How Much Soil or Mulch Do I Need For My Landscaping Project?

Gardening season is in full swing as evidenced by all the requests for soil and mulch we receive from our Harvest Power website. As part of these requests we get a common question: How much do I need? We thought it would be helpful to walk through a few real-world examples.

First, some background info on calculations and products.

• To know the root of calculations, there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard (3’ x 3’ x 3’), the common measurement for selling soil and mulch.
• To get a sense of volumes, a full-size pickup truck holds about 2 cubic yards. A volkswagon beetle is roughly the same volume as 15 cubic yards.

Next, let’s walk through a few real-world examples and calculate how much material is needed for a project.

NOTE: If you want to skip learning the math, then head straight over to our landscape calculator.

EXAMPLE #1: We need soil for two 8′ x 4′ x 18″ raised beds.

(~BD in Windsor Locks, CT)

Okay, BD. Let’s figure this out. So first let’s pretend these two raised beds are stretched end-to-end. They would measure 16’ long x 4’ wide and 18” tall. Now let’s go through the steps

• Convert all dimensions into feet (18” ÷ 12” = 1.5’)
• Multiply length x width x height (16’ x 4’ x 1.5’ = 96 cubic feet)
• Divide (96 ÷ 27 = 3.56 cubic yards)

Therefore, you’ll need about 3.5 cubic yards of garden blend for this project. We recommend rounding up to 4 cubic yards since you can almost always use more product top-dressing your lawn, the raised beds, or mixed into potting containers.

EXAMPLE #2: “How much mulch do I need to cover a 20’ x 30’ new garden with 3” of soil amendment?”

(~NM in Surrey, BC)

1. Convert all dimensions from inches into feet. (3” ÷ 12” = .25 feet)
2. Multiply the three dimensions together (length x width x height) to find the number of cubic feet needed. (20’ long x 30’ wide x 0.25’ high = 150 cubic feet)
3. Divide the cubic feet by the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard (27) to find the number of cubic yards (150 ÷ 27 = 5.56 cubic yards)

There you go, NM: You will need about 5-6 cubic yards for your project!

EXAMPLE #3: I’m covering my front- and back- landscape with 2” of mulch. The area is about 20’ x 10’. I want to know how much product I’ll need in bags since I don’t have a pickup truck or trailer, and I think it might be easier to pick up a bunch of product in my car and then carry them throughout the property instead of dealing with a wheelbarrow.

(~KH in Virginia)

Okay, KH. Here we go, with a modified step to convert to bags.

• Convert all dimensions into feet (2” ÷ 12” = 0.16’)
• Multiply length x width x height (20’ x 10’ x 0.16’ = 33 cubic feet)
• FOR CUBIC YARDS, we’d divide (33 ÷ 27 = 1.23 cubic yards). BUT INSTEAD we want to find out how many bags of mulch KH needs. So if she wants 1-cubic foot bags she’ll need to divide by 1 (33 ÷ 1 = 33 1-cubic foot bags). If she wants 2-cubic-foot bags she’ll need to divide by 2 (33 ÷ 2 = 17 2-cubic-foot bags).

Voila, our landscape calculator comes to the same conclusions (see screenshot).

Feeling inspired?

Hopefully this post helps you get a feel for dimensions and how much product you’ll need for your next landscaping project. We offer many quality soil and mulch products in bulk and bagged quantities. Or simply head on over to our contact page to request a quote. Happy landscaping!

What is a bioswale? How does bioretention work?

A bioswale is a low-lying, linear depression that directs the flow of water while letting it percolate into the soil.  This process is known as bioretention: using biology to retain, or slow, water.

How do bioswales, streetscapes and rain gardens work?

Bioswales, streetscapes, and rain gardens apply the same strategy in different formations: they use soil and plants to manage stormwater and reduce erosion in cost effective, environmentally-friendly manners. The plants and soil – or bioretention media – serve as natural filters that remove silt and pollution from runoff water.

How do bioswales remove pollutants?

Bioswales behave like mini constructed wetlands. After a rain, water flowing off of surfaces – typically roofs or roadway – gets diverted into beds of hardy grasses and other plants. Then, the following occurs as illustrated in the photo:

1. Soil in the bioswale catches contaminants in the runoff.
2. Oil and metal contaminants are broken down by soil microbes. This changes their chemical structure so they are no longer toxic.
3. Contaminant-eating microbes need oxygen to work. Wetland plants bring oxygen into the soil.

Water leaving the bioswale is cleaner than when it came in.

What are other ways bioretention soils help reduce pollution?

• They slow the flow. Water that falls to the earth during rain events has a chance to get absorbed by the earth and return to the groundwater table, as opposed to getting whisked away by sewers and drains.
• They filter out pollutants. Ideally water that reaches surrounding lakes, streams and bodies of water does not have debris or pollutants.

What elements of rain gardens should I look for in a rain garden, streetscape, or bioswale?

A cross section reveals four different layers:

• Dry – The top where floodwaters never reach. Drainage here is good because it’s at the top of a slope.
• Mesic – This level, just below the dry zone, experiences occasional, brief winter flooding and summer drought.
• Moist –  The zone approaching the bottom that experiences frequent winter flooding. The number of plants that can grow here without summer water is limited.
• Wet – The bottom of the swale will be saturated for a large portion of the year; water plants can be grown here if supplemental water is given in the winter. Without summer irrigation, fewer plants can grow here.

How do I build a rain garden or bioswale in on my property?

A rain garden is a planted depression where run-off from roofs, driveways and other surfaces is directed so that it can soak back into the soil naturally rather than run into storm drains. The soil and plants in these areas filter out some impurities before the water drains into sewers, groundwater, rivers and streams.

• Choose a location: Choose a spot where water can be easily directed through the landscape or from downspouts. Make sure to leave at least 6 feet from your house, and allow for overflow away from foundations and other structures.
• Prepare the site and soil: Amend the soil so the mix is roughly 50% native soil, 30% soil amendment or compost-based product, and 20% pumice.
• Mulch: Two kinds of mulch are important in a rain garden. A mulch of pea gravel or river rocks at the point where water enters will help prevent erosion; this mulch should be thick enough that no soil shows through. The rest of the rain garden should have a high-quality soil amendment or compost-based product 1-3” deep added once a year as spring rains taper off. This will help suppress weeds and maintain moisture levels during dry periods.
• Water during the first couple years: All plants (even drought-tolerant ones) will need supplemental watering the first 1-2 years until they are well established.
• Avoid fertilizers and pesticides: These should both be avoided in your rain garden whenever possible; part of the goal is to help keep these synthetic chemicals out of local waterways. If necessary, use granular, low phosphorous, organic fertilizer, and the least toxic pesticide available. Plant selection is critical; consult with the nursery specialist for plants that will thrive in this environment.

How does compost fit in to bioretention?

Specially formulated soils rich in organic matter help provide both short-term and long-term positive impacts on soil structure. With compost, the soils resist compaction in finer soils and provide greater drought resistance and water holding capacity in coarse, sandy soils. Soil porosity is key in soil structure and the coarse organic texture of compost creates an environment for better root development. Compost increases Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) which is the ability for soils to retain micro nutrients for the plant to utilize and lowers nutrient leaching. Compost supplies many beneficial micro-organisms and nutrients to soils and growing media as well as bind and degrade specific pollutants – a strong characteristic in bioretention soil use.

The benefits of using compost for plants, the environment and completing the recycling loop in our communities are tremendous. As a plant organic and nutrient source compost works with soil biology naturally to increase soil organism activity. This relationship between planting soils and compost derived from green waste can support a wide variety of soil amendment needs for growing plants, stormwater management and soil erosion.

Where can I get bioretention media?

Harvest offers custom blends in almost all of its markets. Our soil specialists can help meet your needs. Minimum quantities apply.

Mid Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) – 2018

We had a great time this year connecting with partners and customers interested in our soils, mulches and specialty blends in the Mid-Atlantic market, as well as our premium Harvest Organics bagged products.

Psss — Do you know?  Our soil and mulch display booth is made of all east coast woods.  Pretty groovy.

Thanks so much to MANTS for yet again hosting an incredible event. If you liked these photos, check out our booth from MANTS 2017

Supplying Soil for Stormwater Management Success

When people think of stormwater management, they might immediately jump to thinking about the health of rivers and streams. But a key ingredient in improving water quality that many people often overlook is soil.

Harvest routinely provides custom soils blended for bioretention and rain gardens. We were especially honored to provide the soil for three stormwater management containers – two at-grade precast concrete bio-retention planters and one above grade planter, all supplied by Olcastle Precast-Chesapeake Region – at the U.S. Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Maryland.

Specially formulated soil, rich in organic matter, will help achieve two ideal outcomes:

1. It will slow the flow. Ideally water that falls to the earth has a chance to get absorbed by the earth and return to the groundwater table, as opposed to getting whisked away by sewers and drains.
2. It will filter out pollutants. Ideally water that reaches surrounding lakes, streams and bodies of water does not have debris or pollutants. Healthy soil can act as a natural filter for water.

These ingredients – thoughtful engineering and healthy soil – will help make the world greener and the water cleaner.  Contact us today for your bioretention/stormwater/rain garden/bioswale/soil needs.

Making the Most of Rainwater: Commercial Applications

The Issue: Stormwater

In an increasingly paved world, stormwater management is the name of the game for municipalities and businesses looking to reduce costs, improve water quality, and enhance performance of their existing infrastructure.

Stormwater is the rush of water that occurs during a rain event, especially during the initial stages. Imagine rain falling in two different scenes: a gigantic forest and a paved city.  In a forest, streams and rivers rise, lower spots in the ground fill with puddles, and the earth gets saturated for a period of time as the water slowly percolates back down into the groundwater.  In a city, gutters gush, basements flood, highways get slick, and drainage systems discharge water into rivers and bodies of water. This article highlights a key tool – green infrastructure – that helps paved cities behave more like spongy forests, thereby decreasing the negative impacts of stormwater.

Green Infrastructure and Its Impacts

Green infrastructure refers to many tools and products – soils, filters, plants, pervious surfaces, green roofs, bioswales, and retention ponds to name a few – that help typically paved environments absorb more water. Green infrastructure serves two bioretention purposes:

1. It slows down the first flush of runoff by increasing the amount of surface area where water can get absorbed.
2. It increases the quality of runoff by intercepting pollutants closer to the source.

Key Components

When embarking on a stormwater management project, a few key factors can influence the outcome. Entire courses and forums are devoted to this topic.  A quick overview includes:

• Size: Evaluate the catchment area. A gutter that gets disconnected from the downspouts will have different needs than a parking lot.
• Medium: Identify the ideal characteristics of the planting medium.  If it’s a green roof, you’ll need a lightweight, engineered blend. For example, if it’s a backyard bioswale, you’ll likely want a mixture of soil with a high organic content (compost) and strong filtration properties (sand).
• Plants: What conditions will the plants need to endure?  Conditions will vary depending on the depth of the depression and typical weather patterns.
• Flow: Identify the slope and where the flow will need to be managed or controlled.

At Harvest, specifically Harvest RGI, we have qualified experts that help guide and shape soil selection.  Commercial contractors depend on us to meet their engineered soil specifications for erosion and stormwater control. Residential customers also get involved: several homeowners may work together in a community effort to manage rainwater on their properties, benefiting from the economies of scale associated with purchasing a 15-20-cubic yard truckload of soil together.

Harvest RGI Accepted to Maryland Green Registry

Recently Harvest RGI – our operations that serve the mid-atlantic region including Baltimore / Washington / Maryland / Northern Virginia corridor – was accepted to the Maryland Green Registry. By meeting a set of criteria we have joined an elite set of businesses that meet standards for the following categories:

• Environmentally Preferable Products and Services
• Energy Efficiency
• Fleet Vehicles
• Water Conservation
• Stormwater Management and Site Design

Congrats!!  Interested in supporting a sustainable business while meeting your needs for green waste recycling or mulches, compost and soil blend products? Contact Harvest RGI in Woodbine MD today.

From Rooftop to Runoff: What the High Line teaches us about green roofs

With the Grey to Green Conference coming up (June 1-2, 2015 in Montreal), all eyes will be on green infrastructure.

In early April we took a cruise down the High Line in Manhattan. It’s a unique experience: it’s an abandoned elevated rail platform that’s been renovated into a narrow walking park. You get to experience the Big Apple two stories up from the streets, noise, traffic, and hustle and bustle.

Some people get drawn into the unique architecture (for example, they revived the train aesthetic and the park has glimpses of whimsical industrial-chic old rail ties, with lounge chairs overlooking the Hudson, and angular benches) and cool concrete forms. We were drawn in by the vegetation: The High Line is basically a gigantic green roof.

A Quick Green Roof 101 Tutorial

Growth media for green roof projects require a well-balanced blend to support vegetation. There are two flavors of green roofs:

• Extensive: Extensive green roof systems have shallow profiles, with typically 3-4 inches of growth media. It’s primarily mineral and organics (no soil involved) made up of expanded shale and compost.
• Intensive: Intensive green roof systems have a deeper profile (6”) and can support a much broader plant palette including perennials, shrubs and trees.

A few crocuses were blooming (we loved the purple!) and a few trees were beginning to bud.

Beyond the Beauty: Why Soil Infrastructure Impacts Water Quality

A few states south, the Cheseapeake Bay Foundation has been fighting for years to curb pollution. Greenwire reporter Tiffany Stecker submitted on April 7, “Under a 2010 legal settlement between the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation and EPA, watershed states must adhere to a “pollution diet” and implement plans to meet individual nutrient-reduction goals by 2025. The states – Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia – and D.C. are required to submit reports on these efforts to EPA. The analysis released yesterday says the states collectively have reached 21 percent of the nitrogen reductions, 71 percent of the phosphorus reductions and 25 percent of the sediment reductions toward the 2025 goals.”

What does this mean? In laymen’s terms: In the past, we screwed up our waterways. Currently, we’re taking steps to reduce pollution by A) modifying our land applications and B) re-designing our built infrastructure via bioswales and green roofs (and innovative parks like the High Line) to absorb rain water during storm events. Looking ahead, we still have work to do from rooftop to runoff.

We checked in with our specialty soils guru, Dave L on how progress in the Chesapeake Bay intersects our work on land. He says,

“Bioretention facilities as well as green roof applications contribute to the amount of water introduced into the stormwater system and improve the quality of water output into this system. Overall these combined facilities improve the quality of outflow through filtration with properly blended soils and reduce the quantity of outflow by retaining water in their respective systems for plant uptake.”

Harvest Power has a lot of momentum in our specialty soils department that mixes up soils to specification – for green roofs, stormwater management, bioretention (including specs that meet Montgomery County Blends and MDE Table B.4.1 requirement), and beyond.

How to Mulch Around Trees: Spread Evenly!

Volcano Mulching (BAD) versus Proper Mulching (GOOD). Image courtesy of Madison Tree Care and Landscaping

It is ideal to apply a 2”-to-3” layer of mulch around a tree that extends out to its drip line. This layer of mulch does a few things including:

• Prevents weeds
• Retains moisture
• Maintains consistent soil temperatures
• Provides a nice buffer between equipment (mowers, weed wackers, etc) and tree trunks
• Gives a finished look to the landscape

However, take care not to cover the base of the tree’s trunk and its root flare with mulch. The sapling in this photo was not mulched properly. It was “volcano mulched,” meaning the mulch was piled in a volcano shape right up to the bark of the trunk. If you pile mulch against the trunk, it will hold moisture there and may lead to root rot. It can also lead to the tree sending up secondary roots, which are weaker roots that will likely get zapped by the sun, frozen by frost, or strangle the tree.  Not good. If you want to meet someone who hates volcano mulching with a passion, meet Ken Druse, a guru of gardening who has tons of tips to help you flourish in your landscape.

Instead, mulch your trees starting a few inches out from the trunk out to the drip line or beyond, as far as an 8-foot diameter. The root system of the tree extends far beyond its drip line. In a forest, that entire system benefits from naturally-occurring mulch.

Also, if you have old mulch around your trees, it may need to be raked to ensure it’s not matted. Otherwise, if it’s thick and matted water and air may not be able to seep through to the tree’s root system. Mulch that’s matted can also become weed-ridden.

Organic mulches usually need to be replenished a few times a year to ensure the right depth of mulch (roughly 3 inches) protects and nourishes your trees.

Check it out: In this video these guys identify mulch volcanos that are suffocating/disabling the trees, and save a few by removing a primary layer of mulch, then airblasting away the extraneous mulch, trimming away the secondary root structure, and re-applying a 2” layer of mulch (not next to the trunk!) and out to the drip line.

Watch Videos of Your Favorite Mulches, Available in New England Connecticut – Delivery Too!

Sometimes the best part of gardening is dreaming and planning. For all of you getting geared up to transform your landscape, here’s a summary – with videos – of our most popular mulches offered by Harvest New England out of Connecticut sites in Farmington, Fairfield, Ellington and Wallingford.

 EcoMulch Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: Eco Mulch is a great all around mulch that is the perfect alternative to conventional bark mulch. It is a natural product that has been made from double ground and composted brush and yard trimmings. Decorative, easy to spread and very beneficial for both soil and plants. Northwoods Bark Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: Available only in our Fairfield location. A True Premium Bark Mulch. An especially attractive blend of Pine, Fir, and Hemlock from Northern New England. Looks and smells great. Maintains its color better and lasts longer than other natural mulches. Pine Blend Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: One of our most popular mulches. Easy to spread. An unbeatable combination of quality and value. Our special blend of Northern New England bark and aged ground softwoods makes it darker than our Northwoods Bark. Hemlock Mulch Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: We carry a 100% Natural Hemlock. Straight from Northern New England. A beautiful reddish hue distinguishes this hard to find mulch. Brick Red Mulch Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: We start with clean ground wood and then color it to a rich, red hue using a non-toxic, natural colorant. Adds a dramatic and long-lasting color statement to your landscaping. Ultra Brown Mulch Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: Our most popular colored mulch. Generously dyed with a non toxic colorant. It holds its color longer than traditional mulches and features a consistent natural brown look. Most customers who visit our yards end up choosing Ultra Brown. Midnight Black Mulch Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: Midnight Black looks great when you put it down and stays looking great. This colorized mulch provides great contrast for colorful plantings. If you’re looking for a dark mulch this is the mulch for you. Fine Grind Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: A shredded and screened composted mulch that is easy to spread. Twice as fine as our standard mulch, it breaks down quickly adding valuable nutrients to the soil. If “mulch build-up” is an issue this is the mulch for you. Canadian Cedar Mulch Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: 100% Canadian Cedar. This brown mulch is superior in its resistance to decomposition and ability to repel insects. Red Cedar Mulch Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: A colorized version of our Canadian Cedar. Great texture and color with all the benefits of Cedar. Playground Carpet Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: Ground virgin wood chips for use under playground equipment. Also used for walking paths.This untreated mulch is safe for children and pets, of course. Green Peet Recycled Content: Maintains Color: Cost: Green Peet is wood fines formally used in horse bedding that has been naturally aged. It is a rich dark chestnut color with a fine consistency that is easy to spread. Use it in the same manner as other peat products to enhance the garden.

Great Gardens Have Great Soils

“Feed your soil, not the plants,” is an expression often used by expert gardeners, as well as companies such as Harvest that have invested deeply into the management of organic materials. Our organization has built its foundation around the notion that the earth is better served by adding valuable organic matter back into garden soils and landscapes throughout North America, rather than having organics decompose in landfills surrounded by plastic and metal.

Every garden using organic matter in their gardens, whether it is a soil amendment product such as a Garden Soil or a natural mulch, is contributing to the betterment of your garden soil. The utter simplicity of how organic matter benefits garden soils is summed up in just a few very important horticultural concepts.

• Porosity Soils need to breath. There are literally billions of living microscopic friendly fungi and bacteria in your soil along with millions of beneficial insects. They thrive and consume organic matter when there is plenty of oxygen in the soil. Porosity opens up the soil and allows air to flow to the best friends a garden can have: the microbial environment.
•  Moisture A balanced moisture content maintains healthy soils and the biology in the soil perform to their expectations. When the soil is terribly wet, the soil absorbs. When the soil is too dry, the soil particles hold moisture. Moisture consistency is best for the biology to thrive.
•  Disease Suppression Our friends at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences articulate this point very well in their article on Organic Manuring and Soil Amendments:

In some instances, adding large amounts of organic materials to soil results in reduced populations of plant-parasitic nematodes and higher crop yields. The reduction in nematodes is thought to be caused, at least in part, by an increase in natural enemies of nematodes. In addition, the presence of decomposing organic materials in the soil apparently provides host plants with some tolerance to nematode attack.

In the end, the management of your soil is the most critical aspect of great gardens: it’s the foundation for success and enjoyment of your garden. When your soil is healthy the sheer enjoyment of being in a garden begins.

WHAT NEXT?

If you’re now inspired to improve your garden soil, here are our four simple tips to adding beneficial organic matter and texture to your soil:

1. APPLY a 2-4” layer of soil amendment
2. MIX to a 6-12” depth (this will also add porosity)
3. SMOOTH with a rake
4. PLANT seeds, seedlings, vegetables, herbs, flowers, or ornamentals.

Of course water thoroughly after planting, and ENJOY YOUR GARDEN!

Written by Gardening Expert Dave Devine