Bagged Mulch vs. Bulk: Which One Is Better?

Bagged Mulch vs. Bulk

The age-old debate: bagged mulch vs. bulk mulch. Which is the smarter move and which is going to save you the most money when landscaping your lawn? Ultimately, the decision comes down to the scale of your project and whether or not your property has the space to accommodate a massive pile of mulch. With that said, there are reasons for choosing each option.

For example, bulk mulch tends to cost slightly less, as it’s less expensive per cubic foot when you’re purchasing it “loose.” Bagged mulch, on the other hand, typically costs more per cubic foot – unless it’s on sale. Though, for slightly more money, bagged mulch gives you something that is easier to work with, and can be stacked and hidden away until you’re ready to tackle the project.

Continue reading as we explore when it makes the most sense to choose bagged mulch over bulk mulch, and vice versa. That way, you can make an informed decision about which form is best for your project.

Why Bulk Mulch?

When you purchase any type of landscaping materials in bulk, whether it’s mulch or some other material, the entire batch will be the same. With bagged mulch, on the other hand, you’re likely going to have variances in the appearance and possibly even the quality of the mulch. While this may be acceptable for your particular project, it won’t be some.

If you’re looking for the most eco-friendly option, bulk is the way to go because of the lack of packaging. Purchasing mulch in bulk can also save you money. Although the delivery to your home will incur an added charge, the overall price is typically lower when you buy in bulk. Of course, if you’re ordering a small amount this may not always be the case. BUT if you need a large amount of mulch for your project, the savings involved with buying in bulk can be substantial.

In addition to being cheaper, bulk mulch is usually fresher than its bagged counterpart. This has to do with the fact that the mulch has recently been ground and either left to cure, or dyed then cured. Bagged mulch, on the other hand, is often sold between three and six months after it has been ground and bagged.

Why Bagged Mulch?

The main reason homeowners choose to opt for bagged mulch is convenience. Buying any sort of landscape materials by the bag can make your project easier, as bagged products are typically lightweight enough to transport around your property as needed. Not to mention, with bags, you’re not dealing with a very messy, often unsightly pile of mulch on your property.

Bags can be easily and conveniently stacked out of sight until you are ready to start spreading it. You don’t have to worry about covering the bagged mulch with a tarp or hosing your driveway down after the project is complete. If you don’t end up using all of the bags, you can store and save them for later use in a garage or shed. They’ll be ready to give your landscaping a nice refresh in the coming months. Whereas, with bulk much, you usually have to use it soon after it has been delivered or picked up.

Buying mulch by the bag gives you more options – both in terms of colors and types for different landscaping purposes. Depending on where you live, some supplies may even waive the delivery for bag orders! Find out how to get rid of mushrooms in mulch.

Cost Comparison

When you have a pretty extensive mulch job, saving money becomes much more of a priority. Oftentimes, bulk mulch is less expensive than if you were to purchase the same amount of mulch in bags. Unless it’s on sale, bagged mulch tends to cost more per cubic feet.

To put things into perspective, one cubic yard of mulch equates to about 13.5 bags of mulch. Purchasing one cubic yard of Premium Hardwood mulch in bulk costs an average of $27.90. Whereas, if you were to purchase 13 bags of the same mulch at approximately $3.85 each, your total would come out to $50.85.

For example, if you need to spread roughly 10 yards of mulch the cost of bagged mulch vs. bulk will be a considerable difference. In this case, you may choose to forgo the convenience of bagged mulch in favor of the savings that comes with bulk mulch.

How Much Mulch Do I Need?

To determine how much mulch you need for your garden or landscape, follow the simple steps outlined below. All you need is a tape measure or measuring wheel and a calculator.

Step One: Determine Type of Mulch

From pine chips and shredded bark to pine straw and compost, there are so many types of mulch to choose from. It’s always smart to make your decision based on the what’s available locally and the plants that you plan to grow in the area you are mulching.

Step Two: Calculate Square Footage

Once you’ve figured out the type of mulch you want to use, you need to calculate the square footage of the area you will be mulching.

  • To determine the square footage of a rectangular or square garden space, multiply the height by its width (in feet).
  • To determine the square footage of a circular garden space, measure the distance from the center of the bed to the outer edge (radius). Then multiply that number by itself and multiply the total by 3.14.

If the space you are mulching is an odd shape, such as a wide oval or kidney bean, just do your best to divide it into a series of circles or triangles and then add all of the different square footages together. If you’re planning to mulch multiple areas on your property, determine the square footage of each and add them all together to yield the total square footage that you need to cover with mulch.

Step Three: Determine Mulch Depth

Now that you know the square footage of the space, you need to determine how deep you want the layer to be. For shrub and tree beds, we recommend between three and four inches of mulch and to avoid too thick layers as you could restrict oxygen to the roots. For flower and vegetable gardens, one to three inches thick is ideal.

Once you have the square footage and the depth, the following formulas will help you figure out how much mulch you need – whether you’re buying in bulk or by the bag.

Note: Bagged mulch is sold in bags that are measured in cubic feet, while bulk much is measured in cubic yards.

Bulk Mulch Calculator

When buying bulk, the following formula will help you figure out how much mulch you need:

  1. First, multiply the square footage of the garden area by the thickness.
  2. Then, divide that number by 324

This will give you the amount of mulch you need in cubic yards. For example, if the area is 50 feet long and 10 feet wide, the square footage of the space is 500 square feet. If you want the mulch layer to be 3 inches deep, you’ll need approximately 4.63 cubic yards of mulch. Or:

  • 50 feet x 10 feet x 3 inches = 1,500
  • Then, 1,500 divided by 324 = 4.63 cubic yards

Find out how to keep mulch from washing away.

Bagged Mulch Calculator

The following formula will help you determine how much mulch you need when you purchasing by the bag – measured in cubic feet.

First, multiply the square footage of the garden area by one of the following numbers, depending on how deep you want the mulch layer to be:

1 inch deep .083
2 inches deep .167
3 inches deep .25
4 inches deep .33
5 inches deep .417

This will give you the amount of mulch that you need in cubic feet. For the same garden space in the previous example that was 50 feet by 10 feet (or, 500 square feet), if you want the mulch to be 3 inches deep, you need 125 cubic feet of mulch. Or:

  • 50 feet x 10 feet = 500 square feet
  • Then, 500 square feet x .25 = 125 cubic feet of mulch

The number of bags that you need will depend on how much cubic feet the bag holds. For instance, if the bag holds 2 cubic feet, you need 63 bags (125 divided by 2 = 62.5). Whereas, fi the bag holds 3 cubic feet, you’ll need 42 bags (125 divided by 3 = 41.67).

Bagged Mulch vs. Bulk Mulch

When you use the mulch calculators, it’s much easier to see whether it’s more economical to purchase your mulch in bags or in bulk. When you consider the example above, it would be a little bizarre to purchase 63 bags of mulch, simply because of the number of plastic bags that will ultimately head to the landfill. However, it’s also more expensive to do so.

  • Let’s say, for example, that a 2 cubic foot bag of shredded hardwood mulch costs about $3.99. At that rate, 63 bags of mulch are going to cost you a staggering $251.37.
  • Meanwhile, a cubic yard of bulk shredded hardwood from a local landscaping supply company will cost an average of $32.00. For the, approximately, 5 cubic yards that you need to cover your garden space, the total cost is only $160.00

You don’t need to be a math genius to see that buying mulch in bulk is much more affordable than buying in bags. Of course, there are some situations where bags may be cheaper but the only way to find out is to do the necessary calculations.

Jessica Stone

Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.

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