Mulches: Types and Uses

Mulches are used as a soil covering, for a variety of reasons:

  • Water preservation (moisture retention)
  • Heat trapping
  • Create pathways
  • Weed prevention and control
  • Protecting roots from fluctuating and extreme temperatures, and…
  • To help control soil erosion



Different mulches have different functions and uses.  

Here we’ll consider the different functions of several mulches:

  • Pebble mulch/Gravel
  • Rock mulch (medium to large stones)
  • Pumice rock mulch
  • Straw mulch
  • Newspaper and Cardboard
  • Grass clippings
  • Compost as a mulch
  • Landscape fabric
  • Wood chips, Shredded bark, and Sawdust
  • Cocoa hull mulch
  • Pine straw

If you’ve got a bare patch of soil, get some mulch on it. The soil should never be left uncovered. The ground is never left uncovered in nature, and it shouldn’t be left uncovered in a garden or orchard. Why? Read this article here.

For any kind of vegetable garden, we would recommend wood chip mulch far above any other mulch. Just don’t work it into the soil. Mulches stay on TOP of the soil, for good reason. (In fact, the definition of a mulch is basically anything that covers the soil.)

Well-composted organic matter that is 100% broken down can be dug into your soil, but not mulches. Why? The problem has to do with nitrogen. Nitrogen is necessary for your plants, and it’s also necessary for the organisms that break down the organic matter, whether they’re working on stuff in a pile of compost or mulch that’s sitting on top of your soil. During that breakdown process, the bacteria will sequester nitrogen where they’re working on the organic matter.

So on the surface of your soil, where the mulch is in contact with your soil, there will be almost no nitrogen available to your plants. That’s okay, though, because your plants send their roots several inches into the soil and they’ll find what they need there. But if you’ve tilled the mulch into your soil (and of course we’re talking mulches made out of organic matter here, not rock or pebble mulches) the bacteria and other organisms will sequester nitrogen wherever that mulch is in contact with the soil, even if that’s several inches deep, and your plants’ roots won’t be able to pull any of the nitrogen from the soil, and your plants will become very deficient in nitrogen.

Just remember – If it’s well-composted organic matter, you can work it into your soil.  If it’s not, keep it on top for all the amazing benefits mulch brings to the garden.

Okay, now for the mulches. There are lots of types, each with its own functions and uses.

gravel11. Pebble mulch is mostly useful on pathways or driveways.

Pebble mulch/ gravel allows water to drain through, which cement and asphalt don’t do. However, the little pebbles/gravel are easily pushed out of their intended area, if they are not confined within a trenched structure. This can cause a big problem over time if you need to mow along the edges of your driveway or pathways.

800px-Parterre2Little pebbles will cause dings and nicks in your mower blade, causing it to become dull much more quickly; and flying pebbels/gravel can cause injury. However, if the gravel is contained (see picture above left), it’s fairly easy to use a wide leaf rake to pull most of the gravel back into its place from time to time.

Gravel and pebble mulch also absorb some heat from the sun during the day, and give it off at night, creating a mini micro-climate which can be useful.

2. Rock mulch is sometimes used in perennial flower beds or other perennial plantings.

Large rocks absorb even more heat from the sun during the day, creating the potential for larger warm micro-climate areas than small pebbles. It all depends on the size, quantity, and color.

Dark stones and rocks will absorb more heat than white or light-colored stones. Larger stones and rocks also cover more area with fewer stones, so if the rock mulch needs to be completely removed, it’s an easier process than with pebble mulch/gravel.

A pretty good covering of larger stones will also help prevent soil erosion to some extent.

P.S. Try to get local rock, if at all possible. Moving rocks takes a lot of energy.

3. Pumice rock is a very lightweight, porous rock that comes from volcanic eruptions.

It is often used as a mulch in flower beds and other perennial garden beds.  It has the ability to trap and retain moisture, because it’s so porous, which none of the other rock mulches are able to do.

However, if it is sitting entirely on the top of the soil level, it takes a significantly longer amount of time for water to penetrate down into the soil (which means, for example, that you’ll have to set your sprinkler to water for an hour instead of 30 minutes when you first use pumice rock as a mulch).

Once the pumice rock has settled into the soil and ‘combined’ with the soil somewhat, the rate of water penetration takes less time (water gets down into the soil much more quickly), and the pumice maintains the advantage of retaining water.

Since pumice is quite porous, it will absorb some heat from the sun, but not as much as the other rock mulches.

straw-mulch-vegetable-garden4. Straw mulch was a favorite of mine, from memories of spreading straw mulch on pathways in our family garden when I was growing up… until I used it in my own garden.

In my opinion, there are several problems with straw mulch that don’t make it a very desirable option. 

If you spread straw as a mulch in your garden in the summer, it will make the perfect home for all sorts of mice, voles, and other critters for at least a year or two, right through the winter and into your next growing season.

Straw is light colored and unless you spread a very thick layer, it doesn’t block out the light very well, and the weed seed will have plenty of light to germinate and grow right through it.

Also, straw can (and often does) contain weed seed, which may only add a problem to your garden.  All in all, I don’t recommend using straw mulch.

If you already have straw mulch in your garden and especially if you’re experiencing problems with rodents, it might be a good idea to get a cat or two.  Rodents can cause big problems, and hugely decrease yields in your garden.  It’s worth it to get a cat and get on top of the problem as soon as you can, because they’ll breed, well, like rodents!

5. Newspapers and cardboard can be very useful in the garden.  

They’re very similar in how they’re used, and their function is mainly to suppress weeds and eventually decompose and add a little bit of organic matter.

Laying down a mat of newspaper or cardboard is guaranteed to block out all light from the soil beneath.

However, newspaper is more effective because it forms to the contours of the land, making it a more effective weed control.

Once you’ve laid down a cover of newspaper, it’s easy to make a hole in it (cut an X with a knife, or just punch right through it with your hand or a trowel), and plant your plants exactly where you want them.  Or spread the newspaper right around established plants.

Newspapers in the garden are a bit unsightly, though, so I would recommend laying another type of mulch, perhaps compost or wood chips, on top of them.  Besides, that’s added organic matter, and that is definitely a good thing.

One interesting thing that I’ve observed has to do with worms.  After spreading newspaper/cardboard on the ground and covering it with a layer of compost (in my veg garden), whether I’ve done it in the spring, summer, or fall… the next time I’ve cultivated the ground, when I shift about the layers of partly decomposed paper stuff, there always seems to be huge gatherings of worms under and around them.  I don’t know the reason for it, but I’ve come up with a few theories:

  • Perhaps the worms like sliding around right underneath the newspaper because it’s like having soil above them, as they usually do when they dig their tunnels, but it’s not quite so much work to wriggle around right underneath a layer of newspaper.
  • It gets pretty moist under newspaper/cardboard, especially after it rains, and as usual, the worms try to come up for air as their tunnels are flooded, but they make it as far as the newspaper/cardboard, but they’re not able to get through that layer (which doesn’t seem to matter too much, because the worms are always alive beneath the newspaper/cardboard, that I’ve seen).  This might actually be an advantage, because when worms come up for air after a big rainstorm, it makes them easy pickings for birds.  But if they stay under the layer of newspaper/cardboard, they’re safe from birds, while still avoiding being drowned.
  • Maybe it’s simply because it’s a little warmer there in the winter and cooler in the summer… who knows?

One issue I want you to be aware of, in regards to newspapers, is that colored ink in newspaper can be hazardous.  The jury is still out on this one, as far as public opinion goes, and it’s a much debated topic in gardening forums that I’m part of.  So I’ll just give you my two cents worth, and you can decide for yourself.

The current inks used for newspapers are soybean-oil based.  Carbon black, a carbon-based and biodegradable compound, is added to make black ink.

For the colored inks, however, a variety of other elements/metals are used (think sulfur, for example… it creates a great yellow color).  For the colored inks, there is such a huge variety of color needed and printed every day, that you can never be sure what they’ve used.  Last I read, about a year and a half ago, lead was still used in some inks in those shiny weekly inserts produced by some stores (I won’t name any here, because I don’t want to get sued, if it happens to have changed since 18 months ago).

Given that information, I would recommend only using black-inked, gray-papered newspaper, and definitely avoid the shiny, white-paged, heavily colored newspapers.

Now an explanation on cardboard: Cardboard generally consists of one or two layers of a ‘sandwich’ of paper: bottom is flat, middle is wavy, top is flat… that equals one layer.  To hold the layers together, usually a ‘glue’ of cornstarch is used.

At the open corner, however, where two sides are glued together to make the box shape complete, a different glue is used.  I don’t know what that glue is made of… there seem to be no sources online that will give me the details.  And it’s likely there are several different types of glue used, depending on who makes the box and what it’s intended use is.

This being the case, I would recommend that you cut out that corner of ‘mystery glue’, and use the rest of the box.  BUT, there’s one more thing to be aware of…

Some boxes are treated with water and/or flame retardant chemicals.  How do you know if the cardboard you’ve got has been treated or not?  Well, you won’t always know.  Sometimes a glossy sheen might tell you, but that could also just be wax (which you’ll often see on boxes that ship produce).  Sometimes there will be no indication whatsoever that it’s been treated.

It’s better to be safe than sorry, so we don’t use cardboard in my garden unless I’m sure it hasn’t been treated or contaminated in any way (which, sadly, isn’t often).  Remember, if you put it on or in your soil, it’s easily eaten by bacteria, and those chemicals move on up the food chain to worms and birds.  Also, your plants could easily take up some of those chemicals, and you eat your plants!  When I think of it like that, I’d rather pass on the glue and chemicals.

6. Grass clippings can be a great addition to your garden, and depending on the stage they’re in, they can be added on top of your soil as a mulch, or worked into your soil for some added organic matter.  

There are two stages of grass clippings… when they’re still green, and when they’ve turned brown.

If they’re still green, as you see in the picture to the left, grass clippings are full of nitrogen (that’s what gives them the green color) and they’ll break down really well in the soil, releasing all those nutrients, including nitrogen, into the soil.

But if you’ve left them out for a bit and they’ve turned brown (it doesn’t take long), all that nitrogen has been lost.

Nitrogen is quite volatile and escapes back to the atmosphere very quickly.  That’s one reason why grass clippings turn brown quite quickly after being cut or pulled from the soil.

Once they’ve turned brown, just use the grass clippings on top, as a mulch, or add them to a compost pile and make sure they’re well-composted before they’re added to garden soil.

One other thing to keep in mind is whether or not the grass has been treated with any herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, etc.  If any chemicals have been used on the lawn where the grass clippings came from, it’s best to chuck them.

All the more reason to avoid using chemicals on your lawn… so you don’t have to throw away all that awesome organic matter that could otherwise be benefiting your garden!

7. Compost is great… but not necessarily as a mulch.  

Compost tends to be slightly acidic, so it’s an especially great addition to a garden with alkaline soil (for more on that topic, read this article to understand Soil pH and the effect it has on nutrient uptake).

As a mulch, however, compost has one drawback. It is very fine, and full of nutrients, so it doesn’t have much weed-suppressing capabilities. We’ve unwittingly had a huge boom of weeds, blown in by the wind, that have germinated in compost we’ve used as a mulch on top of newspapers.

It is best, if you’re making compost yourself, to make sure the pile is turned regularly so it gets as hot as possible, to try to kill any weed seed that may have made it into the compost pile.

8. Landscape fabric is a black fabric, generally made of woven polypropylene, which means it’s a form of plastic.  

Being made into a woven, fabric-like material makes it breathable.  It’s supposed to let the water in but keep sunlight out.  And it does generally work, as far as I’ve seen.  But it’s still a plastic material.

It does have one great benefit, especially for gardeners who live further north and typically have a shorter growing season.  Melons, particularly watermelons, need plenty of heat and sunlight to grow a healthy, strong plant, and to produce delicious, large, sweet watermelons.  Using a black, landscape fabric catches the heat of the sun, warming up the soil beneath it sooner than usual, and keeping the soil a little warmer at night, making it possible to plant out watermelons and other heat-loving crops a little sooner than you otherwise would be able to, giving them a longer growing season to develop and ripen.

There are two problems with landscape fabric.  First, although it’s supposed to let water in and keep light out, I have found that it takes a bit of doing to get the water to actually go through the cloth, especially when it’s brand new.  That means instead of setting your sprinklers to water for 30 minutes, you might need to water for 60 minutes, to make sure enough water is making it through the landscape fabric.

It becomes more penetrable as it grows older, though… both from above and below.  That means that while the water can get in more easily as the fabric ages, the weeds can more easily catch a bit of sunlight, germinate, and push its way up through the landscape fabric, which I’ve seen happen on countless occasions.  When that happens, if you want to maintain a weed-free garden, you’ll have to replace the landscape fabric or use another method.  This brings us to our next problem.

If you’ve laid down a huge landscape fabric, made some cuts in it, and planted perennials in the openings, when it comes time to replace the fabric, you might have a bit of a job on your hands.  Depending how large the area is, if you don’t want to dig up all your plants, you’ll have to rip holes in the fabric big enough to pull it up and away from your plant.  And then imagine trying to get a new one settled back over your plants.  Time to find a different kind of weed-suppresser… how about newspapers covered with wood chip mulch?

The last thing I’ll say about it is that the only reason I would personally use landscape fabric is to grow melons better and earlier.  But with a bit of thought, there are alternatives that can be used.  Like using big rocks (especially if they’re dark) to create a warmer microclimate area for a melon patch.  Or building raised beds sided by dark-colored bricks.  That would be a beautiful display anyway, with the melon vines falling over the sides!  So, I’ll leave the ultimate opinion on landscape fabric to you, but I think I’ll use something else.

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This mulch has an awful lot of bark in it.
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9. Wood chips and shredded bark have similar functions, so I’m grouping them together.

But in reality, shredded bark doesn’t even compare to wood chips.  I don’t know why.  You’d think they were similar, but wood chips out-perform shredded bark by a long shot.

Wood chips are the chopped up branches and small bits of the plant. Shredded bark is… just the bark.

Why are wood chips advantageous over shredded bark, even though they’re *basically* the same?

1. Water Retention

Wood chips retain water better because of a greater ability to take up and hold moisture. This is an advantage for both overly wet and overly dry areas. When it rains too much, the wood chips will suck up the excess moisture and prevent ponding. (We’ve had personal experience with this.) When it rains too little, the wood chips will release the water they’ve been holding, providing your plants with water even in dry times. (We’ve had experience with this too.)

Shredded bark doesn’t seem to be able to take up or hold water as well. I guess it’s because the bark of a tree is made to let the water run off the tree, to prevent diseases and etc.

2. Breakdown

Wood chip mulch will break down a lot faster than shredded bark. If you’re going for a long-term, perennial area with non-productive plants, then shredded bark may actually be the better alternative for you. But if you’re mulching your vegetable garden, the breakdown of the wood chips, and the nutrients and organic matter they add to the soil is definitely an advantage.

Both wood chips and shredded bark are a high carbon-to-nitrogen material, so they’re great if you use them on top of the soil as a mulch, but DON’T dig them into your soil.

They cover and insulate plants’ roots very well, which helps protect against fluctuating and extreme temperatures.  

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Wood chip mulch
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Wood chips will help keep the ground around your plants moist in between waterings.  And they’ll add organic matter to the soil as they break down.  We consider wood chips ‘miracle mulch’. 🙂

One thing to consider in regards to wood chip mulches has to do with the subject of allelopathy.  In the dictionary, allelopathy is described as the phenomenon when the growth of one plant is affected by chemicals produced by another plant growing nearby.  The negative side of allelopathy always seems to get the focus, but allelopathy isn’t always a negative thing.  It can also refer to a positive situation, where one plant produces chemicals that enhances the health and growth of other plants.

As far as wood mulch/shavings go, however, we do need to consider the negative effects of allelopathy.  One of the best examples of this is the walnut.

Everyone seems to know that black walnut isn’t a very good tree to have growing near other plants, but we’ve seen the same effect with English walnuts as well.

The reason is that walnut trees exudes a compound called juglone from its roots, nuts, and leaves, which suppresses nearby plant growth.

When we’ve used wood chip mulch from English walnuts (we’ve never used mulch from black walnuts) things haven’t grown very well for the first couple of years.

It seems to take one or two years for the allelopathic compounds to fully leach out of the walnut wood chip mulch. After that, things start growing much better (from fruit trees to squashes). So if the mulch has sat in a big pile for 2 or 3 years, it’s probably fine to use on your garden. It’s just something to keep in mind.

You probably won’t find any black walnut mulch being sold anywhere, but just in case you have a big black walnut or English walnut tree on your property that you’re going to chop down and have it chopped up into a mulch… well, now you know that it wouldn’t be the best idea to use that mulch in your garden.

Below is a list of common allopathic trees/bushes in the United States.

2. Eucalyptus
3. Sage brush
4. Tree of Heaven (sometimes called ‘ghetto palm’ or ‘stink tree’)
5. Several pine, juniper, and cedar trees

You’ll notice that pine, juniper, and cedar are on the list, even though wood chip mulches are often made from these woods.  Their effect isn’t nearly as strong as the black walnut, and in truth, very little would be contained in or exuded by the wood chips, especially if they’ve sat around for a few months.

A cocoa pod; showing the shell exterior of the cocoa beans. Photo credit

A cocoa pod; showing the shell exterior of the cocoa beans.
Photo credit

10. Cocoa hull mulch is a much-debated topic.

There are some people who love it, some who are afraid of it, and some who have never used it.

Cocoa hull mulch (or just cocoa mulch) is just a woody type mulch, made from the shell of the cocoa bean.  It is light weight, and a bit hard, like a nut shell.  It has it’s ebbs and flows of popularity and rejection, mostly because now and then people become wary and afraid of it because of its possibility of toxicity to animals.

Everyone knows that chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats, because of its content of theobromine and caffeine.  Cocoa hull mulch contains both compounds as well.  However, the content of theobromine in cocoa hulls may be nearly non-existent… or it may be nearly twice as much as chocolate.  It depends on how it’s treated.

Sometimes the cocoa hull mulch is heat-treated to remove as much of the oil or fats within the cocoa hull as possible, which will remove some of the scent and theobromine (since the scent compounds and theobrimines are associated with the oil/fat). This decreases the sweet smell that attracts animals as well as the harmful theobrimines.

Sometimes the mulch isn’t treated at all, and retains both its scent and its theobromine content.  So the amount of theobromine in cocoa hulls is hugely variable.

Considering that cocoa hull mulch can contain from 300-1200 mg/ounce to begin with (that’s a huge range – a four fold difference!), and also considering that some cocoa hull mulch is treated and some isn’t, there’s a lot of variability in the possible dangers of cocoa mulch.

Considering all that, if you have animals, it may be taking a bit of a gamble on your dog or cat getting sick to use cocoa mulch on your property.  It’s not often that an animal is killed from eating cocoa mulch, but it does happen.  And you don’t want your neighbor’s dog to die, either.  That could lead to all sorts of issues.

So just be sure to make a wise decision, depending on your circumstances, on whether or not you use cocoa hull mulch.

11. Pine straw is a great possibility for a mulch, as long as it’s in the right area.  

Since pine needles are thin and wispy, like straw, so you’ll need a fairly thick layer of them to be sure to suppress weeds.  But they last for forever, and if you can find a free source, it’s a very economical option as well.

Here are a couple of things to consider.

First, as a benefit, pine needles are quite acidic, which can be a really good thing for alkaline soils.  Optimally, soil should be slightly acidic.  Using pine needles as a mulch will slowly affect the pH of the soil, making it more alkaline.  But again, don’t dig the pine needles into your soil… unless they’ve been thoroughly composted first.  Just use them on top.

Second, pine needles may also have an allopathic effect.  Fresh pine needles contain a great deal of allelopathic compounds, but the amount decreases as the pine needles age and decompose.

Different allopathic compounds work in different ways to affect the growth of other plants.  Some compounds prevent other plants from being able to respirate, some prevent the germination of seeds, etc.

The compounds in pine affect seed germination, so fresh pine needles spread around existing, established plants, in a perennial bed with bushes or other perennial plants, would be an excellent way to suppress the germination of weed seeds.  As long as it’s not suppressing any seeds you want to germinate, pine needles would be very useful.

And since the allelopathic effect of the chemicals decreases as the pine needles age and decompose, a compost of pine needles would probably be a great option for a garden because of its acidifying effect on the soil.  If you want to be safe, you could work in the composted pine needles in areas where you won’t be directly planting seeds in the ground, but where you’d be setting out transplants instead.

I hope you enjoyed this thorough analysis in the different mulches, and I certainly hope you find it useful!  Please let us know of any comments or questions you may have.  We always love hearing from our readers!

Mulch - Types and Uses different types of mulch

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83 Responses to Mulches: Types and Uses

  1. KM March 21, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    Is it necessary to add mulch to potted plants? Are there benefits or drawbacks to adding it or not?

    • Anni March 21, 2013 at 10:12 pm #


      With potted plants, it’ll actually depends on the type of plants you’re growing, your preferences, and what effects you’re trying to achieve.

      For example, some potted plants might benefit from rock mulch, because it helps keep them warmer during the cold months. This is advantageous, because in cold seasons, the roots of plants that are planted in the ground are protected by the soil from cold weather and frosts. But for potted plants, their roots are sitting in the pot, above ground, and are much more likely to feel the effects of cold weather. Adding rocks (especially dark rocks) would soak up the heat of the sun during the day, and radiate the heat at night, helping to keep the plant warmer.

      If you’re growing potatoes in pots, you’d be going for different effects because potatoes don’t like their roots to get too warm. I’ve seen people grow potatoes in those black plastic pots, or even black garbage bags, in the spring. The problem is, those black pots or bags will soak up the sun, and very soon, it will warm the soil inside, the potato roots will be warmed beyond its comfort point, and the tubers stop growing. So then you’d get really small potato tubers. Which is fine, unless you were going for big potato tubers. Mulching around the pot with straw, for example, would reflect the light of the sun and the pot wouldn’t heat up nearly as quickly.

      If I were to give a general, over-all recommendation, I would say to mulch all your potted plants with well-composted compost. The addition of the organic matter will help to keep the potting soil light airy, so the soil in the pot doesn’t get too compacted. And as you water your plant each day, the compost will leech nutrients into the potting soil that your plant will be able to use.

      I hope that helps!

  2. J.C. March 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    We used straw mulch one year when I was a kid and we still had tons of weeds. And then the worst thing was that it left seeds everywhere and actually caused more weeds. So I would agree with you – I don’t think I would ever use straw mulch on my garden.

    • Anni March 21, 2013 at 10:12 pm #


      I have used straw mulch elsewhere, and it does work… as long as you lay it about 10 inches thick. I guess it just lets too much light through or something, so unless it’s really, really thick (like on pathways or something) I agree with you that straw mulch just isn’t worth it. And finding clean straw mulch (without the grass seed) can be difficult.

      Besides, I love using wood chips and compost so much and they’re easy to get ahold of.

  3. Migsy March 22, 2013 at 2:56 am #

    Thanks for the note about newspapers. I’ve always wondered about that. I haven’t used newspapers in my garden because I was worried about the ink. I think I might give them a try this year. I’m sick of weeding.
    And it’s good to know about the boxes. I wouldn’t have even thought of fire retardent chemicals or other chemicals being on the cardboard!

    • Anni March 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm #


      I had never considered chemicals on cardboard either until a friend of mine mentioned to me that she had wanted to compost her boxes, but someone told her not to because they had been sprayed with ‘something’. I decided to find out what that something was, and learned about the fire retardant chemicals. Who knew?!

  4. Jake's Mom March 27, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    I used straw mulch one year and I loved it, and then the next year it didn’t do so well. I think it’s because the first year I put a lot down, so it made a really thick layer, and the next year I didn’t put down as much. My neighbor said that it allows too much light to get through unless it’s really thick. So I do like using straw mulch, but it does have to be in a really thick layer.

    • Anni March 27, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

      Jake’s Mom,
      You’re right… Because the straw itself is light in color and a thin material, you have to have quite a lot of it for it to really work well as a mulch. If it’s used in a thick layer and comes from a truly weed-free source (so it doesn’t spread more weed seed in your garden) straw mulch can be a good mulch.

  5. Paul Griffith May 5, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    I got two large loads of wood chis from my electric power company they were cleaning the right of way I live on a farm and enough land to store this much out of site. Now my question I was telling a neighbor about my mulch (it is pine and oak mixed ) she said wood chips would cause a roach infestation what do you think ?

    • Anni May 6, 2013 at 7:59 am #


      There are many types of roaches, and even though we think of the roaches that tend to get indoors, there are many that live primarily outdoors. And most of them do love wood chips, straw, and pine needles. If you keep the pile well away from your house, then even if the pile gets infested by cockroaches, they won’t move indoors too. So that’s number one… keep it away from your house.

      It doesn’t really matter what mulch you use, any mulch has the possibility of attracting cockroaches. They can certainly be pests in the garden, because they’ll often feed on young seedlings. So if your pile gets infested, you’ll want to control the roach population in the pile before you spread it on your garden. (That’s “if”. It’s not guaranteed that it will get infested.) The number one way to keep cockroaches away, or to at least manage their population, is to use birds. Make sure your property attracts plenty of birds and they’ll enjoy making meals of any cockroaches that may come.

      And again, I wouldn’t necessarily say having a wood chip pile will cause an infestation of cockroach. It has the potential of attracting them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come and become so numerous it will cause an infestation.

      Plenty of places, whether they’re private residences or business buildings, use some form of wood chip mulch in all the ornamental garden beds around the building. It depends on weather, environment, birds, availability of food, etc. If there’s an apple orchard down the road, then all local cockroaches are likely to hightail it for the apple orchard and leave your wood chip pile in the middle of a field alone. Or if your wood chip pile is right next to a pick-your-own berry farm, it may become a convenient destination for cockroaches to live.

      So I guess what I’m saying is yes, there’s a possibility it will attract cockroaches. It seems like almost anything has the possibility of attracting cockroaches. But it depends on a lot of things. And whether or not it will become an infestation will also depend on a lot of things, mainly availability of food around the area.

      I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by!


  6. Guy Lessard May 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Quick note on wood chips. Never use them on plantings around a house. They can and will attract termites into your home. Otherwise they are fine in the garden.

    • Anni May 6, 2013 at 8:01 am #

      Yes, I have seen a couple of instances where termites were attracted to wood chips around buildings and caused problems with the buildings themselves. Thank goodness it doesn’t happen more often, especially with how often wood chips are used on all sorts of ornamental garden beds around business buildings and homes alike!

  7. Guy Lessard May 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Oh and I should mention that I live in New England and have had great success using weed-block fabric on my vegetable beds. The trick about watering is to run a drip hose underneath the fabric. The drip hose lets you use less water and put it where it does the most good. Plus fabric has another benefit, it suppresses disease spores which are bounced up onto a plant from the soil when watering from above. So I use it to suppress weeds, disease and for heating the soil.

    • Anni May 6, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      Drip hoses underneath the fabric would work well. I also like soaker hoses in those instances too.

      My dad used to used the black garden fabric it for heating the soil too (in Idaho), to try and grow watermelons, which we were successful at probably 1 out of ever 4 or 5 years.

      We’ve seen other people use wood chips (chopped up trees and branches with varying sizes of wood chips from fine, needle-like bits to big chunks) in their gardens, and it protects the soil and holds enough rainwater that they practically never need to water except just after sowing, to keep the seeds moist. That’s what we’re doing this year, and I’m excited to observe the results for myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  8. Leonore Neumann May 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    Hi Anni, I am wondering about the possibility of acquiring histoplasmosis from using pine needles as mulch. It is a fungal disease that is fairly common in northern Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin among people who work in the woods and are exposed to decaying pine needles. Do you have any information on this?

    • Anni May 6, 2013 at 7:34 am #

      I’ve never heard of a gardener who got a histoplasmosis infection from using pine needles as a mulch. Histoplasmosis infections are more likely to occur where there are a lot of bird or bat droppings, which is much more likely to occur in a forested area, than in a garden. Birds and bats tend to live in trees and other things, and that’s where their droppings are going to accumulate. So I don’t think you’re likely to have a problem with it from using pine needles as a mulch.

  9. Steve Rambo September 16, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Can you tell me if it permissible to use gravel as a mulch around my Mexican Fan Palm trees. Thanks.

    • Anni September 17, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      Hmmm… I really don’t know! From what I know of palms in general, I would assume it’s fine, but I couldn’t tell you for sure.

  10. RAM October 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    great article, thanks. What is the best mulch to use around mature dogwoods? it’s all lawn & I am slowly adding bulb, perenial beds & groundcovers, I’d like to reduce my mowing as well

    • Anni November 12, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

      I would probably use wood chip mulch. Make sure it’s not all tiny stuff (sawdust or pellet size). Since it’s not a garden, it can be fairly coarse, but ideally, it would have a pretty good mixture from toothpick size to thumb-size chuncks. And I’d make it pretty thick – I’d say at least 12 inches thick. Also, don’t lay it right up agains the trunk. Make sure there’s a couple of inches of breathing room. But the mulch will help keep out weeds and keep the soil moist underneath.
      One other thing – you mention reducing lawn. If there’s already grass growing around the dogwood, the mulch won’t necessarily keep it from growing. The thicker you lay it on, the more likely it is that the grass won’t get sunlight and won’t manage to break through. BUT, there’s always the possibility that some blades of grass will. You can’t really solarize the area or dig up the grass, since it would likely damage the roots of the dogwood trees as well. But if some grass comes through, just pull it out by hand, taking care to bring the roots with it. Over time, hopefully, the mulch will keep the grass down and the dogwood tree growing well. There will always be some maintenance when it comes to yarding and gardening.

  11. Naomi October 9, 2014 at 1:18 am #

    That is the best overview of mulches I’ve seen, thanks so much! I don’t yet have a garden (or a yard) but when I do I’ll be sure to reference this! Thanks for all your work on it.

    • Anni October 9, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      Thanks, Naomi! It’s nice to know our work has been helpful!

  12. Jim October 9, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    This is very thorough. I’ve used various mulches for years, but I had never thought about some of the points brought up here. I really, really appreciate this article. Thank you so much.

  13. Anna @Green Talk October 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    I use straw in my raised beds but I overwinter it in the beds so there isn’t any weed seeds. I don’t use bark mulch in the raised bed since I find that it chokes the seedlings. However, my regular plants love the wood chip mulch.

    I do however, use a combination of newspaper or cardboard in between the beds to walk on covered with wood mulch. However, every couple of years I put down fresh mulch. Over the years, the soil raises up too high and then I have to dig out the paths.

    As for pine needles, I used them as mulch around my blueberries and other berry plants. I did use it to cover oat seeds and they thrived.

    • Anni October 10, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      Fascinating addition, Anna. Thank you! I had never considered overwintering the straw mulch as a way to decrease weed seeds.
      I know a lot of gardeners would love the problem of having the soil raise up because of the addition of organic matter. That’s fabulous!

  14. Janica October 10, 2014 at 10:22 am #

    I have also tried using straw mulch and been discouraged by the amount of weeds produced, which is why I haven’t used it in years. But I think I might give it a try again, given what Anna has recommended. I did like the amount of organic matter it added to the soil. (It made my clay soil so much easier to work.)

  15. Emily @ Recipes to Nourish October 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    This is great! Tons of info that I know very little about. I’m pinning this. Thanks so much!

  16. Renee Kohley October 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Great tips! Thank you! Pinning!

  17. Kim October 28, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    By far the best post on mulches ever. I will be pinning this and referring back to it once spring rolls around. Thanks so much!!

  18. linda spiker October 28, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Once again I learned so much I never knew! Thank you:)

  19. Marjorie October 29, 2014 at 4:50 am #

    Great info here! I’ve only used grass clipping in the past.

  20. Rachel @ day2dayjoys October 29, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    Wow, I had no idea about all the mulch options, I like wood chips and rocks the best.

  21. Jennifer Margulis October 29, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Thanks for all this good advice. We’ve been using straw mulch this year with good results. We also mulched some of our trees with wood chips. I must admit, though, I got a bit discouraged about gardening after a teen we hired to water left the gate open and the deer helped themselves to every single vegetable I planted…

  22. Loriel @ Naturally Loriel October 29, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    So helpful and informative! Pinning.

  23. Megan Stevens October 29, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Wow, this is REALLY helpful and thorough and I love all your beautiful photos. I’ll pin this now!! 🙂

  24. t October 29, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    I have been meaning to write one article like this but you did such a great jog I will refer as a reference on this beautiful pictures too! Trish

    • Trish October 29, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

      Sorry job!! Thank you! Trish

    • Anni October 29, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      Thanks, Trish!

  25. Anna @Green Talk October 29, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    I use wood chips too but not in my beds. I use straw in the beds.

  26. Keith November 21, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    I’m trying to figure out a good mulch alternative to straw for placing over garlic that I just planted in a raised bed. My concerns with straw are possible weed seeds as you mentioned and also that I can’t seem to find any “organically grown” locally. I’m in upstate New York so I think I definitely will need something to moderate the soil temperature. Any ideas?

    • Anni November 21, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

      One thing that has worked well for us in the past are thoroughly dried grass clippings. And then praying for plenty of snow cover to help protect the soil & plant roots.
      You could also just use straw, and then, in the spring, remove what’s left of it, expose the soil to some good sun for a few days to warm it up a bit, and then mulch well with wood chips, which will help cut down on the amount of weed seed that germinates, even if the straw has dropped some weed seed.
      I hope this helps. Good luck!

  27. Vega February 18, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Thank you for this amazing summary! There were one thing i was missing though but i guess it runs under woodchips.. Coal.we attempted ” terra preta” or biochar combined with grassklippings and its Bern working out pretty good! This spring im going to apply the coal in top to get more heat absorbing properties. Im really thrilled and cant wait til spring! 🙂

  28. kevin March 23, 2015 at 9:22 pm #

    would walnut mulch be ok for pathways between raised vegetable garden beds? The beds are 12″ deep
    Thanks Kevin

    • Anni June 22, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

      Yes, I think so. We even use walnut mulch on our garden after it’s aged one or two years. We find that after a year or two, the rain and snow have washed out a lot of the compounds contained in new walnut mulch that affect the growth of other plants.

  29. Teddi April 25, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Hi Anni,
    Thank you for all your helpful advice. I have a crab apple tree in my backyard that is in the prime location for a sunny garden spot, and since it also seems to be infected with apple worm or something, I plan to have it removed. I’m wondering if I can have it chipped up and use it as mulch or do the worms live in the tree and would cause problems for my garden?

    • Anni June 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

      A worm that has infested your apple tree is likely the apple maggot. It can affect other fruits too. If you have your apple tree chopped down and chipped up into mulch, it may kill all or most of the apple maggots during the process.
      If you ever have troubles with maggots, worms, or caterpillars eating your fruit, you can often send pictures or a live sample to your local Ag Extension office and they can help identify the problem. Predatory wasps can be effective against lots of different types of worms and caterpillars. Good luck!

  30. Frances June 25, 2015 at 9:54 am #

    This is such a good article – adding my thanks to all the others above.

    I am making a series of raised beds, from a fenced, overgrown area (brambles and nettles etc), and i am going to try sheet mulching, using newspaper, compost and a big pile of topsoil that a neighbour has given me, for the beds themselves.

    i am looking for free mulching material to make paths. We are surrounded by forests here – mainly spruce, and i was wondering whether you think spruce needles would make a good mulch for paths? If they would, do you think I should dry them first, or just pile it up green, and how thick would i need? Advice much appreciated.

    • Anni August 12, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

      Just pile it up green. I think they would work really for paths.
      I would use whole branches, if possible, and turn it into wood chips first. If you have a wood chipper, or could rent one, it would be so much better if they were wood chips instead of whole branches. Easier to walk on too.
      But if you can’t cut or bring home branches, just spruce needles would work too. 🙂

  31. Wilfredo Hernandez July 9, 2015 at 6:01 am #

    I didn’t know that wood chips helped with water retention. In a dry climate like mine wood chips may help. I also didn’t know that wood chips broke down to provide nutrition for the soil. These tips are extremely helpful and I will have to look into them.

    • Anni August 12, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

      Wood chips area amazing for gardens. They actually do contain a lot of nutrients – it just takes longer for them to be broken down and for those nutrients to become available.
      They also hugely suppress weeds. And with a big garden like mine, if I didn’t have wood chips, there’s no way I’d be able to manage it. As it is, I walk around my garden and pull weeds for 5-10 minutes a day, and job done. 🙂
      As for water retention and preservation, in my opinion, this is one of the most important things wood chips can do. They are so good at preventing the soil from drying out, sop up any extra water to keep the soil from getting boggy, and keep things pretty darn optimal for plants. We’ve had temperatures over 105 degrees F many times this summer, and the most I’ve had to water is twice in 9 days. Thanks to the wood chips.

  32. Juliet September 4, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Great info! 2 questions:

    how many layers of newspaper would you recommend for mulch on paths, and would you cover it with soil (to prevent blowing?

    also, what do you like/not like about Cocoa Mulch?

    • Anni September 9, 2015 at 8:45 pm #

      I talk about the cocoa mulch further down in the article. It’s #10 on the list, so you can check it out there.

      As for the newspapers, for pathways, the more the better, really. I would say at least 3-4 layers. Even better would be to use cardboard. Clean, untreated, and uncolored cardboard. I would cover the newspapers with wood chip mulch. The newspapers block out the light for any weed seeds that are currently in the soil, and also help prevent weed seeds that are blown in from reaching the soil. But I wouldn’t use newspaper as an end-all ground covering. Wood chip mulch on top will hold the newspaper in place, will break down over time and return nutrients to the soil, and is aesthetically pleasing too.

  33. Kathy Collins September 12, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    I prefer using Melaleuca mulch, as it does not attract termites, but has all of the benefits of other wood mulches. In addition, it is made from invasive Melaleuca trees in the Everglades. I haven’t had any problems with it, but I understand that it is also allopathic; however, I am seeing weeds growing through it, so I probably don’t have enough down. It is also one that needs to be added to frequently, as it breaks down fairly quickly and becomes part of the soil. How much should I be adding to my bed around my azaleas, or around the trees? I live in Florida, so I need it to retain moisture, stop soil splash up, cut down on the heat, and help retain nutrients. Because the soil is so sandy, any nutrients are quickly leached from the soil.

    • Anni October 2, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

      I’ve never heard of specifically Malaleuca mulch. What a great way to use an invasive tree!
      We mulch to about 3-4 inches thick. Sometimes more, especially around perennials like trees and bushes.

  34. Wendy November 12, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    Any advice is appreciated!

    I have bermuda grass remnants in the front yard. I have had suggestions to use newspaper, chemicals, solarization, cardboard, plastic, weed mat, etc to tame it or get rid of it.

    I want a tapestry garden with sages, mallow and yarrow, oregano, etc. I have removed 3 inches of dying lawn including bermuda. Planted the above mentioned plants and now need to decide whether I want a mere aesthetic look OR do I really want to tend the soil and make it healthier, and pull bermuda for years.

    I am at a point where it is either newspapers, cardboard or weed mat. HELP!

    P.s I am laughed at by experienced landscapers if I want to use newspapers or cardboard. I hear plastic and weed mats break down too?? (but do nothing for the soil I suppose)

    and yes, I will have this house for the rest of my days including my daughter’s days.


    • Anni November 17, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

      Bermuda grass. I have more experience with that than is good for me.
      On a serious note, bermuda grass is very difficult to get rid of. It’s much like running bamboo (only smaller). Practically the only way to truly get rid of bermuda grass is to dig the area thoroughly, sift the soil (pass it through small, but not fine, wire), and pull out all pieces of root. Or solarize the soil. But even then, it’s come back before, from some piece of root way down or something. Who knows. The last option would be to totally suffocate it. Which, actually, we have head good success with. It involves putting cardboard over the area, putting a pretty thick layer of soil over the top of that (at least 4-6 inches). You can plant in that soil. Just know that the grass, as it’s dying underneath the cardboard and soil, will decompose at a very slow rate (low oxygen levels). That can create two problems – poor water penetration and nutrient deficiency. So you may need to add a bit of fertilizer for the plants on top. And be careful not to water too much or too little for a couple of years.
      Good luck!

  35. Thelma January 1, 2016 at 3:13 am #

    Thank you so much for your analysis of different mulches and their uses. My search was specifically for the affects of using allopathic plants for mulch and you answered that question as well. We have a lot of Portuguese Broom (Cytisus striatus) where we live and I am looking in to chipping/shredding it for mulch.

    It was helpful to read that leaving the mulch to lie for a couple of years could make it usable.

    Now I have a question. Have you any thoughts about using the waste from an Olive Oil factory for mulch It is a very dry, fine material, but would have oil residue in it.

    • Anni January 6, 2016 at 11:33 am #

      I have not thought about that, actually. I would have to look at it myself, before making a judgment call. But presumably it could be used as a mulch, especially if it were mixed with wood chip mulch of some kind.

  36. jenny January 29, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

    This is a very well-written, helpful article. Thanks a lot!!

  37. Robert March 9, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

    I apologize if you already answered but I didn’t have time to read every question however, how do leaves play in the role of mulch? I have a small garden with mostly herbs but thought leaves would make a nice alternative instead of bagging and leaving at the edge of the road for garbage pick up.

    • Anni August 30, 2016 at 9:29 pm #

      If you’re going to include leaves in mulch, they need to be chopped up, and preferably not the only thing in the mulch. The problem with using whole leaves in mulch, especially if they’re the only thing that makes up the mulch, is that, being flat, they easily mat together, especially when wet. Without rough edges and allowing air to circulate, as happens with wood chip mulch, they won’t break down nearly as quickly, they’ll make a mucky, slipper-when-wet, suffocating mat on the surface of your soil. However, when they’re chopped up as part of a wood chip mulch, they break down more quickly than the rest of the mulch, adding nutrients, particularly nitrogen (as long as the leaves are still somewhat green and not dried brown) to the soil.

  38. richard March 16, 2016 at 12:33 am #

    Excelent article.I have many roses in my garden and I’m wondering if I can use mulch made from twigs of roses ?

    • Anni August 30, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

      Presumably, yes, as long as they’re not diseased in any way. Though it might be best not to use chopped up rose twigs as mulch around roses – maybe use it somewhere else, just in case, to prevent the harboring or spreading of any diseases that may be present.

  39. johnratto March 18, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    I have an area under a large maple tree. No sun can get at the area. Nothing can grow there.
    I would like to make it look neat to eye.Roots are showing above ground level all thru the area.
    It will never grow anything!! Do you have any suggestions for the long term on this problem.

    • Anni August 30, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

      Mulch… ferns… hostas… Rocks of a certain size just right for sitting…

  40. Joe June 8, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

    This has to be hands-down the most informative site I’ve ever been to regarding Mulch and gardening practices that are really helpful. Thank you for a most entertaining and informative half an hour of reading.

  41. John September 26, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi! I noticed your well-versed knowledge in mulches and the like and have a puzzling dilemma if you can help. I have two dogs. A German Shepherd and a black Lab. The German Shepherd has made my backyard a dust bowl with as much running and playing as I have time for. I am in the process of re-grassing my lawn and want to create a more alluring section where he runs the most, straight down the middle. I thought a mulch would be good but I am unsure of which would be the best mulch that will stay fairly well, wont leave splinters in paws and looks pleasing to the eyes. Is there such a thing, or am I doomed to have a dry, plain dirt section of yard forever?!

    • Anni October 4, 2016 at 8:18 pm #

      There’s surely a mulch that will work! There are so many different kinds of mulches. I can speak from experience that wood chip mulch (surprisingly or not) does not give me slivers (and yes, I have been nutty enough to walk on it barefoot – I can reach my kitchen garden from my back door by walking on my cement patio and wood chip mulch without ever touching a speck of dirt and tracking it in). There’s also pebbly or rocky mulches. If you go the rocky/pebbly route, be sure to pick something that’s not too slippery. The image coming to mind when I describe that is sand – you slide with every step and it’s exhausting; some small, rounded pebbly mulches are slippery like that. You also want one that isn’t too hard or sharp, or that will bounce easily into your lawn and ruin your lawn mower blades when you’re mowing. For that reason, if you use a rocky/pebbly mulch, edging the pathway (runway) with stones or logs might be a good idea too. Good luck!

  42. Sikkanthar October 8, 2016 at 11:59 pm #

    Must read and valueless information. I read the details with full interest and involvement. Thank you.

  43. Brandy Swint January 6, 2017 at 10:47 am #

    Wonderfully thorough article. Thank you! I’ve recently moved into a home that had an established garden of grape vines and raised beds. I would like to put down newspaper and wood chips over the raised beds for the winter but in the spring how do I plant or add compost without mixing in the wood chips? On the rest of ground, by the beds and beside the grapes, I’d like to do cardboard and shredded cedar as a walk way/weed prevention. Any tips on that? We are drowning in weeds and have to come up with something! Thank you in advance.

    • Anni February 12, 2017 at 10:15 am #

      We keep the mulch on all the time. When it’s time to plant, I gently scrape it away from the area I’ll be planting. If it’s a row of seeds or something, I leave it unmulched until the plants are big enough, and then I’ll gently move the mulch back around them. When I put in seedlings, I can put mulch back around them immediately.
      It does take a little bit of extra time to do this when I’m planting, and sometimes it can be fiddly work, like when I’m putting mulch back around a big bed of onions or something because they’re small and there’s lots of them, but I have to be careful not to bruise the leaves. But, in the end, it saves a ton of time because I don’t have to weed every day (I weed for about 1 hour ever week or two, and mostly just by the edges of the garden where weeds creep in from the surrounding fields). It also helps the plants grow better, so it’s worth the extra time to make sure the mulch is replaced after I’m done planting.
      Cardboard and shredded cedar would be excellent on the pathways. And I bet it would smell so nice in the summer especially, when the heat warms the oils in the cedar and makes it all just smell so piney and nice!

  44. Miranda April 15, 2017 at 8:17 am #

    I have a Japanese Maple in the flower bed I front of my house. What type of mulch would you recommend ?

    • Anni May 31, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

      It should do fine with wood chip mulch, and I’m partial to that because some of it breaks down quickly (littler stuff) and some breaks down slowly (bigger stuff) and it looks lovely. 🙂

  45. robin May 25, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    I was wondering if its good for the garden to put sawdust down before you put woodchips . I am so new at this .

    • Anni May 31, 2017 at 8:47 pm #

      If you use sawdust, use it very thinly. Because it can work into the soil more easily than wood chips (because it’s smaller) but it is still a very high carbon material, you don’t want to use too much of it or it can bind up all the nitrogen in your soil while it’s being broken down by microorganisms.

  46. Cathy A August 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm #

    The diff between wood chips and shredded bark is that unless you really know where the bark is coming from, it can easily be shredded pallets, that are painted – which eventually lose their color and turn grey. Where does the paint go? if they are painted.
    Wood chips should mean 73-93% needles or leaves. It should be the whole tree ground up. Leaves and needles contain all the nutrients of the tree – because that’s where the minerals the tree roots pull up from the ground go is into the leaves. It’s why the cycle works the way it does, which is brilliant. Leaves fall and the nutrients over winter whether through snow or rain leach the minerals and nutrients back into the soil to feed the grass and tree. It doesn’t require any of our assistance. Look at a typical forest. No one rotates the trees. They’re green all year long. No one puts drip irrigation on them. They do fine. Follow nature – in my opinion (opinion here) – if it doesn’t copy nature it’s a lie and usually connected to something a company wants you to buy and become enslaved to buying. Nature creates its own compost through leaves and fallen branches, twigs, etc. It’s been working since the beginning of time as far as we know. Basic principles of permaculture. We mow our leaves into small bits because we have somehow 8 giant maple trees which is just an unbelievable amount of leaves, they’re 70 ft tall or higher and if we don’t it’s about 4 feet of leaves. So we mow them down as they fall into bits and leave them there and during winter they form a leaf compost over the ground. There are areas in the back yard that is just virgin soil, never been planted and has 60 plus years of just layers of leaf compost and branches. We don’t pick up the sticks unless we need kindling. We heat with wood. Occasionally a branch breaks, we use that wood. The whole street is filled with maples elms and Queen Anne cherries, so we get a lot of hard wood free from neighbors. It’s a nature-lovers’ dream. My only request to readers – please plant just one tree unless you already have them. Please – even if you’re moving. Just one tree. I don’t care if it’s 3-4 feet tall. Just one tree. Don’t listen to the hype about fruit trees. Not everyone wants the maintenance. We have so few trees left from human influence in the U.S. we just need trees. We have a walnut tree next door, walnuts all over our driveway, and our gateway and the wisteria, peonies, sunflowers, dogwoods, everything, grows just fantastic. I guess nature clears it herself. I don’t worry about that stuff. I have had some flowers, actually one flower that didn’t like spruce chips. It’s a tobacco plant. I’m thinking that’s why. Tobacco is its own pesticide and doesn’t need much help there. Not much eats their fuzzy leaves.

    • Anni September 23, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

      Very informative. Thank you so much for your comment! 🙂

  47. Shawn October 13, 2017 at 2:05 am #

    1. Great article.
    2. We live in New England and would like to spread “mulch” under a fence around the edge of our property. We really aren’t concerned with having any plants or vegetables within the mulch bead it would primarily be for weed suppression. That said we don’t want to harm any of the Maple Saplings within the “line”. Given the above Would you suggest fabric or newspaper underneath?wood or rock?


    • Anni January 28, 2018 at 5:15 pm #

      I’d definitely go with a thick (6 inches) wood chip mulch. It will feed and protect the maple saplings, and it squelches weeds incredibly well. I use it in my veg garden (which is 1/10th of an acre) and I weed about 30 minutes every other week.

  48. Ricardo November 15, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    Anni, I found your article great, thank you very much for sharing all this information. I was wondering how the newspaper option worked… when watering the plants, doesn’t the newspaper prevent the water from draining evenly? Really loved your article…

    • Anni January 28, 2018 at 5:09 pm #

      Great question. Yes, it did. At first. But it didn’t take long for it to begin to break down, and all those little holes drained the water through quite evenly.

  49. Cheree January 22, 2018 at 2:03 am #

    Can I use woodchip and bark mulch to hill my potatoes? Thank you.

    • Anni January 28, 2018 at 5:00 pm #

      Yes, but it won’t be as effective at keeping the light out as soil.
      I plant my potatoes quite deep, now that the soil has been much improved by organic matter (it was terrible soil before). The potato is able to get a sprout up to the surface without a problem, and then with the thicker soil layer plus the mulch layer on top, I never have to worry about hilling up.


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