil is prepared, and the likelihood of a weed problem is reduced.

What Type Of Weeding Should Be Conducted Before Mulching?

The weeding method to be conducted before mulching depends greatly on the weeds at hand. Some weeding methods include:

  • Hand pulling. If only a few small weeds are poking through the ground, then pulling them out by hand would be more than sufficient. This is often the best method for removing weeds, as there are no chemicals released into the soil. It also includes using a tool, like a spade or a hoe, to dig down to the roots of some weeds.
  • Herbicide application. If, however, there is a greater amount of weeds (bordering on an infestation), then a more effective solution would be to enlist the advantages of using herbicide. 

Herbicides come in different application methods and target different parts of the plant. The most commonly used are foliar spray types. These poisons are diluted with water, mixed in a spray applicator, and then sprayed on the leaves of the undesired plants. 

They are effective, but may also cause damage to other plants such as bushes or other plants in your bed(this is how you know you accidentally damaged a bush), so care must be taken during their use.

  • Pre-emergent herbicides. Once the initial clearing is completed, a pre-emergence herbicide should be applied to the area. These herbicides prevent weeds from germinating, and sprouts that do start to grow quickly die off. 

The effectiveness and length of time that this herbicide works for depends on several variables, but six months is a good guideline. Most pre-emergent herbicides are used in early spring before the weeds start growing.

  • Follow-up clearing. The reality is, even after you’ve gone through all the effort of weeding and mulching, weeds will still grow through the mulch (albeit not as many as pre-effort). Follow-up maintenance is critical in any garden bed or landscaping endeavor to ensure that an infestation does not occur.

The Benefits Of Weeding Before Mulching

  • Mulching provides the perfect moist, organic-rich conditions for growing weeds and funguses. Many of their seeds and spores are dispersed in the mulch, so by spraying a pre-emergent herbicide; you prevent weeds from ever becoming an issue.
  • Weeding reduces the seed bank within the soil and prevents future weed issues from arising, especially when adding mulch, in seasons to come.
  • Many weeds are strong competitors in terms of growing and reproducing. Prior weeding an area is a tremendous benefit to prevent these weeds from out-competing your desired plants. By removing the weeds before mulching, you allow your plants the best opportunity to grow.

Under Which Circumstances Could You Skip Weeding Before Mulching?

You may get away with not weeding before mulching in certain situations, including:

  • When using a synthetic cover below the mulching. If you lay black plastic or landscaping fabric over the soil before placing the mulch, then you may get away with not weeding first. These synthetic tools are ideal for isolating the soil from the mulch and preventing weeds from pushing their way up (though sometimes weeds do still manage to get through).
  • Planting a newly made bed. You may not need to weed before mulching, depending on what the “now” garden bed was before. i.e., if there was a cover of sorts on the ground, cement, a building, or grass that was cleared to make room for a new bed, weeding may be unnecessary.

What Happens If You Do Not Weed Before You Mulch?

Weeding is beneficial before mulching. It is, however, not critical to mulching. If you choose not to weed before mulching, you may run into a few issues afterward. Some of these issues include:

  • An infestation of weeds growing through the mulching. This is the “worst” case scenario; weeds push through the mulch in greater numbers and need to be controlled through pulling or spraying herbicide.
  • Should the weed problem be excessive, you may need to remove the mulch from the bed, clear the area, and then re-mulch.

By not pre-weeding an area that will be mulched, you often make double the amount of work for yourself. It is far more simple and effective to weed the area first to avoid this.


Mulching plays several important roles in garden bed management, including weed control. Mulching does, however, benefit from pre-weeding in improving the efficacy at which weeds are controlled. When weeding, it is important to use the appropriate control method and to use a post-emergence herbicide to prevent future weeds from sprouting. Follow-up weeding will also be required after mulching.

Manny Moore

Getting my hands dirty and building a place that me and my small family love is a driving factor for what I do and how I do it. I want to share what I have learned and practiced so that it is just that much easier for everyone to have another tool in their tool belt. Your home should be a place that you love and feel comfortable in and your backyard should be no different.

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