Mulch is the best way to protect your plant roots from extreme heat and cold; it insulates the soil much like insulation protects a home from temperature swings. Whether it is organic or inorganic material, you need proper garden tools to spread the mulch. For example, a thin mulch layer allows evaporation to dry out the soil below while a thick layer forms a barrier to soil water absorption.
Organic mulches, such as bark or straw, are relatively lightweight as you move them from a bag or wheelbarrow. A pitchfork, manure fork, shovel or hand scoop works well to pull the mulch from the pile and onto your gardening area. For best spreading results, you can use a garden or bow rake to slide the material into an even layer. Both of these tools have wide faces to spread mulch in large areas quickly. You may even use a common broom to manipulate fine mulch materials, like shredded leaves, across the ground. Regardless of your garden tool choice, your mulch layer should range between 2 and 4 inches thick for the healthiest coverage.
If you choose to spread heavy mulches, like landscape rocks, you need a square or snow shovel. Because of its shape, you cannot force the shovel’s head into the mulch pile or wheelbarrow supply; you just skim the mulch off of the pile’s peak. With a shaking action, you can slowly lower the mulch onto your gardening site as the material falls down in small amounts. Avoid dumping large mulch loads onto the topsoil, as this can compact the soil and possibly damage plants. The same shovel can be used to spread the mulch, as the flat end helps you uniformly distribute the material. For smaller areas, you can move the mulch around using a hand scoop to finish off tight spaces around dense bushes and other plants.
A strong pair of gardening gloves helps you fine tune your mulched bed; mulch is spread evenly as you slide your hands into small crevices. Alternatively, you can use a hand spade or a hand whisk broom to move more mulch in a shorter amount of time. Both of these tools match well with organic mulch, although you cannot use the broom to move heavy, inorganic materials. If you have a larger area to fine tune, you can use your large rake upside down; the smooth rake top slowly maneuvers the mulch into place so that it has uniform coverage without compacting the soil.
Spreading in Layers
Alternatively, you can layer your mulch by carefully shaking the material out from a bucket onto the soil as you move around the entire planting site. However, you need to maintain a one-inch-thick mulch layer. You should spread this layer evenly with your gloved hands, mulch fork or square shovel, depending on the garden’s size. As you add another one-inch mulch layer across the first application, you create an airy structure that does not compact the soil and allows ample moisture and oxygen to permeate the plant roots.