Mulch can be a wonderful landscaping material. It adds a bit of color and texture, reduces weeds, and even helps plants retain moisture during the dog days of summer. It can be made of pine, cedar, cypress, oak rubber, and other materials.
And, rather than buying individual bags, shoppers can purchase it in bulk units known as yards. But how much exactly is a yard of mulch? This guide will answer that question and explain more about this practical landscaping product.
How Does Mulch Volume Work?
Retailers and suppliers sell mulch in one or two forms: by the bag or by bulk units (think: loose mulch dropped in the bed of a truck). Both are available in “yards,” the unit used to describe the volume of mulch.
A yard, in this case, measures 3 feet long by 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep. This equates to 27 cubic feet, and it’s commonly how bulk mulch is measured. If a customer shows up to a mulch supplier and asks for a yard of mulch, the supplier will load their truck with 27 cubic feet of the mulch of their choice.
Mulch is also available in individual bags from big-box retailers and home centers. These bags typically contain 2 cubic feet of mulch, though smaller sizes are available. To make a full yard of mulch, one would have to purchase at least 27.5 bags of mulch. This is often the least cost-effective method to purchase mulch, but it does make sense for folks who transport their mulch in a car or SUV.
How Do You Calculate Mulch?
While purchasing in bulk or by the bag is a decision each homeowner needs to make on their own, they still need to know how much mulch they need. The following formula should help them determine the mulch needs for their space.
- Measure the length of the garden or flower bed in feet (round up to the nearest foot)
- Measure the width of the garden or flower bed in feet (round up to the nearest foot)
- Determine the desired depth of the mulch in inches (this is typically between two to four inches)
- Multiply the length by the width to find the area
- Multiply the area by the desired depth (2, 3, or 4 inches, typically) to find the volume
- Divide the volume by 324 to determine the number of cubic yards required.
As an example, let’s use a standard raised bed measuring 4 feet wide by 8 feet long. We want to prevent weeds from growing but still allow enough water to reach the plant's roots, so 3 inches of mulch should do the job. Here’s the formula in action:
- 4 x 8 = 32
- 32 x 3 = 96
- 96 / 324 = .30 (rounded up from .296)
- .30 = just under ⅓ yard of mulch
It’s unlikely that a supplier will sell ⅓ of a yard of mulch to a customer. So buying mulch by the bag may make sense in this case. Given that 1/3 of a yard of mulch is 9 cubic feet, the customer will require 4.5 bags of mulch.
How Much Does a Yard of Mulch Cost?
The general cost for a yard of mulch is typically between $30 and $150, with the most popular types (dyed red or black mulch) costing around $40. There are a lot of factors that go into determining the cost, however—some of which can drive the price to over $200 per yard.
The wood species the mulch is made of is the most important factor to consider. Some species are more rot- and bug-resistant, while others may be more readily available, both affecting their prices.
- Undyed pine mulch is typically the least expensive option, costing around $30 per yard in bulk.
- Dyed mulch has to go through the dying process and, as a result, often costs $5 to $10 more per cubic yard, so roughly $40.
- Playground mulch, which is ground at a sawmill to be smoother and less likely to cause splinters or serious injuries, may cost between $50 and $60 per yard, even in undyed form.
- Cedar mulch, which is less readily available than pine mulch and much more bug resistant, may run as much as $100 per yard.
Rubber mulch made from recycled materials like tires is much more expensive than wood mulch. However, rubber mulch is very soft and will last for years without fading.
Rubber mulch isn’t readily available in bulk, so bags are the most common way to purchase it. Bags of rubber mulch are more expensive than wood and typically contain much less volume. The typical rubber mulch bag is only .8 cubic feet, requiring 33.75 bags to make up a full yard.
Bags or Bulk?
Purchasing mulch by the bag is rarely cost-efficient, regardless of the material type. A 2-cubic foot bag of dyed wood mulch costs between $4 and $6 per bag. Considering that it takes 14.5 bags of mulch to make a yard, costs range from $58 to $87 per yard. Rubber mulch starts at around $6 per .8 cubic feet bag, costing $202.50 to make a yard.
Conversely, the most economical way to purchase mulch is in large quantities. Suppliers may be willing to give discounts to customers purchasing 20 yards or more of mulch. Each company’s discount is different, but they may also discount delivery fees for full dump truck loads.
DIY or Professional Installation?
Mulching is definitely a DIY-friendly job. However, folks with bad backs, busy schedules, or huge gardens may choose to hire the job out to a contractor. For a fee, these contractors will load up the mulch, drive it to the property, and install it in the beds.
The average cost of installing mulch is approximately $0.20 per square foot of garden bed. However, the desired depth will also factor into the cost, with thicker mats of mulch costing a few pennies more per square foot.
So, for our 32-square foot garden bed, the cost would be roughly $6.40 to install the mulch, right? Probably not. There is likely a minimum amount required for mulch installation, and it’s rarely less than $50. So, if the job is small, it’s likely worth installing yourself. However, for several yards of mulch, it may be worth paying for installation.
That wraps up the most important need-to-know info on mulch, including volume, types, and associated costs. Call around to local mulch suppliers to compare prices and be sure to ask about discounts for large orders if you need it. But next time someone asks, “how much is a yard of mulch?” you’ll have an answer for them.