Why you shouldn’t install mulch next to a home foundation.

Drive down any street in the spring or summer and you are almost guaranteed to see a home with mulch around it’s foundation. With so many people doing that, you might figure it’s a good idea. But wait before you install your next mulch job and read this discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum. It is an eye opener on why you shouldn’t use mulch around a house. It’s also a great piece of information to help you sell your customers on other products that work better.

One lawn care business owner wrote “so I got this new customer with a tiny yard. I almost didn’t put a bid on this job because of the size of it but now I’m glad I did. This yard is TINY. She’s got mulch around her deck and the garage. She wants about 90 sq ft of fresh mulch installed. She also wants me to take the old stuff out and put new mulch in. I told her that’s no problem I just gotta find out material costs and I’d get back to her the next time I service her lawn. I’ll be buying mulch in bags to save her money. Buying it from a lot seems to cost more since I am not buying a lot for this job. Any advice? ”

A second lawn care business owner said “when you bill her, bill her for materials/transportation prior to work, then charge per estimated hour(s). It’s a simple way to do things when you are getting started in landscape work.

However, it is much cheaper to buy mulch in bulk without the bags. Use a trailer and a tarp to transport it to the job site. Take into consideration the time to do that. Use wheelbarrows to spread it. The bulk of your cost will be to remove the old mulch and dispose of it. I usually talk the customer into leaving the old mulch there as it decomposes over time. Cut the edges straight about 3-4 inches deep so you won’t have overflow by using a spade shovel, its the square ended one. I am guessing you are looking at a 5 to 6 hour job if you need to remove the old mulch add another 2 hours to the total to dispose of it some where. Remember you are charging for you and your worker.”

A third added “I used to work for a pest control company and we really hated to see people put mulch against a house foundation. It draws ants and especially termites like you wouldn’t believe. If you’re gonna do mulching around a house, use the rubber mulch. The sales pitch is it won’t attract any bugs or termites and it will last for 5 years without fading (for the colored). If they don’t want mulch, recommend they use a decorative rock, like river rock because it retains heat which will cook the normal bug. For your pricing, I charge $25/hour for all my small/light work (mulching, trimming shrubs, etc). If I’m installing rock or trenching, then it’s $35/hour. Don’t forget to add a fee for hauling off the old mulch if you decide to do so.¬† That’s probably why she’s looking to hire someone, as she doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of disposing of it. I always forget to add this fee in and I regret it every time. Also, I charge a 25% markup on all my materials. Markup is great because your labor goes into your pocket and the markup goes back into your business.

We always recommend that the customer remove the mulch near the foundation. We also always recommend rubber mulch or river rock instead.

Bugs, especially ants and termites love the moist, warm mulch and it provides termites with a food source. Your chance of an infestation are much less with rock or rubber mulch. That and rubber mulch lasts for up to 5 years before the color fades. Now all you need to do is buy some mulch dye and re-apply every couple years. This saves you time and the customer money and is a great upsell. I know I’d rather show up and dye it then re-apply it!

I always point this out to my customers now that I do lawn care. I think it’s a good way to take care of your customers when you are protecting their property. Termite jobs are horribly expensive, and the way I see it, I don’t want to be responsible for them getting it. Another bad idea is getting the ‘free’ mulch from the city brush sites. This is so BAD BAD! If you think about it, you are just spreading terrible things. Community mulch can harbor a number of tree diseases, termites, insecticides, unwanted herbicides, and even wood mites. Here in northern Missouri we’re having a breakout of pine tree mites that are wreaking havoc on all our pines and spruces. They will totally wipe a tree out in a couple years time. Just some food for thought.”

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