Mulch: 12 different types and their uses | The Best Gardening

Mulches: Types and Uses

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About Anni

Gardening for life, liberty, and happiness. I love running, hiking, being with my family, gardening, cooking (most especially the stuff we pick from our garden), and reading.

39 Responses to Mulches: Types and Uses

  1. J.C. March 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    We used straw mulch one year when I was a kid and we still had tons of weeds. And then the worst thing was that it left seeds everywhere and actually caused more weeds. So I would agree with you – I don’t think I would ever use straw mulch on my garden.

    • Anni March 21, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      JC,

      I have used straw mulch elsewhere, and it does work… as long as you lay it about 10 inches thick. I guess it just lets too much light through or something, so unless it’s really, really thick (like on pathways or something) I agree with you that straw mulch just isn’t worth it. And finding clean straw mulch (without the grass seed) can be difficult.

      Besides, I love using wood chips and compost so much and they’re easy to get ahold of. :)

    • Ron G October 14, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      FYI straw is hay without the seed heads. I think you used hay, not straw.

      • Anni October 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

        Nope. It was definitely straw. :)
        It just comes with some weeds in tow, most of the time, which usually have their seed intact. Like wild grasses and stuff that grew in the field with the wheat (or whatever other type of straw you’re using).

  2. KM March 21, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Is it necessary to add mulch to potted plants? Are there benefits or drawbacks to adding it or not?

    • Anni March 21, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      KM,

      With potted plants, it’ll actually depends on the type of plants you’re growing, your preferences, and what effects you’re trying to achieve.

      For example, some potted plants might benefit from rock mulch, because it helps keep them warmer during the cold months. This is advantageous, because in cold seasons, the roots of plants that are planted in the ground are protected by the soil from cold weather and frosts. But for potted plants, their roots are sitting in the pot, above ground, and are much more likely to feel the effects of cold weather. Adding rocks (especially dark rocks) would soak up the heat of the sun during the day, and radiate the heat at night, helping to keep the plant warmer.

      If you’re growing potatoes in pots, you’d be going for different effects because potatoes don’t like their roots to get too warm. I’ve seen people grow potatoes in those black plastic pots, or even black garbage bags, in the spring. The problem is, those black pots or bags will soak up the sun, and very soon, it will warm the soil inside, the potato roots will be warmed beyond its comfort point, and the tubers stop growing. So then you’d get really small potato tubers. Which is fine, unless you were going for big potato tubers. Mulching around the pot with straw, for example, would reflect the light of the sun and the pot wouldn’t heat up nearly as quickly.

      If I were to give a general, over-all recommendation, I would say to mulch all your potted plants with well-composted compost. The addition of the organic matter will help to keep the potting soil light airy, so the soil in the pot doesn’t get too compacted. And as you water your plant each day, the compost will leech nutrients into the potting soil that your plant will be able to use.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Migsy March 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Thanks for the note about newspapers. I’ve always wondered about that. I haven’t used newspapers in my garden because I was worried about the ink. I think I might give them a try this year. I’m sick of weeding.
    And it’s good to know about the boxes. I wouldn’t have even thought of fire retardent chemicals or other chemicals being on the cardboard!

    • Anni March 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

      You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Anni March 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

      Migsy,

      I had never considered chemicals on cardboard either until a friend of mine mentioned to me that she had wanted to compost her boxes, but someone told her not to because they had been sprayed with ‘something’. I decided to find out what that something was, and learned about the fire retardant chemicals. Who knew?!

  4. Jake's Mom March 27, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    I used straw mulch one year and I loved it, and then the next year it didn’t do so well. I think it’s because the first year I put a lot down, so it made a really thick layer, and the next year I didn’t put down as much. My neighbor said that it allows too much light to get through unless it’s really thick. So I do like using straw mulch, but it does have to be in a really thick layer.

    • Anni March 27, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

      Jake’s Mom,
      You’re right… Because the straw itself is light in color and a thin material, you have to have quite a lot of it for it to really work well as a mulch. If it’s used in a thick layer and comes from a truly weed-free source (so it doesn’t spread more weed seed in your garden) straw mulch can be a good mulch.

  5. Anni May 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    We don’t have a garden forum (yet… we may someday) but there are several good ones out there. Here are a few links to get you started:
    http://forums.gardenweb.com
    http://www.theeasygarden.com/forum/
    http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/
    http://forums.finegardening.com/
    I hope that helps!
    ~~Anni

    • Leonore Neumann May 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Hi Anni, I am wondering about the possibility of acquiring histoplasmosis from using pine needles as mulch. It is a fungal disease that is fairly common in northern Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin among people who work in the woods and are exposed to decaying pine needles. Do you have any information on this?

      • Anni May 6, 2013 at 7:34 am #

        Leonore,
        I’ve never heard of a gardener who got a histoplasmosis infection from using pine needles as a mulch. Histoplasmosis infections are more likely to occur where there are a lot of bird or bat droppings, which is much more likely to occur in a forested area, than in a garden. Birds and bats tend to live in trees and other things, and that’s where their droppings are going to accumulate. So I don’t think you’re likely to have a problem with it from using pine needles as a mulch.
        ~~Anni

  6. Paul Griffith May 5, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    I got two large loads of wood chis from my electric power company they were cleaning the right of way I live on a farm and enough land to store this much out of site. Now my question I was telling a neighbor about my mulch (it is pine and oak mixed ) she said wood chips would cause a roach infestation what do you think ?

    • Anni May 6, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      Paul,

      There are many types of roaches, and even though we think of the roaches that tend to get indoors, there are many that live primarily outdoors. And most of them do love wood chips, straw, and pine needles. If you keep the pile well away from your house, then even if the pile gets infested by cockroaches, they won’t move indoors too. So that’s number one… keep it away from your house.

      It doesn’t really matter what mulch you use, any mulch has the possibility of attracting cockroaches. They can certainly be pests in the garden, because they’ll often feed on young seedlings. So if your pile gets infested, you’ll want to control the roach population in the pile before you spread it on your garden. (That’s “if”. It’s not guaranteed that it will get infested.) The number one way to keep cockroaches away, or to at least manage their population, is to use birds. Make sure your property attracts plenty of birds and they’ll enjoy making meals of any cockroaches that may come.

      And again, I wouldn’t necessarily say having a wood chip pile will cause an infestation of cockroach. It has the potential of attracting them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come and become so numerous it will cause an infestation.

      Plenty of places, whether they’re private residences or business buildings, use some form of wood chip mulch in all the ornamental garden beds around the building. It depends on weather, environment, birds, availability of food, etc. If there’s an apple orchard down the road, then all local cockroaches are likely to hightail it for the apple orchard and leave your wood chip pile in the middle of a field alone. Or if your wood chip pile is right next to a pick-your-own berry farm, it may become a convenient destination for cockroaches to live.

      So I guess what I’m saying is yes, there’s a possibility it will attract cockroaches. It seems like almost anything has the possibility of attracting cockroaches. But it depends on a lot of things. And whether or not it will become an infestation will also depend on a lot of things, mainly availability of food around the area.

      I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by!

      ~~Anni

  7. Guy Lessard May 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Quick note on wood chips. Never use them on plantings around a house. They can and will attract termites into your home. Otherwise they are fine in the garden.

    • Anni May 6, 2013 at 8:01 am #

      Yes, I have seen a couple of instances where termites were attracted to wood chips around buildings and caused problems with the buildings themselves. Thank goodness it doesn’t happen more often, especially with how often wood chips are used on all sorts of ornamental garden beds around business buildings and homes alike!

  8. Guy Lessard May 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Oh and I should mention that I live in New England and have had great success using weed-block fabric on my vegetable beds. The trick about watering is to run a drip hose underneath the fabric. The drip hose lets you use less water and put it where it does the most good. Plus fabric has another benefit, it suppresses disease spores which are bounced up onto a plant from the soil when watering from above. So I use it to suppress weeds, disease and for heating the soil.

    • Anni May 6, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      Drip hoses underneath the fabric would work well. I also like soaker hoses in those instances too.

      My dad used to used the black garden fabric it for heating the soil too (in Idaho), to try and grow watermelons, which we were successful at probably 1 out of ever 4 or 5 years. :)

      We’ve seen other people use wood chips (chopped up trees and branches with varying sizes of wood chips from fine, needle-like bits to big chunks) in their gardens, and it protects the soil and holds enough rainwater that they practically never need to water except just after sowing, to keep the seeds moist. That’s what we’re doing this year, and I’m excited to observe the results for myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  9. Steve Rambo September 16, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Can you tell me if it permissible to use gravel as a mulch around my Mexican Fan Palm trees. Thanks.

    • Anni October 21, 2013 at 8:49 am #

      Hmmm… I really don’t know! From what I know of palms in general, I would assume it’s fine, but I couldn’t tell you for sure.

  10. RAM October 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    great article, thanks. What is the best mulch to use around mature dogwoods? it’s all lawn & I am slowly adding bulb, perenial beds & groundcovers, I’d like to reduce my mowing as well

    • Anni November 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      I would probably use wood chip mulch. Make sure it’s not all tiny stuff (sawdust or pellet size). Since it’s not a garden, it can be fairly coarse, but ideally, it would have a pretty good mixture from toothpick size to thumb-size chuncks. And I’d make it pretty thick – I’d say at least 12 inches thick. Also, don’t lay it right up agains the trunk. Make sure there’s a couple of inches of breathing room. But the mulch will help keep out weeds and keep the soil moist underneath.
      One other thing – you mention reducing lawn. If there’s already grass growing around the dogwood, the mulch won’t necessarily keep it from growing. The thicker you lay it on, the more likely it is that the grass won’t get sunlight and won’t manage to break through. BUT, there’s always the possibility that some blades of grass will. You can’t really solarize the area or dig up the grass, since it would likely damage the roots of the dogwood trees as well. But if some grass comes through, just pull it out by hand, taking care to bring the roots with it. Over time, hopefully, the mulch will keep the grass down and the dogwood tree growing well. There will always be some maintenance when it comes to yarding and gardening. :)

  11. Ann February 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Re wood chips: Have you used wood chips as a mulch for vegetable gardens &fruit trees/bushes? If so, for how many years or seasons? Can I use freshly made chips in these places?

    Also, what do you do with the chips used as a top dressing when preparing the bed, e.g. tilling, for the next growing season?

    • Anni February 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

      Ann,

      We have used wood chips as mulch. If you do use wood chips, they need to be chipped up branches and etc., with all different sizes of wood in the mulch.

      We don’t till. We just pull the wood chips aside and plant. Tilling breaks up the living soil system and kills tons of worms.

      You can leave the wood chips on permanently, really. Top dress with a fresh supply of wood chips every few years. It protects the soil a ton.

      If you want good, thorough, in-depth info on this topic, go watch Back to Eden (Here’s the video link: http://vimeo.com/28055108). It explains it incredibly well.

      Wishing you the best!

      Anni

  12. Heather March 6, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    Anni,

    I just had a large ash tree removed and the stump grinded. If I were wanting to use this as a mulch in shrub beds around the house, do you think it would be a problem? Do I need to let it sit for a few months first? It did have some Ash anthracnose. My shrubs are indian hawthorns and dwarf nandinas.

    Thanks,
    Heather

    • Anni March 8, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

      Heather,
      Since Ash Anthracnose only affects Ash trees and doesn’t spread to other trees or shrubs, it should be fine to use as a mulch. Just on top, of course. It would probably make a lovely mulch, actually. You don’t have to let it sit. It should work as a fine mulch right now.
      Anni

  13. Amy March 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    I live in a townhouse community in the southeast. Most of the homes have no gutters and most yards have quite steep slopes, especially in the back yards. In the back yards, any annual/perennial planting is the responsibility of the owners (not the HOA), which means most homes in the back are completely bare, even though there are planting beds installed adjacent to the buildings themselves.

    Would pine straw application where there are no gutters and a steep slope help slow or or eliminate soil erosion on its own merits, even when there are no plantings in the beds where the pine straw is applied?

    Thanks!
    Amy

    • Anni March 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Amy,
      Yes, it would help. The pine straw would intertwine and ‘mat’ together a bit, so it’ll help. On a steep slope, it may shift and there may be some erosion. But it’s still definitely better than leaving the soil bare. By a long shot.
      It’ll also help where there are no gutters, because the pine straw has more ‘bounce’ to it, and can take the pinging or pouring of water a lot longer without being shifted, where the soil would be simply washed away.
      I would definitely lay down some mulch (pine straw or other)!
      Anni

  14. Ryan Lamanna June 2, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    Fantastic article. What do you recommend for direct sowing? Allowing the seedlings to mature some and then mulching?

  15. rick June 22, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    what about osage orange mulch? i would think it would last a long time.

    • Anni June 25, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      I’m sure it would work great, even if it is a little odoriferous. :)

  16. Elle July 30, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Just wondering if it is possible to use manure as a mulch, it horse manure and the horses are not exposed to weeds so the manure would be weed free.

    • Anni July 31, 2014 at 10:13 am #

      Manure, especially if it’s free from weed seeds, would be an excellent mulch. The only precaution I would give is to not put fresh horse manure right up against your plants, or it could ‘burn’ them, because of the richness of the manure.
      However, if it has been composted well, then it can be spread throughout your garden, without worry of burning your plants.

  17. Pam September 17, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    How many layers of newspaper sheets do you recommend?

    • Anni September 18, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

      Pam,
      In some areas we only used 2 sheets of newspaper, but it was much better when we used 3 or 4, so that’s what I would recommend.

  18. Emilie September 29, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    Great article . . . Thank you! I have read some good things about coconut mulch, but also read that it is sometimes harvested from cow pastures and could contain salmonella. What do you think about this? It seems to be a new product of interest, but are we going to find out later that it is a bad idea? Also, what about buckwheat shells?

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