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What is Mulch?

By Deborah Ng
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mulch is any material placed over soil in the garden. It's designed to retain moisture, deter weeds and keep the soil from eroding.

The benefits of mulch are plentiful. For the busy gardener, it is a great time-saving device because it helps to prevent weeds from sprouting in the garden. In addition, it can keep the soil moist, reducing the need for constant watering. Mulch will enrich the existing soil and prevent rain and other elements from washing it away. Besides, a thick layer often looks much better in a garden than bare soil.

Mulch can come from several sources. Consumers can either buy it through a landscaper or garden center, or they can make their own by shredding leaves, sticks, grass, bark, compost and other organic material. By doing this instead of throwing the material out with the trash, people are recycling and saving the environment from more landfill. Manure also makes a great mulch, but many people shy away from it because of the smell.

When choosing a mulch, there are several factors to take into consideration, including the types of plants it will be used with, the climate and even the type of soil underneath. A gardening expert can help a gardener choose the type that's right for his or her planting. The instructions on the bag are detailed and informative. Some are dyed black or red to look nicer in the garden, but non-dyed mulch is readily available, and most landscapers and nurseries prefer to vend the dye free variety.

Some mulching basics include the following:

  • In order to reap maximum benefits, a layer of mulch should be 2 to 4 inches (5.08 to 10.16 cm) thick.
  • A coarse mulch will help to keep weeds from erupting in a garden.
  • A finer texture will decompose quickly, leading to the need for more frequent mulching.
  • Before mulching, all weeds should be removed and the soil should be given a good, thorough soaking.
  • Mulch should never be incorporated into the soil as this can hinder a plant's growth. Instead, it should be placed only on top of the soil.
  • A thick layer of newspaper also works like mulch. Since most newspapers have vegetable-based inks, there's no need to worry about damage to the environment.

People who are starting a garden should not forget to mulch. The plants and soil will be much healthier, and the garden as a whole will look nicer.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By julies — On Apr 14, 2012

I have a friend who used rubber mulch that was made from recycled tires. I thought this was a great way to recycle old tires.

This did a good job of keeping the weeds down and also didn't absorb moisture like wood mulch does.

I have also seen this type of mulch used around playground equipment.

It seems like most gardeners still prefer different types of wood mulch, but I can see how rubber mulch may become more popular over time.

I live in an apartment, so don't have any need for mulch at this point. Someday when I have a garden, I will probably look into using rubber mulch.

By bagley79 — On Apr 13, 2012

When we lived in the country and owned horses, I had the best flower and vegetable gardens. I used the horse manure as mulch and fertilizer and this worked great.

I even had friends who would come out and help themselves to some manure. I always told them they could take as much of it as they wanted!

One thing when you are using manure for mulch is to make sure you don't use too much. If you use this on young plants, or it is too concentrated, it will "burn" your plants, and then you don't get good results.

By John57 — On Apr 13, 2012
I don't always put mulch down -- it depends on what I'm trying to grow. If I had to buy mulch for all of my flower beds, I would have to buy bulk mulch, and even then, it would cost me a lot of money.

For some large areas, I like the flowers to self-seed and fill in the area over time with new flowers and seedlings.

This is much harder to accomplish if you have a thick layer of mulch over the surface of the soil.

Once I get enough flowers to fill in the area, I don't need to worry so much about mulch because the large number of flowers helps keep the weeds out.

There are certain areas of my yard where I like to use mulch, but even then, I use it sparingly.

By andee — On Apr 12, 2012

When I was trying to decide on what type of landscape mulch to use, cedar mulch was recommended for my area.

I live in a log home and have a large flower garden out in front of my house. I was told the cedar mulch was one type of mulch the bugs did not like and would make a better deterrent than other types of mulch.

Since I like the look and smell of the cedar mulch, this is what I ended up going with. This looked really great for the first few months.

Later on in the season, some of the coloring faded and it wasn't as attractive, but it still did a good job of keeping out a lot of the weeds.

By Oceana — On Apr 12, 2012

I use the dead grass in my own yard as mulch. I own an acre of land, and every time I mow it, I leave the grass clippings out in the sun to dry for awhile. Then, I gather them into a big tub and use them as I need them.

Weeds are a big problem in my yard, but the hay mulch suffocates them. I try to pluck as many as I can from the soil before laying the hay down, but if I miss a few seedlings, I know that they will die, because they can't get air or sunlight.

Hay is a good mulch because it is easy to layer and it stays put. The wind normally won't blow it away, and the hay really locks in moisture.

By Perdido — On Apr 11, 2012

I vacationed in Florida last year, and I noticed that many homes had flower gardens with seashell mulch in them. I thought this was very pretty, but I doubt that I could find it anywhere near where I live.

Many of the shells had been dyed turquoise or bright pink. The gardens with natural shells didn't stand out as much, but I must say that there was no sign of weeds in them. The shell mulch let the flowers be the star of the garden.

I know I could never gather up enough shells on the beach during a short trip to use in my own garden. I checked online for shell mulch, and the companies do send out trucks to deliver it, but the price to have it delivered to my home three-hundred miles away just isn't feasible.

By lighth0se33 — On Apr 11, 2012

@StarJo – Thanks for the tip about the roses! I have been using pine straw mulch around mine, but they have been looking very sickly. I'm going to switch to wood ash.

My husband frequently gathers the big branches that fall from the trees into our yard and burns them in a big pile. Because of this, I have plenty of burnt wood chips that I could use as mulch for the roses.

I really wish we had a wood chipper, because I think that wood chip mulch is very attractive. It would be nice to be able to send all these branches through the chipper and have pretty wood colored mulch instead of just burnt chips.

By StarJo — On Apr 10, 2012

I am a big fan of pine straw mulch. Many garden centers sell it by the bale to city folks, but since I live out in the country and have pine trees of my own, I can harvest all the mulch I need.

Since pine straw makes the soil more acidic, I only use it around plants that prefer acidic soil. I have spread it thickly over the area where I planted tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and gladiolus. I also use it around my chrysanthemums and hibiscus bushes.

I don't use it around my roses, though. I learned last year that wood ash makes a much better mulch for them, because it gives them nutrients and helps them flourish.

By anon76567 — On Apr 11, 2010

mulch is good.

By anon71091 — On Mar 17, 2010

Nice article. It gives me knowledge on how to be an efficient gardener. Thanks.

By surreallife — On Jul 26, 2008

In the vegetable garden, compost, peat, or leaf mold is spread between young vegetable. The mulch adds nutrients and reduces water loss. Mulching is a sort of manuring.

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