Can I mulch a plant bed before I plant in it? Can I just clear out the mulch at the spot where I want to plant shrubs later on? I am planning to grow shrubs and ornamental grass.
Yes you can mulch before. Here is a great secret to keep your plants to be planted in soil, not the mulch; find a nursery that sells used black plastic pots. Before mulching, put the pots where you plan on planting. For 1 gallon plants use a two gallon pot. This helps to not mess up your mulch. You can also use plastic cut to shape for trees and stapled to the soil. Pull up pot and plastic as you plant.
Normally, we mulched last. Same idea. Plant your plants and use that pot to cover the plant. Then BLOW in the mulch. Remove the pot immediately and make sure the mulch is not built up on the bark of trees and woody shrubs at the base. If you have shallow rooted plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, daphne...brush the mulch back to only a 1" depth.
If you use bark, get as fine as you are able and fertilize the MULCH with nitrogen. That will help it decompose without robbing the plants of their nitrogen. Best mulch is human poo mixed with sawdust and COMPLETELY decomposed. Already decomposed it adds nitrogen to your soil, gorgeous, does not smell!, fine textured natural taupe, no sticks, no chunks, no weed seeds and no pesticide residue. Check with your mulch suppliers. I NEVER used bark if I had this stuff available!!
Yes you can. I've had to do that numerous times in order to help suppress weeds until I can get the shrubs in. I would, however, recommend against it. It can be pretty annoying to have to move all the mulch around again. If you are only planting a few shrubs, then it's no big deal, but if you have a lot of planting to do, wait until the end to mulch. Use a tarp or bucket to place the soil from the planting hole on to minimize the mixing of soil and mulch. Pull the mulch farther away than might seem necessary from the planting site. If you don't, you will inevitably end up with dirty mulch.