I've noticed that when professional landscaping services put mulch in an area, it smells. However, mulch by itself doesn't smell. I'm wondering what do they mix mulch with and why?

I just moved into a new home and cleared the ground by removing a lot of leaves. Now I'm planning to mulch the area. That's why I was wondering whether it is a good idea to mix mulch with something else. This area has couple of trees, shrubs, and a few lilies.

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    Just as a word of caution most established trees like it just the way it is. Those leaves you removed are nature's mulch. When you mulch you should not put more than a half inch to an inch on. (about the depth of leaves you removed....)
    – kevinskio
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 20:12

2 Answers 2


Mulch is just a general term meaning materials applied to the top of the soil around plants, usually. It can be anything from leaf litter, such as you've just removed, leaf mould, coca shell, bark chips, slate, grit, garden compost you've made yourself, peat mixes or composted animal manures. The latter is the one that smells, and is also the most beneficial for many plants, providing nutrients for the soil and, thus, the plant. Your mature trees, though, need none of these, except the leaf litter could usefully be left, or collected and composted into leafmould, then replaced around the trees.


You're just smelling the fresh shredded bark, it's still got the oils in it that give it "that mulchy smell". In my experience the stuff you get in bags from the big box stores is all dried out and doesn't really have much smell. When I get a pickup load from a landscaping center, it smells the same as what you see the landscaping services putting down. But that's not really important, the point is that there's nothing magical in that smell.

If you have mature trees, they probably don't need anything.

Younger trees can benefit from being mulched out to the drip line in order to prevent grass from growing and competing with the tree for water and nutrients. But, do not pile up mulch around the trunk of the trees! (See "volcano mulch" for what not to do.)

Shrubs and lilies also benefit from mulching, for the same reasons. The mulch helps hold moisture and keep down competing weeds.

You don't need to clean up the leaves for any reason other than aesthetics. They make a nice mulch -- I rake leaves off my front field and put them around plants. Leaving them in place will save you work and benefit your plants; you could rake leaves off your lawn and add them to your mulched areas. No need for bagging and disposal, no need to buy mulch materials.

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