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What Mulch Is Best? (The Pros and Cons of Each Type)

What Mulch Is Best? (The Pros and Cons of Each Type)

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Mulching provides several benefits to your garden. It retains moisture, blocks weeds, provides nutrients, keeps the soil cool during hot months, and protects plants from frost.

Moreover, applying mulch can add aesthetic value to your landscape.

But when you’re choosing mulch for your garden, you might be wondering about which type to use.

Since there are various organic and inorganic mulch types, you might eventually combine several types in your garden.

So, what mulch is best? Do different types of mulch work for various purposes?

Keep reading to find the answers to your questions.

What Mulch Is Best?

There are two main types of mulch, inorganic and organic.

Some of these types are more aesthetically pleasing and will improve the look of your landscape. Others will replenish the soil and increase the percentage of nutrients to keep your plants healthy.

In general, mulching can protect plant roots during hot and cold months and prevent weeds that deprive your plants of essential nutrients.

Yet, when choosing the best mulch, you should think about the purpose of mulching your garden to choose the right type.

How to Mulch Your Garden

Mulch refers to a material you lay on top of the soil to cover it.

You need to think about a few things before mulching your garden.

Choose Your Mulch

The first step in knowing how to mulch your garden is to pick the type of mulch.

Organic mulch is made of organic materials. As these materials decompose, mulch will provide your soil with nutrients.

Inorganic mulch is made of synthetic materials. It doesn’t decompose, so it needs to be replaced.

This type of mulch doesn’t provide your soil with any nutrients, but it will block moisture and prevent the growth of weeds.

You can stick to one type or mix both for multiple benefits.

When to Add Mulch

Second, you must pick the right time to add your mulch.

Check your garden if you’ve already mulched it, and decide on the amount of mulch you’ll need. If you cover a large piece of land, you might have to order it in bulk.

You should mulch your garden in spring when the weather is already warm. You don’t want to mulch your garden too early because you might harm some early perennials and prevent them from growing.

You can add mulch again around late fall, protecting the plants from the dropping temperature.

In winter, mulch protects the roots and the new emerging plants from frost heaving.

How Much to Apply

Mulch is good for your garden, but applying too much mulch isn’t.

You need to apply a layer of 2 to 3 inches of mulch and avoid applying too much around tree trunks because they might rot.

Remember that as plants and trees mature, the fallen leaves will mulch your garden naturally.

What Are the Traits of Different Mulch Types?

Whether you create mulch from grass clippings and wood shavings or buy it, you must know its origin.

You don’t want to add mulch that contains too many chemicals, as it might damage your plants. If your mulch contains weed seeds, you might create a bigger problem in your garden.

Generally, the woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose. Here are the different types of mulch and how they add value to your garden.

Pine Needles

Adding pine needles will help lower the pH of alkaline soil. This mulch adds enough acidity to the soil without harming your plants.

It can prevent weeds from emerging in your garden, and it slowly decomposes in your garden.

But it doesn’t work on slopes and might be easily washed away.


Bark mulch is best used around trees and shrubs. It can also be used around foundation plantings.

This mulch lasts longer than other types, so you won’t have to replace it often.

However, it doesn’t mix well with your soil, so you should apply it in areas where you won’t have too much traffic or digging.

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings have a high moisture content, so they decompose quickly compared to other mulch types.

However, when they do, they can emit a foul odor. So, they’re best used in the far spots in your garden because the smell will be unpleasant.

This mulch type is best for retaining moisture in the soil during hot spells.

Using a lawnmower with mulching blades to cut your grass and leave the clippings where they are is an economical and sustainable decision.


Just like grass clippings, this is an easy-to-get and affordable organic mulch. They can blend well with the look of your plants, shrubs, and trees, especially if you have a woodland garden.

It’s best to shred dead leaves because unshredded leaves can repel water by creating mats in your garden. This is why they need to be raked regularly.


As long as newspapers use soy-based ink, you can use them to mulch your garden. Synthetic inks can harm your plants when they’re absorbed, so you should avoid them.

This type of mulch can hold moisture for long periods and prevent the growth of weeds. It’s best to moisten the sheets before cutting them and add another layer of organic mulch to prevent the growth of weeds.

Straw and Hay

Straw and hay can last for the whole season in your garden because they don’t decompose easily. This mulch can prevent soil-borne diseases from spreading in your garden.

But it can attract beneficial insects and bugs to your garden.


Sawdust is decomposable and recyclable. It’s also an economical choice if you want to know what to do with your sawdust.

This organic mulch appeals to acid-loving plants, but it absorbs nitrogen from the soil. So, it might not be the best mulch to use around heavy feeders.

This is why you should add extra nitrogen by fertilizing your plants more often if you’re using this mulch.


Coco coir is an organic mulch made of coconut husks. It’s an economical choice for your garden because it’s a natural by-product of the coconut growing industry.

Adding this mulch retains moisture and improves aeration in the soil. It can also prevent weeds from growing.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t contain nutrients and can be hard to find.

Landscape Fabric and Plastic

This inorganic mulch works in areas where you don’t need to do much work in your garden. This is why using plastic and landscape fabric will work around foundation plantings.

Because it’s inorganic, plastic won’t allow any water to pass through, so you should cut a few holes to permit moisture. It can be used to warm up the soil, but it might make the plant roots too hot in summer.

Landscape fabric is more porous, although it might get clogged by leaves, grass, and other objects.

Plastic and landscape fabric won’t allow weeds to grow in your garden, but it can also be harsh for your plants.

Some gardeners don’t like the way this type of inorganic mulch looks. So, they add a layer of organic mulch, like shredded leaves or bark, on top of the plastic or landscape fabric mulch.

Stone and Gravel

Stone and gravel mulch is hard to remove, so you need to carefully before using this mulch type in your garden.

It can be used to increase the temperature of the soil and drainage, so it’s a popular choice for Mediterranean gardens.

Which Mulch Is Best for Weed Control?

If you don’t want to use herbicides and chemical weed killers to control their presence in your garden, you can use bark various types of inorganic and organic mulch.


This is the most widespread type of organic mulch used to control weed growth. Adding a thick layer of bark mulch on top of the soil prevents the sunlight from passing through, eventually killing weed seeds.

At the same time, sprouting weeds are unable to penetrate through this thick layer.

Shredded bark deteriorates relatively fast, so you have to replace it often.

Pine Needles

Pine needles break slower than shredded bark, so you don’t have to replace them often. But, this mulch isn’t a good choice for slopes because the pine needles don’t stay where they are.

As a result, you should avoid using them in the rainy season because the rainwater might wash them away.


Although this mulch might not appeal to your plants, it can effectively block weeds. It can also help cool the soil.

Landscape Fabric

Landscape fabric can be an excellent weed stopper, whether used alone or combined with an organic mulch. This mulch type will allow air and water to reach the soil because of the woven material, but it won’t allow weeds to grow.


All types of stones, like crushed rocks, pebbles, and gravel, can block weeds and prevent their growth in your garden.

Stones can also add to the aesthetic value of your garden, so they can be used around pathways and walkways.

Which Is the Best Mulch for Landscaping?

When you’re picking mulch for landscaping, you should study how it complements the other softscape and hardscape elements in your garden.

In general, shredded bark, pine needles, and leaves are among the best types of mulch for landscaping.

They can provide several benefits, like retaining moisture and cooling the soil. They can also protect your garden by controlling weed growth.

But these types of organic mulch need to be replaced often. Moreover, each one of them comes with a few drawbacks.

Compost from grass clippings and other organic materials adds nutritional value to your garden and can also contrast beautifully with the plants in your garden.

However, if you want to use compost, heat it first to kill weed seeds.

Gravel, stone, pebbles, and rocks are inorganic types of mulch. They improve the look of pathways and walkways.

Final Thoughts

Different types of mulch can be used in your garden.

Inorganic and organic mulch can be used in your garden to improve moisture retention, protect the plant roots from frost, increase the temperature of the soil, and prevent weeds from growing.

Organic mulch decomposes, enriching your soil with nutrients.

You should weigh the pros and cons of every type of organic and inorganic mulch to pick the best one for your garden.

Some types can be more suitable for weed blocking, while others can add aesthetic value to your garden.

You can combine different types of organic and inorganic mulch for multiple benefits.


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