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The Ultimate Guide to the Different Types of Mulch

Are you interested in adding mulch to your landscape? Click here for the ultimate guide to the different types of mulch to find your match.
Top-down closeup photo of brown mulch

Did you know that beginner gardeners kill over half their plants? Mulch is a simple yet effective way to help you avoid contributing to this statistic. 

Besides being esthetically pleasing, mulch can prevent weeds, droughts, and hard rains from ruining your gardens. Of course, different types of mulch will provide various benefits and levels of protection for your landscape.

Understanding your mulch options is crucial to get the most out of using it. Continue reading below to learn about the types of mulch, how to choose the right one for your unique needs, and more. 

Benefits of Using Mulch in Your Landscape

Technically speaking, mulch is anything you spread over or around your soil as cover. Since its first use, laying mulch has become a fundamental part of landscaping and gardening because of its many benefits. 

A few of the benefits you can expect to reap from using mulch in your landscape include:

Reduce the Amount of Water That Evaporates From Your Soil

This means you’ll have to water your plants less often, which can be a huge time saver. But, this benefit is especially advantageous in a drought, when holding onto every drop of water is crucial to the survival of your plants.

Improve the Quality of Your Soil

Mulch does this by breaking up clay and providing additional nutrients to sandy soils. When clay is broken up, the earth has better air and water movement, which is crucial for healthy plants.

Acts as an Insulator

Roots prefer cooler environments over warmer ones. With a top layer of mulch, the ground remains cooler during the summer months, so the roots of your plants thrive.

Keep the Weeds Down

Since there’s less ground for them to take place when mulch is layered on top, it can save you significant time weeding your flower beds or garden. Additionally, the weeds that do grow after mulching tend to be easier to pull. 

Feed the Soil

Organic mulch will become compost for your garden, which feeds the soil by adding nutrients. However, inorganic mulches will not provide this benefit. 

Of course, different types of mulch will provide varying levels of benefits. To make the best decision for your yard, it helps to understand the mulch options available for you to choose from. 

Types of Mulch Available

Numerous mulch types are available, each with its own set of pros and cons. A few of the most popular mulch options are detailed below. 

Straw

Straw is one of the most common forms of organic mulch used in gardening because it’s cheap and light. However, you should use it in drier vegetable gardens because it decomposes too quickly in wet ones. You’ll also want to consider that straw isn’t a good option for decorative gardens (like your front flower beds) because it isn’t esthetically pleasing. 

In normal conditions, straw mulch will last six weeks to three months. Unfortunately, while straw is one of the cheapest mulch options for practical gardening, it isn’t very effective at stopping weeds or deterring pests. 

Compost

Compost is a common mulch that many people make themselves over time. As a significant benefit, compost will add tons of nutrients back into the soil. 

The trade-off? Compost will only last a few weeks at most before you’d need to relay it. Consistently laying new mulch can become a hassle quickly.

On the bright side, compost can create a pleasing look, making it a decent option for decorative flower beds. But compost won’t do a good job stopping weeds or pests.

Pine and Cedar Bark Chips

Pine and cedar chips can be great mulch if they’re seasoned properly. However, if they aren’t seasoned for at least a year, then the wood can actually suck all of the nitrogen out of your soil, leaving none for your growing plants. However, seasoning your own wood that long (and then turning it into chips) can be a huge hassle, so it’s better to purchase professionally made wood chips. 

A big bonus of wood chips is that they’re decorative and add to the beauty of your flower beds. You can choose from varying shades, depending on the wood you use. Under normal conditions, pine and cedar bark chips will last about four to seven years, making them a worthwhile investment. 

Hardwood Mulch

Hardwood mulch is similar to wood chips from softer woods like pine and cedar. They offer a similar visual appeal and serve much the same purposes. The primary difference is that hardwood mulch is of higher quality and will last much longer.

If you want the benefits of wood mulch, hardwood is the best option. You’ll get longer use out of it, and since it’s harder, it’ll do a better job at insulating the soil underneath. 

Stones and River Rock

There are various types of rocks and stones you could use in your flower beds, and they provide a unique visual appeal that many prefer over other mulch options. For example, you might choose from river rock, pumice stone, or small ordinary pebbles. 

Rock is an expensive choice, but it lasts forever. The only downside is that smaller rocks can wash away in heavy rains, so you’ll eventually need to replace at least some of this top layer.  

Shredded Leaves

Dry, shredded leaves are one of the easiest forms of mulch for you to make yourself if you’re on a tight budget. They’re an excellent choice for vegetable gardens or beneath fruit trees. This is because they add nutrients to the soil as they decompose and provide a thick covering for the ground (especially during winter).

The big downside to shredded leaves is that they can get moldy over time as they sit, especially if it’s particularly wet while decomposing. They also attract bugs, which most gardeners and landscapers don’t want. Under normal circumstances, shredded leaves can last four weeks to three months, but they make your yard look messy. 

Sawdust

Sawdust mulch is another type of wood mulch, but it’s ground up incredibly fine. This mulch can often be dyed in various colors – mostly black or red. Since you can get it in different colors, sawdust mulch allows you to create a more customized look for your flower beds.

Sawdust mulch is generally affordable and long-lasting. However, you’ll want to ensure you get a high-quality product if you’re going to reap the most benefits. 

Rubber

Rubber mulch is a fantastic alternative to organic options since it’s durable, safe, and permanent. Rubber mulch is often used in children’s play areas but can also be used in decorative gardens. It’s not generally recommended for productive gardens, however. 

Rubber mulch has the unique benefit of slowing fungal diseases that grow in the ground with many long-term mulching options. Heavy rains or irrigation methods won’t cause rubber mulch to be displaced, either. 

How To Choose The Right Mulch For Your Yard

When choosing the right mulch for your unique landscape, there are a few things you’ll want to take into consideration. Before making a decision, think about the considerations below. 

Consider Why You’re Laying Mulch

What is the primary purpose you want to lay mulch? For example, do you want to help the soil in your vegetable garden retain moisture? Or are you looking for something that will stop weeds from growing? 

Compare your reasons to the benefits of each mulch type listed above. You may find several different mulch types that excel at the purpose you most need. In that case, the other considerations can help you make a final decision. 

Consider Budget

Are you on a tight budget, or do you have money to spare for a higher-quality product? This is an important consideration since the different mulch types can cost significantly differently. For example, straw mulch will be vastly cheaper than hardwood mulch, but it also won’t last as long. 

Consider Esthetics

While visual appeal shouldn’t be the only consideration, it should be one of them. After all, you’ll be looking at your garden or flower beds every day for years to come. So consider whether you prefer the look of one mulch over another. 

Get A Professional Opinion 

Even after these considerations, it’s possible you still don’t know which mulch is the best choice. Consider getting a professional opinion. The benefit of asking a professional is that it removes all the guesswork. 

Get Professional Mulch Help Today

If you’re looking for high-quality mulch or need help deciding which types of mulch to choose, call us at (815) 577-8294. One of our customer service representatives can answer any questions you still have or schedule a delivery if desired.

You can also contact us through our online form if preferred, and someone will get back to you as soon as possible. 

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