Go organic or go home. These are words to live by, especially when considering mulch. Inorganic mulch can have several adverse effects. Among them, they don’t break down or, if they do, they leave toxic residue in the landscape. They can limit the amount of moisture and nutrients that reach plant roots, and inorganic mulches generally cost more than their counterparts. Some even have the effect of heating up soil to the degree that plants literally cook.
Using organic mulch provides many more benefits. Once you’ve decided to use natural types of mulch, you’re likely going to feel overwhelmed by all the many choices out there. What is the best natural mulch? Which one is right for you?
Well, I’ve made that easier for you. Here are 5 natural types of mulch for gardens that are easy to use and provide all the benefits necessary to keep your plants growing healthy and happy. Each helps suppress weeds, conserves moisture, adds nutrients to the soil, and keeps plant roots warm in winter and cooler in summer. Keep in mind, though, that the one you use will depend on your site, crop or plant type, weather and soil.
- Bark mulch – This is readily available, breaks down naturally and looks beautiful amongst your plants. It comes in a variety of natural colors and will last a year or more depending on the size. You can even use the bark mulch from an arborist company that has been shredded and can often be acquired for free.
- Leaf mold – If your trees drop a lot of leaves, put the bag on your mower and collect them. Using the mower will also chop them up. Both leaf mold and leaf mulch will rot very quickly and it is free and easy to use, depositing plenty of nutrients in soil on its way out.
- Straw – Depending upon where you live, straw may be cheap and plentiful. You can get it at a feed and livestock store or many nurseries. It lasts throughout the season and does an excellent job keeping down weeds. Unfortunately, some straw may contain weed seeds and contribute to the weed war so make sure you find and use the good quality straw.
- Pine needles – You may already have evergreens in your garden that drop needles. Instead of fighting them, use them! The needles knit themselves together and form a nice web of mulch around plants. You can even use pine needles on slopes to prevent erosion. They will acidify soil, so perform a soil test in spring to see if you need to add lime to sweeten soil.
- Compost – You can make your own or purchase good compost for use as mulch. Make sure it is well rotted or it may contain weed or other seeds. This is where the DIYer really shines. You can make compost out of kitchen scraps, end of season plant debris, and add in items like manure or worm castings to enrich it. It promotes the release of nutrients and has all the other organic benefits of a good mulch.