Spring Gardening Essentials: Mulch, Topsoil, and Compost

Spring is the time to rejuvenate the garden and prepare the soil for the months of growth ahead. Garden compost, mulch, and topsoil are an excellent way to enrich your soil, guaranteeing healthy plants. Our guide explains the nature, purpose, and benefits of using these gardening essentials for a much-needed spring makeover.


In short, mulch is any material used to cover the soil by spreading it on the ground or around plants.

Types of mulch and pros & cons

Different kinds of mulch fall into two main categories: organic and inorganic.

  • Organic: wood, tree bark, pine needles, and leaves. They help improve soil texture and add nutrients as they decompose. However, this means you need to replace them regularly.

  • Inorganic: natural (rocks, pebbles, or gravel) and synthetic (landscape fabrics and rubber mulch). These materials don’t decompose, so you don’t need to replace them as often, but they don’t contribute any beneficial elements to the soil.

Benefits of mulch

The purpose of spring mulching is firstly to retain moisture in the soil. Having “naked” soil makes it much harder to keep plants well-watered due to the soil’s constant exposure to wind, air, and sun. Secondly, mulch helps suppress weeds by preventing them from reaching the surface. Organic mulch also helps improve soil health as it breaks down. In addition, mulching helps combat soil erosion by limiting the dust that is blown away by winds and preventing soil from being washed away by heavy rain. Last but not least, mulch helps with aesthetics as well, so many gardeners use materials such as woodchip mulch to create beautiful shapes and patterns.

Common questions

Should I remove mulch in spring?

You don’t need to remove all your mulch in the spring if it’s organic. Two weeks before planting, gently remove the mulch from the area where you plan to sow your seeds or transplant young plants.  

How to mulch flower beds in spring?

Aim for a depth of about 3 inches (7.5 cm). If you over mulch, you risk issues such as water-logging, fungi, etc. If you under mulch, you may miss some of the benefits of mulching. Avoid ‘volcano mulching’: keep the mulch 3 inches (7.3 cm) away from the base of your plants and the trunks of trees to prevent plant rot and improve air circulation. You can use a bit of mulch to cover your drip irrigation, however, make sure you don’t bury them too deep to prevent access to it.


Topsoil is the upper layer of soil that contains the highest concentration of nutrients, absorbs water, and hosts microorganisms. It is where most of the biological activity on Earth takes place and it’s there that the majority of plants lay most of their roots.

Finding good topsoil

High-quality topsoil has a loose texture and crumbles between your fingers. It must feel gritty which indicates it contains minerals. It should be dark brown or black and have a sweet odour instead of an unpleasant, rotting smell. It should be free of stones, thick fibrous roots, weeds, and other contaminants. The best way to secure high-quality bagged topsoil is to get it from a reputable supplier that can guarantee it was responsibly sourced and delivers the promised benefits.


Topsoil facilitates healthy plant growth by providing a nutrient-rich environment. It helps water retention while also improving drainage, which in turn distributes moisture and oxygen equally to plant roots.

Common questions

How much topsoil do I need?

Topsoil has a minimum depth of 5 inches (13 cm) to as much as 10 inches (25 cm). To calculate the amount of topsoil you need, multiply the length and width of the area you wish to cover and multiply that by the desired depth. Use the same units of measurement. 

Let’s say you’d like to place 15 cm of topsoil in an area that’s 20 m by 5 m, it would be equal to: 0.15 m x 100 square metres = 15 square meters. Multiply square meters by 1000 to get liters: 15 sq. m. x 1000 = 15,000 liters. Divide this number by the size of the bags you’re purchasing, e.g.: 15,000 liters / 1000 liter/per bag = 15 bags.

Should you compact topsoil before laying turf?

You can use a roller to firm the soil and remove air pockets but don’t compact it too much, just lightly.


Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic materials used as a plant fertilizer. Composting is a great way to enhance soil while repurposing and minimizing home and garden waste. You can either purchase compost or prepare it yourself at home using one of the techniques described below.

Composting methods

There are generally two methods: cold (passive) and hot (active) composting.

Cold or passive composting requires little or no maintenance but is slower to produce results. It takes place in regular outdoor temperatures. This is an anaerobic process because microorganisms that do not need oxygen break down the waste through fermentation. As you keep adding to the top of your pile, the material at the bottom will be ready to use. The pile does not have to be aerated. Beware of diseased or insect-infested plants, or weeds that have gone to seed. How long does it take to make compost using this method? Overall, decomposing takes up to a year or two, depending on the type of materials and the size of the particles.

Hot or active composting requires more involvement on your end but the process is faster. It depends on four elements: carbon, nitrogen, water, and air, where the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is 2 to 1. This is considered aerobic composting since it’s oxygen-needing microorganisms  that are at work. An adequately built pile will heat up and reach temperatures of over 60°C. It can kill any pathogens or weeds present in the pile. You need to regularly turn the pile to improve oxygen supply and add water to maintain moisture levels. In warm weather, you can get compost in one to three months.


Composting has many benefits to the soil, such as improving soil health and boosting fertility. It breaks down slowly over time, providing a gradual supply of nutrients. In addition, it attracts beneficial organisms, reducing the need for pesticides. It also reduces the potential for soil erosion.

For your household, composting leads to reducing food waste, conserving water, etc. For the environment as a whole, it means fewer methane emissions from landfills, lower costs and carbon emissions required to process waste, better stormwater management, and more.

How to make compost at home

how to make compost at home 2

For your own home-made compost, follow these steps: 

  1. Choosing a compost bin

This depends on how much waste your household or garden produces, how much space you have available, and how much compost you need and how quickly.

Some of the more popular types of compost bins include: a plastic compost bin, plastic garden composter, compost tumbler, wooden composting bin, DIY bins made of four posts and wire, wormery, and kitchen composting bins (bokashi).

  1. Choosing a spot

For an outdoor composter, pick a dry area that is not too cold, ideally one that’s in light shade or gets a bit of sunshine. It needs to be level and well-draining too. Then, consider the distance to your house and to your garden. You want it to be far enough from the house, but not too far for you to walk to daily and empty your kitchen compost bin. Also, consider the fact that you’ll need to be able to reach your compost heap with a hose and transport your finished compost to your plants.

  1. Making hot compost

  • Place your compost bin directly on soil. You can put a few centimeters of branches and twigs at the bottom of the pile for aeration.

  • Combine green and brown materials. Some gardeners use a 1:1 ratio, while others recommend 3 parts brown to 1 part green.

    • - Brown materials (source of carbon): dried plants, fallen leaves, shredded tree branches, cardboard, newspaper, hay, straw, and wood shavings.

    • - Green materials (source of nitrogen): kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and fresh plant and grass trimmings.

  • Sprinkle water on top of the pile every few days. The recommended moisture levels are about 40-60%.

  • Moisture test: Take a handful of compost from the middle of the heap and squeeze it. It should feel like a sponge that has been wrung out. If water drips out, it’s too wet. If it crumbles, it’s too dry.

  • Turn your compost pile.

  • Tracking temperature: You can use a compost thermometer to monitor temperature and stir your pile when it goes below 55°C or above 70°C. To kill pathogens, you need to maintain 55°C for a minimum of 3 days.

  • Collect your finished compost in several weeks and you should have dark brown, crumbly compost. The pile will appear noticeably smaller even though you were adding layers to it.

  1. Making cold compost

  • Place your compost bin directly on the ground and put some brown material on the bottom.

  • As you place new material, alternate green and brown layers. You should always end with brown material on top or bury kitchen scraps in the centre of the pile in order to deter pests. 

  • You can turn the compost every week or two before adding new green layers. However, it’s possible to skip this step entirely.

  • If you go through months of dry weather, you could sprinkle some water on your compost. Skipping this is not an issue, your compost will simply 

  • Collect your compost. In about 4-6 months, you can open the hatch and check the bottom of the pile. You can remove your finished compost if it’s dark and friable, without any recognizable parts of the original scraps. It should have a nice, earthy smell and feel moist.

Common questions

How much compost do I need?

Generally, you would need about 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) when tilling it into the soil in your vegetable garden or flower beds. It does, however, depend on the purpose, terrain, etc. You can use an online calculator to determine the amount. If you’re filling up an empty new flower bed, calculate the total amount of soil you need for the specific size, then use a 70 to 30 ratio of topsoil to compost.

Where can I buy good garden compost?

Gardeners who don’t have the desire or the time to compost at home can purchase organic, all-purpose compost from Luxury Wood that meets the national standards, is weed and chemical-free, and high in nitrogen.

How to Use Mulch, Topsoil, and Compost in Spring Gardening

use compost in spring gardening

Mulch, topsoil, and compost go well together and can be combined for optimal results. Here are some useful tips on how, where, and when to use them:

  • Some plants in particular benefit a lot from spring mulching, for example:

    • - Spring bulbs – Mulch around them as the foliage dies back to feed the bulbs and keep moisture.

    • - Under hedges – This locks in moisture and feeds the plants. Apply mulch when the soil is moist.

    • - Herbaceous perennials – Mulching in the spring prevents weed problems and maintains soil moisture levels.

    • - Fruit trees and bushes – Mulch will help protect them from pests and diseases, suppress weeds, and lock in moisture around the roots.

  • Mulching too early in spring will prevent the soil from warming up and hurt early-season plant growth, so you may need to wait until late April to May depending on your area and climate.

  • Aerate your soil before adding topsoil by making small holes in the soil. This will loosen soil that may have become too compacted for nutrients and water to pass through. 

  • Remember to use a ratio of 70% topsoil and 30% organic compost.

  • Apply your topsoil evenly and mix it with the top 3-4 inches (7.5 cm - 10 cm) of your existing soil. Make sure you don’t suffocate your plants with too much soil.

  • Use your topsoil where it’s needed, for example at spots where the quality of soil is the lowest. You don’t need to cover your entire garden with a fresh layer of topsoil.

  • Use fresh mulch over the topsoil to further add nutrients, help retain moisture, discourage weeds, and invite beneficial microorganisms.

  • Use high-quality toppings and materials to make sure you’re helping your garden and not exposing your vegetation to harmful substances or low-grade materials with little to no added benefits.

  • To determine whether or not your garden could benefit from additional compost, you can take a soil test. If your soil has excessive levels of phosphorus, you can skip compost for a few years. However, if that’s not the case, you can add compost.

Maintenance tips

The following section explains how to ensure the continued effectiveness of mulch, topsoil, and compost throughout the year. 

  • Mulch tends to lose its colour over time. Refresh it by adding a thin new layer on top. You can remove some of the existing mulch before that, in order to avoid layering it too deep and killing the plants. Before topping up your mulch, however, examine the existing layer: if you notice any rot, remove your mulch altogether before placing a new one.

  • Remove weeds as soon as you see them to prevent them from spreading. Although mulch does a great job suppressing weeds, some might still get through. This might be an indication that your mulch layer is not thick enough. 

  • Mix and turn your mulch every season to prevent it from forming clusters. 

  • Replace mulch if it breaks apart in your hands - this means it’s no longer serving its purpose. 

  • You can also apply fresh mulch in autumn to insulate plants and protect the roots from freezing in the winter.

Mulch, topsoil, and compost can truly make a difference in your garden. Using mulch to retain moisture and protect your soil, topsoil to ensure a rich growing environment, and garden compost to add nutrients, you’ll create just the right conditions.

This year, don’t forget to incorporate these materials into your spring gardening routine for healthier plants and a more vibrant garden.

Explore ourBark and Toppingssection to learn more about the Luxury Wood products that your garden can benefit from.