We just bought a house with a big front and backyard most of which is covered by newly laid mulch/wood chips. There also seems to be a layer of plastic underneath this layer of mulch. The house has basically zero plants and trees. How do I plant new plants and trees, should I completely remove the sheet of plastic along with the mulch to expose the soil and plant directly on the ground or do I need to add some top soil? Is there any use to this mulch- just in case if I have to remove it completely there is going to be a lot of it.

Thank you,

  • I live in San Jose, California
    – Sang Ram
    Jan 17, 2022 at 5:17
  • what kind of wood chips - bark chips or fresh wood?
    – Bamboo
    Jan 17, 2022 at 14:51
  • No idea, but wondering what the process is
    – Sang Ram
    Jan 17, 2022 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


You will need to remove the plastic and dig over properly in order to plant, and that means removing the wood chips/mulch. If the chips are not fresh wood, its worth keeping them somewhere to replace direct on the soil after planting, with no liner beneath, because they will break down and improve the soil over time, but if they are fresh wood, best to leave them in a pile somewhere to rot down for a year or so before placing back on the soil. If the liner beneath is not actually just plastic sheeting but instead is proper landscape fabric/weed liner, you will still need to roll it back to prepare the soil, but you could actually replace it after planting, cutting holes where you have planted, and cover with chips afterwards to keep weed growth down and help retain moisture in the soil.

I would suggest you only remove the chips and liner in areas you are ready to work on, leaving the rest in situ till later; sometimes, a liner with chips on top might mean the previous owner did it to stop growth from things which are present in the soil and which may then regrow when you remove it all, and some of this growth might be undesirable, such as pernicious weeds. This is why you'll need to dig over an area, both to break up any soil compaction and to see if there is root material or anything already in the soil that is currently not visible, and which you may need to clear out before replanting. It's also wise to incorporate some composted materials into the soil to improve fertility as you work, so things like spent mushroom compost, leaf mould, composted manure, anything like that you can get hold of.

  • Thank you so much, the suggestion is really helpful and I was thinking of employing a professional to help me. But now I will do it myself
    – Sang Ram
    Jan 19, 2022 at 17:11

Is the underlying soil heavily compacted? If yes and you want to plant it, you need to cultivate it before planting. To do that you need to first remove the plastic membrane. If then the layer of mulch isn't too thick I'd be tempted, depending on the area, to just dig it in either manually or with a rotavator. Digging is hard work if you're not used to it so take your time.

However, if the underlying soil isn't heavily compacted and looks in reasonable condition and the plastic membrane is permeable you can either;

  1. Remove the plastic membrane (in areas you want to plant) and plant through the mulch into the underlying soil or,
  2. Remove circles of membrane where you want to plant, then plant into the underlying soil, then push the mulch back to cover the exposed soil.

If the plastic membrane isn't permeable, I'd say get rid of it.

The problem with membranes and bark/woodchip mulch is that eventually the mulch will disappear and you're going to see the more and more of the membrane. Of course, you can always apply more mulch, but that's extra work. My inclination would be to get rid of the membrane (no matter what it is) in areas I intend to plant.

  • Thank you so much for the answers. This gives me a sense of direction!
    – Sang Ram
    Jan 19, 2022 at 17:10

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