garden mulch ideas

Garden Mulch Ideas: Add Beauty and Utility to Your Space

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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As a gardener or landscaping enthusiast, you’re always looking for easier ways to make your outdoor space look more beautiful and become healthier. However, between keeping the weeds at bay and ensuring the moisture levels are fine, it can get a bit hectic. This is why today we’re looking at garden mulch ideas that will save you some of that stress and give you a garden and landscape that will be the envy of your neighbors.

It’s a proven fact that using garden mulch is a great way to add valuable nutrients to your soil, improve the aesthetics by creating a clean and finished look, protect your plants from extreme temperatures, control weeds, and help retain moisture.

We want you to get all these benefits and choose the right mulch type for your garden, climatic region, and plants.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into the types of mulch that will make your garden healthy and beautiful, without much effort on your part.

Mulch Categories

Here are the two significant categories of garden mulches.

A) Organic Mulches

organic mulches such as wood mulch from wood chips

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Organic mulch is made from matter that was once living. For example, mulch is made from grass clippings, wood chips, shredded bark, leaves, and so on.

The advantage of organic mulch is that it adds natural nutrients to your vegetable garden as the components decompose.

You will also enjoy the look organic mulch gives to your garden because it blends well with the natural look of the garden soil.

B) Inorganic Mulches

Inorganic mulches such as rubber mulch for a playground

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Inorganic mulch is also known as non-degradable mulch or permanent mulch because it doesn’t change its form over time as organic mulch does.

Examples of inorganic mulches include gravel, landscape fabric, pebbles, and crushed stone.

The thing to note with inorganic mulches is that they don’t add any nutrients to your soil because they don’t decompose and break down.

In fact, we recommend using inorganic mulches for aesthetic purposes in your garden or landscape, to protect from fire hazards, or for xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is a landscaping method often used to reduce water usage.

We also advise against using inorganic mulches near plants that don’t like heat. This is because inorganic mulches are great at absorbing heat and reflecting it back to the plants.

Garden Mulch Ideas to Revamp Your Garden and Landscape

Garden Mulch Ideas to Revamp Your Garden and Landscape

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Here are some ways you can incorporate garden mulch into your garden or the outdoor space design.

We’ve divided them into organic and inorganic mulches for better understanding.

The choice in the type of mulch you want to use on your soil surface depends on your garden or landscape, preferences, and the benefits you want to achieve.

A) Organic Mulches

Organic mulches to use for your garden or landscape

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Here are some of the best organic mulches that will help your soil retain moisture, keep weeds away, and add nutrients to your soil.

1. Wood Mulch

Wood Mulch for your landscaping

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Starting us off is this organic mulch that is known for its aesthetic value, its ability to retain moisture and keep weeds away, and the immense nutritional value it adds to your garden soil. Wood mulch is often made from wood chips or shredded bark, which are natural materials.

When these wood chips or shredded barks decompose, they release beneficial nutrients to your plants. Because they cover the soil surface completely, wood mulch does a great job at weed control by ensuring sunlight doesn’t reach the weeds.

However, we recommend having the best weed killer at hand for extra protection from weeds.

Nonetheless, if you’re looking for an organic mulch to start with for your landscaping, this natural mulch is a great option.

Before we move on to our next garden mulch idea, we must mention the major downside of using this natural much for your vegetable garden or landscape. This is because it can easily attract termites and other insects if you don’t treat the wood.

If you decide to buy treated wood for your mulch, ensure that the chemicals used are not harmful to your plants.

2. Grass Clippings

Grass Clippings as mulch for your garden

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Grass clippings are a great type of mulch because they are in abundance and are made from organic materials. This means that your mulch will decompose over time and add nutrients to your plants.

In addition to adding beneficial nutrients to your vegetable garden, grass clippings are also great at being able to suppress weeds and regulating the temperature of the soil. The latter means that the roots of your plants will be kept cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

We recommend using grass clippings from untreated grass because these may contain harmful chemicals. You should ensure that your grass clippings don’t have weed seeds that can ruin your hard work.

3. Compost Mulch

compost mulch

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Compost mulch is made from compost, which often consists of refuse from your kitchen or yard.

The good thing about using this natural mulch for your garden bed or vegetable garden is that it adds necessary nutrients to your soil. This, in turn, improves plant health and can increase your produce.

Compost mulch is also great at suppressing weeds and helping your soil retain its moisture.

4. Straw Mulch

Straw Mulch

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We make straw mulch from dried stalks of cereal grains such as barley, wheat, and oats. Just like grass clippings, straw mulch is a great option because straw is abundantly available and easy to spread.

Therefore, if you are in the business of growing cereal grains, you will never have to waste the stalks again.

You can use this mulch for your landscaping and garden. However, we advise against using straw mulch for your vegetable garden because it may contain weed seeds. Also, keep in mind that straw mulch can lower the pH of your soil.

Therefore, you’ll need to be selective about the plants you use this organic mulch on.

5. Leaf Mulch

leaf mulch from fallen leaves

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Leaf mulch is made from leaves of deciduous trees such as maple, oak, and elm. These leaves are often broad and wide and should be collected before they become wet. Fall is one of the best times to make your leaf mulch because this is when the trees shed the most.

You can spread your leaf mulch on your soil to allow it to add nutrients to your soil once the leaves decompose and help your soil retain moisture.

To use this mulch properly, you can either use the leaves whole or create shredded leaf mulch. You can shred your leaves using a lawn mower or chipper.

We don’t recommend using leaf mulch for your vegetable garden because the leaves may contain weed seeds.

6. Sawdust Mulch

Sawdust Mulch for sensitive plants

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Sawdust mulch is great for retaining moisture, adding nutrients to your soil when it decomposes, and controlling weeds.

We recommend using sawdust mulch with other types of organic mulch such, as compost. This is because this natural mulch takes ages to decompose, which can prevent your plants from getting necessary nutrients like nitrogen.

7. Pine Needles

Mulch made from pine needles

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Mulch made from dried and shredded pine needles is great for beautifying your garden or landscape. It also does a great job of helping your soil retain moisture.

If you have plants that prefer acidic environments, pine needles are a great option to use as mulch because of their acidic nature.

B) Inorganic Mulches

Inorganic mulches such as plastic mulch

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These inorganic mulches offer several advantages, such as adding aesthetics to your garden or landscape, enabling your soil to retain moisture, and weed control.

1. Rubber Mulch

Rubber Mulch for your garden or landscape design

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Rubber mulch is an inorganic mulch made from recycled rubber, such as rubber from old rubber tires. It is a great type of mulch to use in high-traffic areas, such as on a playground. You can also use this type of mulch on your garden bed and other landscaping areas.

We’ve found that rubber mulch has several advantages such as weed control, water retention, durability, and safety. The soft landing it provides is one of the main reasons why we recommend using it in areas where children will play.

One thing to note with rubber mulch is that it isn’t safe to use on all types of plants. Therefore, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of using rubber mulch before you consider it as an option.

2. Gravel Mulch

Gravel mulch / crashed-stone mulch for your landscape

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Gravel mulch is also known as crashed-stone mulch and is often used for aesthetic purposes. It doesn’t add nutrients to your soil, but it does a great job of mitigating weed growth and preventing erosion.

Nevertheless, we’ve found that gravel mulch is not the best at retaining moisture and can cause your soil to dry up.

Some of the best places you can use gravel mulch include around trees, shrubs, and plants that don’t need much moisture to survive.

3. Plastic Mulch

Plastic mulch

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Plastic mulch is also known as plastic film mulch or plastic sheeting. It’s composed of laying a thin sheet of plastic on top of your soil surface.

If your main goal with mulching is water retention, we recommend using this inorganic mulch, because it reduces the rate of evaporation and keeps your soil moist.

Other benefits you’ll get from plastic mulch include pest control and weed control.

Remember to properly dispose of your plastic sheeting once you’re done because it is not biodegradable.

Tips When Applying Mulch to Your Garden or Landscape

Tips When Applying Mulch to Your Garden or Landscape

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Choosing the right mulch for your garden or landscape is just as important as knowing how to use the mulch effectively. Here are some tips that will allow you to have a smooth experience when using mulch in your garden, and get the best results.

1. Clear Existing Weeds and Debris

The first and most important step before applying your chosen mulch is to clear existing weeds and debris in your space. This will prevent the weeds from growing through the mulch and also provide a clear space for laying the mulch.

Once you clear the debris and weeds, you can place a weed barrier to prevent any more weeds from growing.

2. Apply Mulch Thickness of 2-3 Inches

We recommend having mulch that’s 2-3 inches thick. This is enough to cover the soil surface without suffocating your plants.

Once you’re sure the thickness is right, it’s time to evenly spread the mulch.

3. Avoid the Base of Your Plants

When applying your mulch, ensure that there’s enough space at the base of your plants to allow for proper circulation and drainage.

Putting your mulch directly on the base of your plants or trees can cause rot and pest infestation.

4. Choose the Right Mulch

The first thing when choosing the right mulch is to read through the types above and understand them. Once you’ve done that, consider the climate in your region and the type of plants you want to apply the mulch to.

We touched a bit on this when we were discussing the types. Therefore, this shouldn’t be much of a hassle. For example, if you live in a cool and dry area, pine needles are a great idea for mulch.

Also, if you have plants that require a lot of water, stay away from gravel mulch because it causes the soil to dry up, which can be damaging to your plants.

5. Add Some Fertilizer

Although organic mulches are known for their ability to add valuable nutrients to your soil, adding a bit of fertilizer doesn’t hurt.

This will help keep your soil packed with nutrients and ensure your plants grow healthy and strong.

6. Check Regularly

Mulch often flattens with time. This is why it’s important to check up on your layer every now and then to ensure that it’s still as thick as you’d like. You can always add an extra layer if you feel it’s time.

This is especially the case for organic mulches that decompose and break down over time to add nutrients to your soil.

Final Thoughts

Garden mulches to use for your garden or landscape

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Gardening is great for the environment and we want you to get the best results from your efforts. Remember to choose the right mulch type for your specific garden and landscape for the best outcome.

Inorganic mulches such as rubber mulches are great for high-traffic areas such as playgrounds where kids play a lot. They are also good for beautifying your landscape. However, they don’t add any nutrients to your soil because they don’t decompose and break down.

Therefore, if you’re looking for mulch that will add valuable nutrients and organic matter to your soil, we recommend going for organic mulches.

If you want to learn about another interesting mulch type, check out our guide on living and green mulch for a different experience and more mulch options for mulching.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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