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How to charge for laying mulch?

Discussion in 'Landscape Maintenance' started by KstateCutter, Jun 9, 2007.

  1. KstateCutter

    KstateCutter LawnSite Member
    Messages: 30

    The last two days I have laid quite a bit of mulch (7 cu yds). When talking with the customer I told her I would charge by the hour and we agreed on a price. As I was working I had plenty of time to think and started thinking I should have charged by the cubic foot laid as opposed to by the job or by the hour. What do you guys think? How do you charge for something like this?
  2. PerfectEarth

    PerfectEarth LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,734

    I charge by the yard- marked-up, delivered, installed. So... I get great mulch for 21/yd. Yea, it's a bit higher than I could get hardwood but it's great stuff and people love it. Anyways, figure how long it takes you on average to lay one yard.

    I can spread pretty fast. I did 6 yds today on a job (beds were already prepped) and it took about 5-6 hours, including two nursery trips and install. AND, I'm about a third finished. If the spreading is easy, I can clear about 4 yards in my Bri-mar in about 1:45

    I priced the mulch part of the job at around 1,760. That's 16 yards total at 110 per yard. Gotta make it worth your time.

    So, figure your mulch cost, mark-up, delivery?, labor you'd like per hour to lay

    it's gonna be very different for everyone. I admit, my price is one the higher end but worth it for the customer
  3. 65hoss

    65hoss LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,360

    We charge $85 per yard for black and $70 per yard for brown. I buy black for $14 per yard and brown for $8 per yard.

    BUCKEYE MOWING LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,169

    I charge by the yard ..I pay appox $20 a yard and charge $100 to install. I may lower my price if they want flowers and shrubs planted as I can make more money on the plant markups !!!
  5. KstateCutter

    KstateCutter LawnSite Member
    Messages: 30

    What is a typical markup? I have been doing 25%
  6. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    That's the thing, a lot of folks think mulch is just manual labor but it's not!
    It is intensely mental, I find I have to think about it the entire time I'm doing it or I either run out or have left over, for starters. I can only handle but so much a season, once I get up to around 80-100 c.y.'s for the year, I can't deal with it anymore.
    Physically it's not bad, it's good money, but it drains me mentally.

    You have to know your cost, that is, the cost of a cubic yard, the cost of the trip to go get it (or have it delivered), and then, roughly the time it takes to spread a c.y.

    I charge anywhere from $30 - $65 per c.y. over top of the c.y. cost, it all depends how much mulch (more is usually a bit less), and how it is spread (by hand or with a rake, hand spreading costs way more but I also get a lot more area covered and it looks better, rake spread is good for thicker or base covers, either way actually adds out in the end.

    As a rule, since I'm only using hand tools, I like to get around $50 pmh, and I can spread 2 c.y.'s / hour with a rake, 1 by hand, so roughly $25 per c.y. rake spread but $50 by hand... Just as a rule, it doesn't always work out, but I do ok with it.

    Now IF the customer orders their own, it's $5 per wheel barrow rake spread, and they don't seem to like that math.
    My problem is, I never know how much mulch it really is when they order it, 6 c.y.'s loaded bucket heavy is as much as 7 c.y.'s loaded bucket light, so how do I know if it's really 10 c.y.'s they ordered, or is it 11?
    Oh yeah right, I can tell just looking at this big pile in the driveway, no but really, I'll take their word for it.
    Now you figure I'm counting the wheel barrows (it's 6 barrows / c.y. on average for me) then I'm getting paid for it, too. The other thing is, I wanted to get paid for the delivery, that's the cake part of the job.
    Haven't quite figured out the hand spread rate per barrow but it doesn't matter, once a customer realizes I'm taking no chances, it's over... So, "We ordered the mulch ourselves" translates to "We were thinking of a discount, but the mulch yard didn't give it to us, so now it's up to you."

    As you can see, I think about mulch, too.
  7. sheshovel

    sheshovel LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,112

    OMG did I just read what I think I read? LMAO! Really what IS spread by hand? Never heard of it, really I haven't. I do not take jobs where the customer wants to order their own mulch. Just don't do it, problem solved. You should know by now, I would think... after spreading all that mulch... exactly how much you need. Heck, I don't even have to measure anymore, I just glance at it and can tell how much I need, never run short and rarely over by more than a quarter yard.
    Nope Topsites, you may go intensely mental over mulching, but most of us do not.
  8. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    Hand spreading mulch is a trick, I learned, to make mulch go far further than any other method.
    Believe me it's not much fun, it's literally a painful and time-consuming task, hence why it costs.

    But with a hand spread I can cover 360 square feet with one cubic yard of mulch, the spread looks as fine as the blower truck, that is a hand spread. There is no other way to spread mulch that thin, you can not do it with a rake, the thinnest cover spread I get with a rake is around 240 square feet per c.y. (180 is more like it).

    I mean, anybody can spread mulch thick, that's no trick, just order a TON of mulch at a rate of one c.y. per 90 sq.feet and anybody can spread it, but with today's customers that is hardly profitable. Nobody is going to pay $200 when the guy up the street can do it for $100, and I don't care who you are (not you, anyone).

    For reference, a 90 sq.ft. / c.y. spread is about a 4 inch thick cover.
    A 180 sq.ft. / c.y. spread is about a 2 inch cover.
    A 240 sq.ft. / c.y. spread is 1-2 inches thick.
    And a 360 sq.ft. / c.y. spread is a mere inch thickness, and an inch may sound like something but in terms of mulch, an inch is paper thin! It is so thin, if you sneeze you get a bare spot.

    Now with the double shredded stuff, hand spreading is a waste, to me double shred is for base cover, that's all it's good for because in 2-4 weeks it's bleached out anyhow.

    The only thing I hand spread is designer or colored mulch, the stuff doesn't lighten in color for months, and it looks good no matter how thin, the only thing is thou you need a base cover of some kind first (so it's good for subsequent applications). No, don't do it for first-time apps, it's really only good if you have a base cover (even if it's last years, but a base).

    Because here's the thing, say I have to cover 1400 square feet...
    I can rake spread it and it takes 6-8 c.y.'s of mulch, make it 8 and be safe.
    Hours spent spreading: ~4
    Cost of mulch $14 x 8 = $112
    Customer price: $50 x 8 = $400 (and two trips to the mulch yard for me, need I detail this cost?).

    Or, I can hand spread it and it takes 4 c.y.'s colored...
    Hours spent spreading: ~4
    My Cost of colored mulch $24 x 4 = $96
    Customer price: $90 x 4 = $360 (and LOL to the bank)
    You know, I've even done it for $80 x 4 = $320, just for kicks and because it is still so very profitable, $85 is good.

    You need a ton of pain killers the first few times around, it is rough on your back.
    Later, hopefully you figure out how to do it with the 10-tine, spread mulch with just the barrow and the 10-tine :)
    Either way, hands or 10-tine.
  9. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    btw before you get excited about hand spreading, better practice :laugh:

    Seriously, I didn't get into it until my 4th or 5th year, I always hated it, thought the fools who did it must be stupid or nuts.

    But there had to be a reason, the blower truck is what caught my attention to it, just watching how thin those guys laid down the mulch and how good it looked, I had to take another look... You really have to watch a blower truck sometime, it is just amazing! Well anyhow, later, after they were gone (this was in a big subdivision, HOA stuff), I stopped and took a close look... Sure enough, it was designer mulch (colored, brown).

    The only thing that remained was how do I get it down that thin, I said to myself, I have to do that, I have to get it down as thin and make it look as good as that blower truck just did... That was the trick, because colored mulch isn't cheap, few customers would buy it just because it looks nicer...
    So make it look better for less $, one thing led to another :laugh:

    I started hand spreading literally by hand, load the barrow and use the hands.
    PITA the first few times, I'd start with a few practice barrows here and there, to get the feel for it.
    Eventually, I worked myself up to a whole cubic yard, whenever I'd run short this was a good trick to know.

    Later I figured out how to do it with the 10-tine, easier on the back, hands stay cleaner (for wiping sweat).
    Hardest part here is forking it out of the barrow, don't spill! :laugh:

    Nowadays, if it's not a base cover, it gets hand spread, almost for sure. I plan on eventually going with purely colored mulch, it's what most of the commercial applicators use (like in shopping malls, etc). It's still a PITA, I like doing 2-3 c.y.'s hand spread max per sitting, 4 is a bit rough and I did 5 once but it's a killer.
  10. LindblomRJ

    LindblomRJ LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,570

    Yup... And a 14 page dissertation about it to boot.

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