photo mulch application
Mulch being applied to a construction site.

Natural and synthetic mulches include a wide range of practices used to cover seed and exposed soil. Mulch products are intended to reduce raindrop (splash) erosion, decrease sheet erosion, promote rain/snowmelt infiltration, increase soil moisture retention, regulate soil temperature, and in most cases, improve soil texture and increase organic matter. Mulch products include natural materials such as straw and other grasses, coconut fiber, and bark. Synthetic mulches combine a variety of chemical bonding agents with wood fibers, cellulose, or synthetic fibers (e.g., bonded fiber matrix). The mulch material may be disc-anchored into the soil, hydraulically bonded, or covered with netting and stapled. The choice of materials and anchoring of mulches should be based on slope steepness and length, soil conditions, season, type of vegetation, and size of the area.

Purpose and function

Soil stabilization with mulch is intended to counteract the erosive influences of rainfall, snowmelt, and wind on bare soil. Other benefits include soil moisture retention and improved soil texture. Mulches can be used for areas of the construction site that will be idle for 14 or more consecutive days to prevent erosion during lag times in grading operations, or they can be applied with seed or other vegetation to establish final, permanent cover for bare soil.

Applicability

Stabilization with mulch applies to 1) areas of construction sites where soil disturbing activities have temporarily ceased, and measures are needed to prevent erosion and sediment runoff during rainfall or snowmelt; and 2) areas of the site that require permanent stabilization.

Site applicability

Construction sites often have areas where soil disturbing activities such as clearing, grading, or cut/fill work has stopped for a period of time. Bare areas that are not actively being worked need some type of cover to prevent or minimize erosion in the event of rainfall or snowmelt. Applicable areas include topsoil stockpiles, rough graded areas, sediment basin dikes, temporary earthen structures and graded areas.

In addition, all areas of the site require permanent stabilization prior to project close out and termination of permit coverage. Mulch can be applied by hand, installed with mechanical spreaders/blowers, or sprayed hydraulically, depending on the product and site conditions. Mulch is often used instead of rolled erosion control products to support seed germination and early growth.

Permit applicability

The MPCA Construction General Permit has several requirements regarding temporary stabilization. See Section 8.

  • Permittees must stabilize all exposed soil areas, including stockpiles. Stabilization must be initiated immediately to limit soil erosion when construction activity has permanently or temporarily ceased on any portion of the site and will not resume for a period exceeding 14 calendar days. Stabilization must be completed no later than 14 calendar days after the construction activity has ceased. Stabilization is not required on constructed base components of roads, parking lots and similar surfaces. Stabilization is not required on temporary stockpiles without significant silt, clay or organic components (e.g., clean aggregate stockpiles, demolition concrete stockpiles, sand stockpiles) but must provide sediment controls at the base of the stockpile.
  • For Public Waters that the Minnesota DNR has promulgated "work in water restrictions" during specified fish spawning time frames, permittees must complete stabilization of all exposed soil areas within 200 feet of the water's edge, and that drain to these waters, within 24 hours during the restriction period.
  • Other permit requirements exist during the construction of post-construction/permanent stormwater and temperature control BMPs discharging to special waters and impaired waters. In those cases, Permittees must immediately initiate stabilization of exposed soil areas, as described in item 8.4, and complete the stabilization within seven (7) calendar days after the construction activity in that portion of the site temporarily or permanently ceases.
  • Finally, it shall be noted that stabilization requires more than seed alone. Section 25 of the 2018 MPCA Construction Stormwater General Permit states: "Stabilize", "Stabilized", "Stabilization" means the exposed ground surface has been covered by appropriate materials such as mulch, staked sod, riprap, erosion control blanket, mats or other material that prevents erosion from occurring. Grass seeding, agricultural crop seeding or other seeding alone is not stabilization. Mulch materials must achieve approximately 90 percent ground coverage (typically 2 ton/acre). [Minn. R. 7090].

Effectiveness

Temporary and permanent stabilization with mulch or other products is highly effective in reducing soil loss from construction sites. Vegetative cover can reduce erosion by up to 99 percent, with the application of mulch at the MPCA recommended rate of two tons per acre achieving similar results. Because seeding is only effective after plants have emerged, the application of straw mulch or other cover is required to stabilize exposed surfaces and help establish vegetation growth. The following tables summarize the effectiveness and expected performance for an array of typical water quantity and quality target constituents for natural and synthetic mulches. Refer to Reference materials for additional links to reported soil loss reduction values among various mulch types.

Bare soil cover types and percent reduction of soil loss. The C factor, used to determine the relative effectiveness of soil and crop management systems in terms of preventing soil loss, is a ratio comparing the soil loss from land under a specific crop and management system to the corresponding loss from continuously fallow and tilled land. Source: Northwest California Resource Conservation and Development District 2016.
Link to this table

Vegetative Cover C factor Percent reduction of soil loss
None (fallow ground) 1.0 0
Native vegetation (undisturbed) 0.01 99
Temporary tyegrass, 99% (perennial) 0.05 95
Temporary ryegrass, 90% (annuals) 0.1 90
Permanent seedings (90%) 0.01 99
Sod (laid immediately) 0.01 99
Mulching (for slopes 2:1 or less)
Hay (0.5 tons/acre) 0.25 75
Hay (1.0 tons/acre) 0.13 87
Hay (1.5 tons/acre) 0.07 93
Hay (2.0 tons/acre) 0.02 98
Wood chips (6 tons/acre) 0.06 94
Wood cellulose (1.75 tons per acre)X 0.10 90
Other
Competent gravel layer 0.05 95
Rolled erosion control fabrics (for slope greater than 2:1) Variable C value by type

Expected performance for natural and synthetic mulches
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Water Quantity
Flow attenuation Little or no design benefit
Runoff volume reduction Little or no design benefit
Pollution prevention
Soil erosion Primary design benefit
Sediment control Little or no design benefit
Nutrient loading Primary design benefit
Pollutant removal
Total suspended solids Primary design benefit
Total phosphorus Primary design benefit
Heavy metals Secondary design benefit
Floatables Little or no design benefit
Oil and grease Little or no design benefit

Planning considerations

A key stormwater planning objective should be to keep the bare soil footprint at the site as small as possible by stabilizing inactive areas with mulch or other means until construction resumes in those portions of the site, or until temporary or permanent cover has been established. Planning and staging projects in a manner that minimizes the extent and duration of soil disturbance helps to reduce both erosion and sediment loss. In practice, this often means scheduling operations to complete clearing, grading, and cut/fill operations in a phased manner, so that manageably sized cleared and graded areas can be temporarily – or permanently – stabilized as the project proceeds. Planning approach examples include the following.

  • Subdivision development – complete clearing, grading, and primary road layout, then temporarily seed and mulch home site and secondary road locations until construction begins in those areas.
  • Commercial projects – grade building footprint(s) and proposed landscaped areas, then seed and mulch them and focus construction and material storage on areas immediately adjacent to the building pad(s). Parking lots can be graveled and used for material storage, staging, and parking.
  • Institutional and manufacturing facilities – same as commercial projects. Keep activities close to the vertical construction site, minimize disturbed areas, and temporarily seed and mulch idle areas.

Site personnel with minimal training can install most mulch materials (e.g., straw, rolled products). However, outside contractors are often needed to apply synthetic, hydraulically applied products (e.g., bonded fiber matrix). Keeping a supply of straw or other temporary cover (e.g., rolled erosion control products) on hand can help to ensure that temporary seeding is implemented both regularly and quickly. High priority areas for immediate stabilization include areas within 50 to 100 feet of a lake, river, stream, or wetland; slopes steeper than 4H:1V; and ditches and channels within 200 feet of a waterbody or property line.

Additional important planning considerations include the following.

  • Mulch temporary or permanent seed installations immediately.
  • Areas where vegetation cannot be established because of the season should be mulched to temporarily protect the soil surface.
  • Mulching is especially important when conditions for germination are not optimum, such as midsummer and early winter, and on difficult areas, such as cut slopes and slopes with southern exposures.
  • After mulching, seed the area as soon as conditions are favorable for germination and seedling growth.
  • Do not use materials that may contain competing weed and grass seeds.
  • Mulch may be spread by hand or with a mulch blower. Straw may be lost to wind and must be chemically or mechanically anchored to the soil immediately after it is spread.
  • Additional methods, including erosion control blankets and turf-reinforcement mats, may be needed in critical areas such as waterways and channels and slopes steeper than 3:1.
  • Tackifiers, or chemical soil stabilizers and soil binders, are useful for tacking organic mulches.
  • Various types of netting materials are also available to anchor organic mulches.

The current list of MnDOT certified/approved vendors for mulch are available on the MnDOT website:

Design

Key design parameters for mulch application are 1) the length of time stabilization is needed (i.e., temporarily or permanently); 2) whether the mulch will be used as a stand-alone cover or with seed; 3) site conditions, such as size, slope steepness, slope length, and accessibility; 4) available labor and equipment; and 5) cost. Mulch provides temporary and/or permanent stabilization of soil during and at the completion of construction, and aids in seed germination for vegetation establishment. Before mulching, install any needed erosion and sediment control practices such as diversions, grade stabilization structures, berms, dikes, grass-lined channels and sediment basins. The following tables list various mulch types, recommended application method, application rates, and pros/cons of different products. Note that rolled erosion prevention/control products (temporary erosion control blankets or permanent turf reinforcement mats) are often used instead of mulch.

Types of mulch products typically used on construction sites
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Mulch type Description Application Method
Straw, hay, or other grasses Wheat, oat, or pine straw; rolled or baled pasture grasses also used in some cases Hand scattering for small areas; chopper/blower used for larger areas, sometimes with co-applied tackifying agent to promote adhesion
Wood chips, bark, sawdust Waste product from sawmills and other timber harvest and processing operations Hand scattering or mechanized spreader
Rock Can include all classes of aggregate, riprap, and large stone; used for permanent erosion protection Placement by hand or equipment (e.g., track-hoe, skidder, front-end loader)
Hydraulically applied mulches Bonded fiber matrix products, including those manufactured with natural and/or synthetic fibers, cellulose, or other materials Spray application via high-pressure pumping from the mixing tank, through a hose and nozzle apparatus

Mulch types application rates benefits, and limitations
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Mulch Type Application Rate Benefits Limitations
Straw, hay, or other grasses 1.5 to 2.5 tons per acre Readily available and inexpensive; very effective in controlling erosion; can be applied on large sites via blower Can carry unwanted seeds; might need tackifier or anchoring,

especially on steep slopes

Wood chips, bark, sawdust 5 to 8 tons per acre Very low cost in some locations; chips can be effective on slopes up to 30% High nitrogen demand when decomposing; can float away or blow away during rain storms
Rock 200 to 500 tons per acre Could be inexpensive and readily available in some locales; might be suitable for smaller sites Inhibits plant growth; adds no nutrients to the soil; can be costly to apply on slopes and large sites; adds hardened look to slopes
Hydraulically applied mulches 1.5 to 2.5 tons per acre Easily and rapidly applied with sprayer equipment; can include seed, fertilizer, flexible/fibrous mulches, and soil binders Could be too expensive for small or very remote sites; after application, must dry for at least 24 hours before rainfall
photo of mulch
Photo of straw mulch secured by degradable netting.

Where mulches are used in conjunction with vegetation establishment, they should be selected to last as long as it takes to establish effective vegetative erosion prevention. On slopes greater than 2.5H:1V, or where the selected product mulch is susceptible to movement by wind or water (e.g., straw), the mulch material should be hydraulically applied or appropriately anchored. Bonded fiber matrix mulches and tackifying agents are used effectively to bind mulch materials and prevent displacement by wind or rain. Straw mulch can also be covered by degradable netting or secured by crimping into the soil. Other mulch application considerations are listed below.

Straw and other grasses

This picture shows a Construction site with straw mulch for temporary stabilization
Construction site with straw mulch for temporary stabilization

Wheat, oat, barley, and rice straw make excellent mulch. Because of its length and bulk, straw is highly effective in reducing the impact of raindrops and in moderating the microclimate of the soil surface. Straw mulch can be applied by hand on small sites and blown on by machine on large sites. Straw blowers have a range of about 50 feet. Some commercial models advertise a range up to 85 feet and a capacity of 15 tons per hour. Straw mulch should not be applied more than 2 inches deep on seeded sites, unless it is incorporated into the soil by tracking, disking (crimping), or other ground-securing techniques. If the straw is applied at rates higher than 3 tons per acre, the mulch could be too dense for the sunlight and seedlings to penetrate. Look for clean straw to prevent the spread of noxious weeds. Avoid moldy, compacted straw because it tends to clump and is not distributed evenly.

The straw must be evenly distributed by hand or machine to the desired depth (about 2 inches maximum), and should cover the exposed area to a uniform depth. One bale (approximately 80 lbs) of straw covers about 1,000 square feet adequately. The soil surface should be barely visible through the straw mulch. On steep or high-wind sites, straw must be anchored to keep it from blowing away. Straw mulch is commonly anchored by crimping, tracking, disking, punching into the soil, covering with a net, spraying with asphaltic or organic tackifier, or tacking with cellulose or other product. These various straw mulch anchoring techniques are described below.

  • Hand Punching - On small sites where straw has been distributed by hand, it can be anchored by hand punching it into the soil every 1 to 2 feet with a dull, round-nosed shovel. A sharp shovel will merely cut the straw and not anchor it.
  • Crimping - A mulch anchoring tool is a tractor-drawn implement designed to punch and anchor mulch into the top 2 to 8 inches of soil. This practice affords maximum erosion prevention but is limited to flatter slopes where equipment can operate safely.
  • Disking - A set of harrow discs can be straightened (not angled) and used to press the straw into the soil. Angled disk alignments are designed to turn soil and will cause too much disturbance.
  • Tracking – Tracking, which is the process of pushing straw into the soil using a bulldozer or other equipment with cleated tracks, is used primarily on slopes 3:1 or flatter where this type of equipment can safely operate. Tracking equipment must operate up and down the slope so the cleat tracks are perpendicular to flow.
  • Netting - Netting material made of biodegradable paper, plastic or cotton netting can be used to cover straw mulch. Netting should be specified judiciously since birds, snakes and other wildlife can get trapped in the net.
  • Tackifiers - Polymer tackifiers are generally applied at rates of 40 to 60 pounds per acre; however manufacturers’ recommendations vary. Organic tackifiers are generally applied at rates of 80 to 120 pounds per acre, but again, manufacturers’ recommendations vary. Applications of liquid mulch binders should be heavier at edges, in valleys, and at crests of banks and areas where the mulch could be moved by wind or water. All other areas must have a uniform application of the tackifier.

Wood chips or bark

Applied at a rate of 5 to 8 tons per acre, this mulch material should also be evenly distributed across the surface to a depth of about 2 inches. If soil building and revegetation are desired, increase the application rate of nitrogen fertilizer by 20 pounds of nitrogen per acre. This compensates for the temporary loss of available nitrogen to soil microbes as they break down the carbon-rich mulch.

Rock

Rock may be useful for stabilizing long slopes that will not support thickly seeded grass. Install non-woven geotextile on graded slopes and place rock of mixed sizes on the geotextile, starting at the bottom and working uphill. Generally, rock is not suitable for residential or other areas where aesthetics are a design consideration.

Hydraulic mulches

This picture shows a Close-up photo of hydromulch application
Close-up photo of hydromulch application

Hydraulic mulch (also known as hydromulch) can be used to rapidly stabilize critical areas that are difficult to reach or are located on slopes greater than 3:1. The specific composition of the mulch and application rates vary. In general, a hydraulic mulch is a processed material that can be applied in a continuous stream when mixed with water, and can vary in type, composition, additive materials, and durability (i.e., from light-duty to heavy-duty).

When applied, hydraulic mulches form a thick crust or mat-like barrier that controls water and wind induced erosion.

Hydraulic mulches can be made of recycled newsprint, magazines, wood, or other wood/paper waste sources. Many proprietary products feature a mix of natural and synthetic fibers and cellulose. This type of mulch is typically mixed in a hydraulic application machine (hydroseeder) and applied via sprayer as a liquid slurry at a minimum rate of 1.5 tons per acre. The slurry usually contains a dye to aid in visual metering during application, although the dye must be biodegradable and not inhibit plant growth. Hydraulic mulches can also contain the recommended rates of seed and fertilizer for the site, and be specified with or without a tackifier. Hydraulic mulches from wood and paper fiber are combination mulches generally composed of 70 percent wood fiber and 30 percent paper fiber, and manufactured from lumber mill waste, virgin wood chips, recycled newsprint, office paper, and/or other waste paper.

One or two application rates are generally specified for hydraulic mulch. The first is the blanket equivalent rate required for erosion prevention (usually between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds per acre). The other, typically half the erosion blanket control rate, is useful for enhancing seed germination and soil stabilization where slopes are 6:1 or flatter. The following table summarizes MnDOT approved products for hydraulic mulch.

MnDOT approved - qualified hydraulic mulch products
Link to this table

Brand/Model Name Manufacturer Date Approved
Hydraulic Compost Matrix
TerraVita HGM Organic Earth Industries 4-2014
Biotic Earth Black ErosionControlBlanket.com 11-2014
Hydraulic Mulch Matrix
Verdyol Virgin Plus ErosionControlBlanket.com 10-2015
Excel Fibermulch II Bindex Wood WT American Excelsior Co 5-2011
Second Nature Wood Fiber Plus Enviro-Gold Plus Second Nature

Wood Fiber Blend Plus Enviro Mix Plus (40-60%)

Central Fiber Corp. 3-2014
HydroStraw Guar Plus HydroStraw Straw Lock HydroStraw 9-2014
Mat-Blend Plus, Mat Fiber Plus Mat Inc. 4-2014
  • Conwed Fibers 2000
  • Terra Wood with Tack
  • Eco-Fibre Plus Tackifier
  • Conwed Fibers EnviroBlend with Tack
  • Terra-Blend with Tack
Profile Products
  • 6-2014
  • 6-2014
  • 6-2014
  • 11-2014
  • 11-2014
Hydra GT Tensar/No.Am.Green 9-2014
Stabilized Fiber Matrix
Spray Guard Mat Inc. 4-2014
Terra-Matrix SMM Profile Products 9-2014
Hydra CM Tensar/No. Am Green 9-2014
Bonded Fiber Matrix
Verdyol Virgin BFM ErosionControlBlanket.com 10-2015
Bindex BFM American Excelsior Co. 5-2011
Spray Matt, Enviro Matt Central Fiber Corp. 3-2014
Soil Guard Mat Inc. 4-2014
ProMatrix

Hydro Blanket BFM

Profile Products 8-2012

6-2014

Fiber Reinforced Matrix
Spray Matrix

Enviro-Matrix

Central Fiber Corp. 3-2014
Flex Guard Mat Inc. 4-2014
Hydra CX Tensar/No. Am Green 11-2014
Earth Guard Fiber Matrix Terra Nova 3-2015
Flexterra HP Profile Products 4-2014

Important considerations for hydraulic mulch application include the following.

  • Spraying of hydraulic mulch should not be performed during windy conditions, which would prevent the proper placement.
  • The contractor should protect all traffic, signs, structures and other objects from being marked or disfigured by the mulch/tackifier material.
  • The tackifiers specified should be applied at the manufacturer’s recommended rate.
  • The tackifier can be premixed by the manufacturer, or can be added in the field.
  • The tackifier should comprise 2 to 5 percent by weight.
  • Blended mulches are not typically intended for use on areas with high erosion potential.
  • Hydraulic mulches are an excellent germination medium, and should be considered on flatter slopes and hard-to-reach areas.
  • The use of wood fiber mulch in combination with straw has been found to be very effective.
  • Seeding and fertilizing should be done prior to mulching.
  • Disk-anchoring is not required with this practice, which makes this an ideal alternative for hard-to-reach areas where disk-anchoring is not possible.

Standards and specifications

MnDOT Specification 2575.3 part C (page 504) provides guidance for mulch application, including application methods, MnDOT mulch types, and winter considerations. Part D (page 504) covers disk anchoring of mulch (applicable to Types 1, 3, and 8). Part K.4 (page 508) covers maintenance of mulch. Specification 2575.4.C (page 510) prescribes requirements for measurement of mulch, and Specification 2575.4.E (page 510) covers measurement of disk anchoring. Mulch should meet Specification 3882 (“Mulch Material”; pages 675-676).

Inspection and maintenance

Inspect mulched areas weekly and after rainstorms to check for rill erosion, dislocation, or failure. Repair or replace any bare areas promptly. If properly applied and anchored, little additional maintenance is required for mulch during the first few months. After high winds or significant rainstorms, mulched areas should be checked for adequate cover and re-mulched if necessary. For permanent stabilization, mulch needs to last until vegetation is well established to provide permanent erosion resistant cover. Straw mulch can last from 6 months to 3 years, depending on local conditions. For permanent stabilization, maintain downgradient sediment controls (e.g., silt fence, fiber rolls) until dense vegetation with fairly uniform coverage is established. Irrigate seeded areas if dry conditions hinder germination or early growth. Cover bare or sparse areas with mulch until they can be reseeded or inter-seeded, which should be done at the earliest opportunity.

MnDOT’s workmanship and rework schedule in the following table (2016; version under development at the time of manual update) identifies common deficiencies for various types of stabilization BMPs – including mulch – and corrective actions for these deficiencies. Once complete, the full, final version of this table will replace Table 2575-4 in MnDOT Standard Specifications for Construction (2016 edition).

Excerpt from Table 2575-4 - Required Corrective Action
Link to this table

Item Corrective Action Required if: Corrective action
Mulch material, hydraulic erosion control products
  • Incorrect rate of application
  • Not uniformly placed
  • Rutting on slopes from equipment
  • Improper anchoring
  • Broken disks, wrong angle
  • Remulch to provide proper coverage
  • Adjust placement of mulch to provide uniform placement
  • Fix ruts, remulch and reseed
  • Re-anchor the mulch
  • Use equipment designed for anchoring

Costs

The following table summarizes estimated BMP costs based on MnDOT data summarizing average bid prices for awarded projects in 2014.

Average mulch bid prices for spec year 2014
Link to this table

Bid Item Item Description Units Average Price
2575.511/00010 Mulch Material Type 1 ton 💲178.58
2575.511/00030 Mulch Material Type 3 ton 💲411.45
2575.513/00050 Mulch Material Type 5 CY 💲13.63
2575.513/00060 Mulch Material Type 6 CY 💲65.27
2575.513/00090 Mulch Material Type 9 CY 💲64.92
2575.519/00010 Disk Anchoring acre 💲94.65
2575.562/00020 Hydraulic Matrix Type Mulch lb 💲0.65
2575.562/00030 Hydraulic Matrix Type Bonded Fiber lb 💲11.00
2575.562/00040 Hydraulic Matrix Type Fiber Reinforced lb 💲1.46

CY = cubic yard

Reference materials

Except where more stringent requirements are presented in this guidance, BMPs shall comply with MnDOT and other state requirements. Primary design references include.

The following is a list of additional resources that are not specific to Minnesota.


Related pages

This page was last modified on 4 April 2019, at 14:49.

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