What Does Mulch Mean? Eight Ways to Use Them in Your Garden


Mulch is used to avoid frost heave in the winter, suppress or block weeds, keep the soil and plant roots cool, and improve the appearance of the garden bed and surrounding area. Continue reading to discover the many kinds of mulches and useful information on which kinds are ideal for the requirements of your garden.

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Mulch Types

While certain mulches are more useful and may enrich the soil with nutrients, others are more visually beautiful. Mulch falls into two categories: organic and inorganic. Each has pros and cons of its own.

Organic mulch: This mulch is created naturally; it contains no synthetic materials. It works well for supplying your garden with healthy nutrients and can somewhat inhibit weed growth, albeit not completely.

Inorganic mulch: This type of mulch is artificial and not derived from natural resources. It doesn’t improve the soil in any way, but it works best at completely keeping out weeds, holding onto water, and lasting longer than organic.

Natural Mulch

Bark, shredded or chipped

Pine needles

Grass clippings


Shredded leaves


Mulch that is organic will break down and need to be renewed. However, when organic mulches break down, they also contribute to the soil’s increased organic content, drainage, structure, and ability to hold nutrients. Mulch that is drier and more woody will break down more slowly and release fewer nutrients into the soil.

Mulch’s provenance is important to know since it may contain pesticides or live weed seeds. Spreading mulch that will begin to sprout and increase your workload, or that may infect your plants with chemicals, is the last thing you want to do. Every kind of organic mulch has a specific purpose. For vegetable gardens, organic mulches work best overall.


Bark mulch works well in garden beds where you won’t be doing a lot of digging and around trees and plants. Additionally, front pathways and foundation plants are excellent uses for bark. Moving these woody mulches aside to create room for new plants may get tedious because they don’t blend in well with the soil. However, compared to finer organic mulches, they will survive longer.

Pine Needles

It is possible that you have heard that pine straw, which is made from pine needles that have fallen, lowers the pH of the soil. Pine needles as mulch may acidify the soil a little bit, but not enough to harm plants. The only thing to be aware of is that adding fresh green pine needles to the soil as mulch might slightly increase its acidity, albeit not much. Pine needles might be a wonderful option if you’re searching for a mulch that won’t compress while still keeping moisture in the soil and suppressing weeds.

Grass Clippings

Because they are a mixed bag, grass clippings work best in secluded parts of your garden where you want to keep weeds at bay. Grass clippings disintegrate quickly, much like other green plant detritus with a high water content. However, during this process, they can get rather slippery and smell bad, so handle them carefully. Additionally, grass clippings have a tendency to settle down and obstruct the flow of water.

To improve the soil’s fertility, you should ideally use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass. If you bag your grass clippings, keep them in the bag until you’ve treated your lawn with weed killer or another herbicide or insecticide. You definitely don’t want to use synthetic lawn care chemicals in your vegetable garden, since they might harm some flowers.2 You may either use untreated grass clippings to cover open, unplanted areas or throw them in your compost bin.


Using newspaper as a mulch is growing in popularity. The majority of newspapers now use black ink made from soy and hydrogen peroxide to bleach pulp, however colorful or glossy inks are not recommended for use as mulch.34

For years, people have used shredded newspaper to keep plant roots moist during transportation. Newspaper layers provide excellent moisture retention qualities as well as similar properties to other organic mulches in terms of weed suppression and soil temperature regulation. They work well for starting a new garden bed by covering the current grass.

Spread four to eight sheets of newspaper around the plants to use as mulch in the garden. To ensure the sheets stay in place, moisten them. It’s simpler to wet the sheets before putting them down on windy days. During the growth season, cover the newspaper with a layer of 1 to 3 inches of additional organic mulch to maintain weed protection.

Shredded Leaves

Nature’s preferred mulch is made of shreds of leaves. They are a free alternative to mulch that may be utilized anywhere. Moreover, adding leaves to your garden soil can attract additional earthworms. For some gardeners, leaves are an eyesore in their garden, and they certainly don’t belong in a formal setting. The leaf mulch will eventually become indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape if it is applied in the spring before the plants grow out. For forest gardens, shredded leaves work great. You can also use them to cover your food garden in the fall, and they will break down during the winter.

In wet regions, unshredded leaves can cling to one another and resist water. If that occurs, you may always give them a little rake and fluff if they seem to get matted.

Straw and Hay

For the vegetable garden, common mulches include salt hay and straw. They also make walkways less muddy and prevent dirt and soil-borne illnesses from splashing up on lower plant leaves. Straw lasts throughout the whole growing season and breaks down extremely slowly. Additionally, spiders and other helpful insects find it to be a beautiful place to live, which helps to limit the number of pests. Lastly, when it is time to plant a new crop or close the vegetable garden, it is simple to rake up or work into the soil.

Non-Organic Mulch

Both plastic and landscape cloth

Stone and gravel

Mulches that are synthetic or inorganic are effective in keeping moisture in and preventing weed growth. While they don’t replenish the soil with nutrients, they also don’t break down or need to be replaced as frequently as organic mulches.

Fabric for the landscape and plastic

For the areas surrounding other shrubs and trees and foundation plants, plastic and landscaping fabric are excellent options. You shouldn’t have to bother about weeding these plants all summer long because they don’t need frequent fertilizing and you won’t be working in these beds very often.

In addition to burying weed seeds, plastic’s extreme heat throughout the summer may destroy all of the beneficial elements in the soil, such as plant roots and bacteria, if there is not enough moisture present.5. Make sure there are enough holes in the cloth for water to flow through. You don’t have enough drainage if puddles are forming on top of the cloth or plastic. Because landscape cloth is permeable, obstructions should not cause problems.

But plastic is bad for the ecosystem and the soil because of how it breaks down.Six Similarly, as landscape fabric breaks down over a few years, weeds might get through.

You may always apply a little layer of bark mulch on top of landscape cloth or plastic to disguise it if you like how they work but not how they appear. Weed seeds will be able to germinate on top of the plastic or cloth as the bark breaks down. The bark will eventually decompose, so you’ll also need to replace it. To avoid seams while covering the bed, if you’re installing raised beds, think about making them the same width as your plastic or cloth. But, since plastic can contaminate the soil as it decomposes, organic gardeners would wish to avoid putting it in vegetable beds.

Stone and Gravel

For Mediterranean herb gardens and rain gardens, for example, or any beds containing plants that benefit from a little extra heat, gravel and stone make excellent mulches. Consider carefully before using stone or gravel as a mulch since stone is difficult to remove.

The type of mulch you select will rely on both your desired look and function. Every year, there are more and more options to select from, so consider them carefully before spreading and pick a mulch that will look good on you and benefit your garden for many years.