There are two things that make your garden great.

One of them is compost. Can you guess the other one?

It’s as good as compost, if not better.

The awesome material to use in the garden is mulch.

But what is mulch? Why is it so important? And how can you use it in your garden?

The guide below will help you learn all this and more. So let’s begin.

What is Mulch?

Mulch is a clumpy material that is used to cover soil. It may be made of organic or inorganic materials, such as wood chips, rubber, or bark. Mulch is a protective layer that prevents the spread of unwanted weeds.

Oftentimes, it is used as a decorative barrier for plants and buildings. It naturally cools and increases the moisture in the soil beneath it. It’s one of the most commonly used landscaping materials.

What Are the Benefits of Using Mulch?

Moisture Retention

A dense layer of mulch will help your soil to retain moisture for longer periods. Mulch cools the soil and prevents erosion particular.

A dark, thick layer of organic material will prevent ground moisture from evaporating quickly.

Improved Soil

Organic mulch breaks down over time. In doing so, it contributes nutrients to the soil below it. Organic mulch needs to be replaced regularly.

Mulch can also improve the health of your trees. Place a 3-foot circle of mulch around shrubs and other large plants. However, keep the mulch away from the base of the plant.

Winterized Garden

In hot months, mulch helps the earth retain moisture and remain cool. In winter, the mulch helps the earth to retain heat in the soil. This makes mulch act as a good insulator.

Mulch is a fabulous cold weather protector. If you live in a climate with chilly winters, mulch your garden in the fall. This will keep delicate plant roots well-insulated throughout the winter months.

It’s a common misconception that mulch prevents the ground from freezing. Instead, it prevents the roots from deep freezes.

Weed Control

Mulch is a safe and practical way to eradicate pesky, unwanted weeds. A thick layer of mulch will prevent weeds from obtaining the sun and air they need to thrive. But we advise you to eliminate any existing weeds before putting down mulch.

To avoid damaging your plants, mulch around perennials and trees. Put your annuals in the ground before you mulch. Then, spread the mulch around the plants’ roots. We recommend using an organic mulch on land that you still wish to cultivate.


Mulch is a great way to indicate that an area of land is off-limits. Consider edging the areas around your mulch patches to indicate clear footpaths. With mulch around your plants, you can help avoid mower and foot traffic damage.

Insect Repellent

Some organic mulch products deter pests. Consider purchasing cedar, pine, or straw mulch. Inorganic plastic mulches may also prevent pests. However, these mulches tend to be less effective.

Cypress mulch is also effective at keeping insects away. However, it is not considered a sustainable option.

Improved Aesthetics

Mulch is also a remedy for unruly yards. It serves to break up the land and cover unsightly patches of earth. We recommend using mulch to accent greenery and other landscaping features.

When and How Often to Use Mulch?

You will need to adjust your mulch needs depending on the type of material you are using. For example, a single application of rock mulch may last a lifetime. Whereas, organic wood chips need to be topped off annually.

Most experts recommend using a 2- or 3-inch layer of organic mulch. Top off your mulch patches two times per year. We recommend applying mulch in the spring and fall. When you add mulch, remove some of the old, decomposed mulch.

How to Mulch Your Garden

Target Key Areas

First, determine the area that needs mulching. You may wish to apply mulch around land borders, buildings, or landscaping features. Mulch any preexisting gardens and perennial beds.

Try to imagine your yard as a whole before dividing off sections for mulching. Amateur landscapers often use too little or too much mulch. Try to create a sense of balance when curating your yard.

Edge and Weed Your Target Areas

Once you decided where you are going to put your mulch, it’s time to prepare the land. To start, remove any existing weeds. To do this, use a garden claw or spade.

This process can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Keep in mind that the mulch you apply will prevent weeds from sprouting up in the future. As such, it’s important not to skip this preparation.

If the land is covered in grass or other plants, remove them too. Be sure to remove the plants’ roots as well as its shoots. You want to avoid dealing with the plant after you lay down a layer of mulch.

Use a lawn edger or shovel to create a clean border around the area you wish to mulch. It will give your lawn a clean, manicured look. You can reinforce your edge with stones, bricks, or cement borders. However, this is not entirely necessary.

Compost your yard waste. Weeds and grasses are extremely resilient. If you throw them back into the soil, they may grow again.

You can reuse mulch for several years. However, you may need to add a layer of new mulch to replace any old, worn, or decomposing materials.

Choose a Mulch

Before you add new mulch, consider your options. There are all different types of organic and inorganic mulches. Organic mulch options include wood chips, compost, cardboard, grass clippings, and dead leaves. Inorganic mulch options include plastic mulches, rubber mulches, gravel, rocks, and landscaping fabrics.

There are many benefits to using both types of mulches. Inorganic mulches don’t break down easily and can be used year after year. They can add a unique aesthetic element to a yard or garden.

Organic mulches are environmentally friendly. They decompose and add rich nutrients to the underlying soil. They can deter pests and improve the health of plants.

It’s best to think about your personal preferences and environmental conditions before selecting a mulch. If necessary, consult with a local landscaper to determine which mulch will work best for you. Seek out a budget-friendly option that caters to your needs.

Once you settled on the perfect mulch, measure the area you wish to mulch. Mulch is sold by the yard. One yard of mulch provides a 3-inch covering for a 100 square feet. Consider using an online calculator to determine how much mulch you need to buy.

Prepare Yourself

Gather the tools you need to install your new mulch. You will need a wheelbarrow and shovel to transfer and spread mulch.

We also recommend using a metal landscaping rake to smooth out the mulch after it has been applied.

Spread the Mulch

Pour your mulch into a wheelbarrow. Then, use your shovel to place large heaps of mulch on the ground you wish to cover.

Use the shovel to spread the mulch over the land. The mulch should be 2 to 3 inches thick.

Use a metal rake to smooth out the surface of the newly applied mulch. Then, use your garden hose to wet it. This weighs the mulch down and it moistens the earth below the mulch.

Replace Your Mulch

Pay close attention to your mulch. If it is organic, you will need to replace it once a year. We recommend doing this in late spring or early summer.

You may also want to thicken the mulch in late fall. At these times, you should remove any worn, aged, or decomposing mulch.

If old mulch is left alone for extended periods of times, it can deter much-needed nutrients from entering the soil.

How to Choose Mulch for Your Garden


Remember, mulch is sold by the yard. One cubic yard of mulch covers roughly 100 yards of earth. While that may sound like a lot of coverage, it isn’t. You will probably need several bags to cover your garden. The cost of mulch adds up quickly.

Organic and inorganic mulches vary dramatically in price. While inorganic mulches can be used for long periods, organic mulches need to be replaced or topped off annually. Try to consider the cost of ongoing maintenance when selecting mulch.


If you want to improve the condition of your soil, opt for organic mulch. Organic mulches release nutrients into the soil.

They help lock in moisture and prevent erosion. Keep in mind that organic mulches decompose over time.

Some may even attract unwanted pests. However, they are one of the healthiest, most sustainable landscaping materials.


You may also consider the overall aesthetics of the mulch you choose. Do you prefer a specific texture or color?

Are you look to match your mulch to your home or other landscaping elements?

Mulches come in a wide range of colors and textures. Find one that gives your yard a pleasing look.

What are the Different Types of Mulch

Organic mulch is made from plants. It breaks down over time, releasing beneficial organisms into the underlying soil.

Inorganic mulches are made from man-made substances, rocks, and minerals. They do not break down over time.

Organic Mulch

Wood Chips

Wood chips are one of the most popular types of mulch. According to the University of Vermont’s Department of Plant and Soil Science, wood chips are some of the best mulches for trees and shrubs.

They retain lots of moisture, insulate the earth, and control weeds. On top of this, they release vital nutrients into the soil.

Woods chips are readily available at most garden and hardware stores. They are made from a variety of hardwoods, including pine, cedar, and composites.

While wood chips are a relatively safe and sustainable mulch option, it’s important to get them from a well-vetted resource. Otherwise, you run the risk of introducing adverse diseases and pests to your yard.

Free or low-cost wood chips are often offered towns and cities. These mulches are made from the remnants of tree cuttings. They are an environmentally friendly alternative to manufactured wood chips.


Bark mulch is yet another readily available wood byproduct. Bark mulch is typically used around trees and perennials. However, it can also be laid over newly planted annuals.

Homeowners can choose between softwood and hardwood barks. The latter lasts longer. Keep in mind that bark mulch can blow or float away easily.

Cocoa Hulls

Cocoa hulls have a rich, deep color and smell. They are the byproduct of cocoa bean roasting. Like most chocolate products, cocoa hulls are toxic to dogs. Still, they provide plants with several nutrients.

Shredded Leaves

Shredded leaves are one of the least expensive and most sustainable mulch options. When you use shredded leaves as mulch, you tidy up one part of your yard while improving the other.

We recommend using a mulching lawnmower to collect and shred fallen leaves. When you are finished, spread them over the area you wish to mulch.

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings can also be collected and reused as mulch. A thick layer of grass clippings will keep weeds at bay while trapping in heat and moisture.

We recommend using a mulching lawnmower to trim your yard. Then, spread the mulched grass around the base of vegetable plants and annuals. Do not mulch your grass if you use chemicals on your lawn.


Nothing improves a patch of land better than rich organic compost. Gather your food scraps, newspapers, cardboard, and yard clippings. Put them in a backyard compost pile and wait for the magic to happen. In no time, you will have a lush mountain of organic mulch.

You may wish to reach out to your local farm and inquire about purchasing a composted cow or horse manure. Apply this to your vegetable gardens. It will boost the soil’s nutrient and moisture content.

compost packet
Packet of compost I used for my plants


Many people use straw mulch in their vegetable gardens. A 3-inch layer of straw will prevent most weeds from sprouting up. What’s more, it will retain moisture and break down into essential plant nutrients.

Avoid using hay when mulching vegetable gardens. Hay often carries seeds. These seeds will sprout with when the hay is wet.


Wondering what to do with your old Amazon boxes? Want to save yourself a trip to the recycling center? Cardboard and newspapers are made from processed tree pulp.

They naturally break down over time. Use them to block out weeds around your vegetable plants. They will decompose in just a few months.

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulch can be made out of anything that is not derived from living organisms. Rocks, plastic, and rubber are just a few of the inorganic materials used in landscaping designs.

Plastic Mulch

Plastic mulch is often used as a ground fill in industrial and public settings. It is made up of course chucks of rubbery plastic.

Landscape Fabric and Plastic Film

Many people put landscaping fabric under their mulch. This material is soft and breathable. As such, you can plant in it.

Landscaping fabric is made from synthetic materials that rip and fade easily. Most people cover their landscaping fabric in wood chips or bark mulch.

While traditional landscape fabric can hinder water and air from entering the soil, seasonal vegetable crop coverings can be quite useful.

Consider placing black plastic around the base of your melons and tomatoes. It will absorb heat and boost your crop.

Rocks and Gravel

Rocks and gravel are popular inorganic mulches. Gravel, stone dust, and volcanic ash are just a few popular options.

Keep in mind that stones absorb excess heat and transfer it to nearby plants. And they do not completely deter weeds.

Rock mulches last a lifetime and can add rich aesthetic details to your garden. Consider all of your landscaping goals before settling on something has permanent as stone mulch.

Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is made from recycled tires. One of the key benefits of rubber mulch is its ability to retain heat. It’s also preferred because of its longevity.

Of course, rubber mulch also has its downsides. For one, recent studies have demonstrated that it has the potential to leach harmful chemicals into the ground. It has a very artificial look and feel to it.

Final Thoughts

I hope I was able to sell you on why mulch should be an important part of your garden. It’s really something that makes your garden great.

All you need to do is get started using it. The first step to take is to figure out the area of your garden that could benefit from mulching. Then choose the organic mulch that would best suit your garden.

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