What’s The Best Mulch?

In posting yesterday about my mulch (that I got for $1.34 per 2 cubic foot bag) several people left comments about what mulch they like to use. I thought that maybe today it might be good to take a look at the types of mulch and what’s good about each one. The main purpose behind any mulch is to retain moisture in the soil for plants to utilize.

Hardwood Mulch
The mulch I use the most is regular brown hardwood mulch. I usually get it in bulk from a local bulk landscaping supply company because it’s usually cheaper in bulk than in the bag. Generally I pay about $30 per yard which is 27 cubic feet. The brown mulch looks good and lasts through each season and then some. It’s an organic mulch which gradually decomposes and feeds the soil.

Pine Mulch

Pine Mulch by the bag

The bags of mulch I picked up this weekend were filled with pine mulch. It breaks down a little faster than the hardwood mulch.

Pine Straw
Pine straw is just pine needles. Pine straw usually comes in bales and is very inexpensive. It’s even cheaper if you happen to live in areas with pine trees! Over the course of many years it can acidify your soil – slightly. It makes good cover for azaleas, blueberries, and other acid loving plants but really won’t effect other soils significantly unless you had very heavy acid soil to begin with. There are two good advantages to pine needles – it’s cheap and easy to spread!

Straw works great on vegetable gardens and decomposes fast to enrich the soil. It’s also fairly inexpensive and sold by the bale.

Rock, Stone, and Gravel
This is probably the most expensive of the mulches but it will probably outlast the gardener! I’m not a big fan of rock mulch because is doesn’t feed the soil. If the rocks are in a sunny location they will heat up the area more during the day creating a warmer micro-climate. That may be good if you live in cooler regions but for Tennessee it’s not necessary. I’d rather save the rocks for use in borders and dry creek beds.

Grass Clippings
I have a push lawnmower with a bag attachment that I use all the time to collect grass clippings. The clippings decompose fast, feed the soil, and keep the moisture underneath. My favorite use for grass clippings other than the compost bin is to start new beds with heavy layers of grass. A 3-5 inch layer of grass will completely kill off the grass and weeds I cover with it. A layer of newspapers underneath is a good insurance policy against a few highly determined weeds creeping through. When the grass decomposes I have a soft soil to begin a new bed with a more attractive type of mulch.

In the fall I collect leaves everywhere I can, chop them up with the bagger mower (which inevitably fills with a mixture of leaves and grass clippings) then spread them anywhere that needs more mulch. Around trees, over garden beds, in the vegetable garden, or anywhere else – it works great! Just be careful if you have black walnut trees since the leaves contain a chemical that retards plant growth.

Questions for Garden Bloggers:
In a post on your blog write about your favorite mulch! Why do you like it? Where do you put it? Share a little Mulch Madness with us. Any blogger posting about your mulch mayhem will get linked to in this post with the appropriate mulch!

8 thoughts on “What’s The Best Mulch?”

  1. I really like a product called "sweet peet". It's composted horse manure. I find that it has done wonders for my terrible soil. It really helps the worm population, they seem to like it more than the hardwood mulch I used to use. Plus we had some termite problems once, so now I stay away from hardwood mulches.

  2. We use pine straw and fallen leaves. We cannot use hardwood mulch because of the risk of termites (our house is made of wood and we live in a hot, humid climate).

  3. I use cedar mulch for my "nice looking mulch," wood chips from our free city mulch pile (it can be kinda twiggy and you never know exactly what wood you've got) for general mulching under shrubs and stuff and wheat straw for the vegetable bed (also free from my mom and dad's barn). I never mulch with rock. We removed rock from our yard when we bought it. I'd much rather feed the soil!

  4. Hi Dave

    Informative post as ever.

    Do you ever use Coco shell mulch. It looks nice and apparently slugs don't like it. Unfortunately it's hidiously expensive over here.

    Interesting you mention about Black Walnut. I collect the leaves from the common European Walnut trees here each Autumn and after about a year they've rotted to make a good looking leaf mould. Now I know that they have a naturally occouring herbicide called Juglone, but I reckon that after a year of rotting, it should become completely inert and therefore unlikely to be able to harm. That said, the black walnut does contain higher levels of juglone than my trees, but again, after a year it should be neutralised.

    That's my theory, I wondered if you know any good online info sources on this subject?

  5. So I am jumping up and down around here…my husband bought me a push mower with the attachment for collecting the clippings and leaves…Of course I had to give it the go around yesterday afternoon. Gonna have a Big Time with this new toy…I do have the purchased mulch in some areas and some rocks in the rock garden..

  6. I think I've posted on mulch before but I'll try to update it. I like all of them that are organic (will break down). I usually use only leaves since they are free and readily available. No shredding here. They go on whole and it works well. If I had a choice though and money were no object I bet I'd use pine needles everywhere, then shredded hardwood.

  7. My favorite mulch is the pine fines, very finely ground pine bark sold in bags as soil conditioner at the big box stores. It is cheap, breaks down quickly, allows volunteer seedlings to get a good toehold and looks neat and tidy. New this year is the pea gravel for the knot garden beds. It did deter squirrel digging for the most part. The down side is how heavy the bags were, my poor husband having to carry them so far up the hill. No way can we push the wheelbarrow up it anymore, better to just sling it over his shoulder, one bag at a time. In subsequent years it will be less bags to top up, so he won't have to work so hard. I cannot even lift one bag though.

  8. I love using pine straw. It is fast and easy. Also low cost. I have a large yard and get it buy the bulk. I put it around many of my trees and flower beds. Also like to cut out little walking traits with it. It is also great because it helps keep the weeds down. The best place I have found to get it is http://custonpinestraw.com.

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