The Best And Worst Types Of Mulch For Your Garden

Tom Gaffey
by Tom Gaffey
Credit: Shutterstock / OzCameraman

After you add new plants to the ground, you should add more than just soil on top to keep your them safe. Mulch is the most commonly used substance in gardens to add on top of the soil. It protects plants and keeps them hydrated. It also prevents weeds from popping up and stealing light and nutrients. But with so many varieties out there, it is important to know which types of mulch are the best, and which types to avoid.

Mulch is important for gardening, but some types work better than others. The best mulch types to use in your garden include pine needles and bark, as well as straw, cocoa hulls, leaves, and even grass clippings. Cypress works well, but make sure you use sustainable mulch that doesn’t hurt the environment. Avoid using non-organic mulches including plastic and fabrics, and don’t use rocks or stones as a substitute.

If you want to know if you should add mulch to your garden, the answer is usually yes. It adds a nice color and cleanliness and it is also great for your plants. Before you grab whatever mulch looks the best or is priced lowest, make sure you read further in this article. There are some great mulches and some you need to avoid. First, you need to know more about mulch and how it can benefit your garden.

Five Reasons You Should Add Mulch To Your Garden

1. Prevents Weeds And Invasive Species From Sprouting

One major benefit to mulch is it is great at preventing weeds from sprouting in your garden. Mulch keeps the soil protected from the sun, which also keeps weeds from having the light they need to survive and peek through the layers of mulch.

This helps reduce your need to weed as frequently. It also ensures that all the nutrients in the ground can go to your plant’s roots instead of those of an invasive species.

2. Helps Your Plants Retain Moisture

Plants need water to survive. When they are outdoors, especially when they are young, they need a steady supply of water, and without it they can shrivel up and die. Mulch is a great way to keep your plants hydrated. Mulch retains a bit of moisture and keeps the ground damp.

Furthermore, it acts as a barrier and prevents the water from evaporating from the ground and into the air. This gives your plants more time to soak up water.

3. Protects The Soil And Roots

Mulch not only acts as a barrier from the sun, but it is a good protector against all sorts of elements. Mulch can keep pests and nature’s other elements like heavy wind and rain from uprooting your plants.

Without the added layer of mulch, there is an increased chance that water runoff or extreme winds will expose the roots of your plant, making them vulnerable.

4. Gives Your Plants Some Additional Nutrients

Did you know that mulch not only protects your plants, but it can also feed them? That’s right, some mulch has nutrients that are slowly released into the soil. These nutrients include much-needed nitrogen. The important thing to remember is you will only get this from certain organic mulches, never synthetic ones.

5. Mulch Is Aesthetically Pleasing To The Eye

Lastly, mulch is an added benefit to the garden because it looks great. Instead of looking at dirt, you can look at a uniquely colored top layer of mulch. Gardens with mulch tend to look more dynamic, and they also usually look neater and cleaner. This is something to consider when you are selecting the best type of mulch for your garden.

The Best Mulch To Use In Your Garden

1. Pine Straw

One of the best types of mulch you can use is pine straw. One great attribute of pine straw is that it is lightweight. Pine straw mulch is incredibly light, which makes it easy to transport and spread around. It is also a lot more gentle on your plant’s roots.

Pine straw also doesn’t decompose as quickly as most other mulches. Even though it is lightweight and seemingly fragile, it actually can last longer than bark mulches. It also has a high acidity content, which can add acidity to your soil. This is great for plants that enjoy higher acidity.

2. Straw Mulch

Straw mulch is another organic option that can be great for certain plants. This mulch also adds nutrients to the soil, but its main claim to fame is moisture control. It is great at absorbing moisture. This makes it ideal for plants that are prone to rot or vegetables that grow on the ground.

Pumpkins, large squashes, and other fall vegetables can all benefit from straw mulch. It also tends to be quite cheap in certain areas, making it worth considering for your vegetable garden, especially later in the season.

3. Pine Bark

Pine needles aren’t the only great mulch that comes from a pine tree. Pine bark mulch is also a very nice mulch. Pine bark mulch is very rich in nutrients, so it will feed your soil for several months. It also lasts a while in place, meaning you don’t need to constantly rake it. Most of all, it retains moisture, which helps keep the soil underneath at stable temperatures.

Another great quality of pine bark mulch is its smell. It has a lovely evergreen aroma that can help your entire garden smell like a clean and robust forest. It is also appealing to look at, which is great for anyone looking for an attractive mulch to lay down in the garden.

4. Cocoa Hulls

If you want to try an exotic mulch, especially if you live in a tropical area, consider using cocoa hulls. Cocoa hulls look great, as they have a shiny brown color, and look truly unique. They are great at retaining moisture in your garden, and can even give off a slightly sweet aroma. Cocoa hulls can be expensive, but last a long time and are great at keeping weeds away.

5. Leaves Or Grass Clippings

If you want an organic mulch that won’t cost you any money, consider using grass clippings or leaves as mulch. Dead leaves and grass clippings are very high in nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorous.

In addition to being free, they are organic and will help keep your plants temporarily free of weeds and well-protected from weather extremes. These mulches will decompose faster than bark and other mulches.

The Worst Types Of Mulch To Use

Red Dye Mulch

One popular mulch type you will see is wood that is dyed red to give the appearance of organic cedar mulch. While this mulch might look good at first, resist purchasing it. This is because the red dye often has toxins and contaminants in it.

While organic mulches feed your plants much-needed nutrients, dyed mulches often end up feeding plants the dye and the toxins that come along with it. Always keep it natural when purchasing mulch for your garden.

Plastic Mulch

Never buy mulch that has plastics. More and more you hear about forever chemicals in plastics. You can even find these forever chemicals in the plastic used to cover gardens. These chemicals can even find their way into your fresh produce. If you go through all the effort to have a nice natural garden, don’t ruin it with unnatural mulch and other materials.

Stones And Rocks

While not technically a mulch, stones and rocks are often used in place of mulch to cover plant roots. While this might look nice, it is not a good idea. Stones are heavy, and in turn, they can put a lot of extra pressure on your plants. They also do not retain water, so they aren’t great at hydrating your plants.

Summing Up the Best And Worst Mulch Types To Use

Mulch can add a lot to your garden. It keeps the ground free of weeds and certain pests while protecting the roots and keeping the ground moist. The key is choosing the right mulch. Always choose natural and organic mulches. Pine needles and bark are great options, as are cocoa hulls, and even hay and dead leaves. Never use dyed mulches or mulch with inorganic materials, including plastics.

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Tom Gaffey
Tom Gaffey

Tom Gaffey is an expert writer who currently resides in Washington D.C. Tom has a passion for real estate and home improvement writing, as well as travel and lifestyle writing. He lived the last twelve years in Hawaii where he worked closely with luxury resorts and event planners, mastering his knowledge of aesthetics and luxury products. This is where he found his passion for home improvement and a keen interest in DIY projects. Currently, Tom resides in Washington D.C, and also working on his debut fiction novel.

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