Choosing the Right Mulch

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated September 20, 2023)


Novice gardeners use mulch because it makes their flower beds look great. Expert gardeners use mulch because they know that it protects their plants in many ways. All varieties of mulch can:

  • Help repel insects.
  • Encourage soil to maintain heat in cold weather, and keeping it cooler in hot weather.
  • Stop soil erosion.
  • Preserve moisture by inhibiting evaporation
  • Control weed growth
  • Reflect sunlight upwards toward plants, encouraging improved growing conditions.

Mulch can be organic or inorganic, or natural and synthetic. Organic mulches include shredded bark, grass clippings, straw, hay, sawdust, shredded cardboard and newspaper, and wood chips. Rock and gravel are excellent mulches in northern climates since they retain heat. While compost can be used as mulch, it is wise to make sure that it is free of weeds, else weeds will sprout when you use it as mulch. Synthetic mulches will not propagate weeds, and can include shredded tire rubber and plastic sheets.

Which mulch should you choose? Consider these points to help answer that question:

  • Decide your reasons for needing mulch. Do you have a tree that is situated in constant sunlight? If so, perhaps you want to mulch it to help retain water at the roots.
  • Do you want to enhance the look of your plants? Maybe you have creeping phlox planted the length of your front sidewalk and want to inhibit weed growth while providing aesthetically pleasing decoration with dyed wood chips, rocks, or gravel.
  • Do you live in a zone that has an early frost? Mulching your plants with newspapers or cardboard can help protect your plants from frost while still in the growing season.
  • Do your plants need to be fertilized? Mulch can also fertilize your plants. Add grass clippings to your garden after mulching them with a mulching mower. The clippings will break down and provide nutrients to the soil.

Also, take into account longevity, appearance, and cost. Certainly, rock and gravel will last forever. Shredded bark will last longer than compost or grass clippings. If you plan to remove your flower bed at the end of the season, choose expendable mulch. If you have a flamboyant flower garden, choose mulch that will compliment the colors of your garden, while simultaneously providing protection. While homemade mulches such as grass clippings and compost cost next to nothing, you will pay anywhere from $2 to $10 per bag for bark chips, depending on their color. Gravel and rock cost more than that, but they last an eternity.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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What is 3 + 0?

2013-03-26 13:54:01

Nanette Sargeant

Also remember to think about the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. A lot of bark dust/chips create more acidity in the soil when they break down. Great for evergreens, azaleas and rhododendrons; not so great for clematis and many other perennials.


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