Mulch Types - Organic
Organic mulch types can include soil amendments.
Broken down by categories, this page starts
with those that are solely weed control methods.
The second category discusses additives used to
amend garden soil, many of which also cross-over as effective garden mulch.
amendments that do not cross-over as mulch
and a list that should never-ever be used.
Types of Mulch - Organic
This first list is of natural weed killer options that are easy to apply.
1) Cedar Mulch
Cedar mulch is preferred over other shredded bark chips.
- Highly effective against termites, ants and other unwelcome insects. Cedar
has oils that repel these insects.
- Doesn't breakdown quickly
- Not harmful to plants. Improves soil structure and water
Hay is comprised of legumes (Alfalfa, Red Clover) and grasses (Timothy). The
two types of hay are:
- Adds nutrients as it
decomposes into soil.
- Weed seeds common.
- Recommended to apply
- Salt Hay
- Gathered from
- Free of weed seeds.
- If not familiar with
source where hay is
purchased, it may
have weed seeds.
3) Hulls and Shells - Cocoa Bean Mulch
This includes peanut shells, buckwheat hulls, cocoa bean shells, rice hulls,
oat husks and more. If you reside in rural area these can be found at local
- Offer limited nutrients to soil, best used as mulch
- Longevity can vary
- Most popular of this group is cocoa bean mulch.
- Shells are removed during the roasting process.
- Weed seed free.
- Longer lasting, gets darker in time rather than lighter.
- Works especially well around woody shrubs and plants,
- Can attract some insects, as with other organic
- Apply about 1". Spray down with water to create
an interlocking structure.
- Light mold at times, as with many organic mulch options.
- Can promote diarrhea and vomiting if excessive
amount consumed by
4) Leaf Mould / Leaf Mold
Comprised of dry, dead leaves from shrubs and trees. Use the whole leaves
of fall as winter mulch rather than placing at the
curb for pick-up in the fall. When spring comes it can take some time to rake off.
- It's Free!!
- As weather gets colder, leaves pack gradually over frosting period.
- Once winter arrives the wet packs them effectively creating a
Technically Leaf mould is considered a compost soil amendment. It is
better used only as a mulch. This because breakdown of leaves is...
- Limited nutrients.
- High acid content. Use only with plants that prefer acidic soil.
- Low nitrogen producing ineffective decomposition.
- Requires one to two years to breakdown.
- Avoid using around certain trees, such as native Oaks. An undesirable fungus
can transfer creating adverse effects.
- Best to Sterilize if used as compost.
5) Pine Bark Nuggets
Pine bark nuggets is the composted bark from Pine tree. Use only as mulch.
- No nutrient value
Most common of Bark mulches.
- Long lasting, takes many years to break down.
- Some bacteria can set in over time.
- More expensive than other mulch types.
- As it begins to pack down can cause nitrogen deficiencies.
6) Peat Moss
There is Peat Moss and Sphagnun Peat Moss. Recommended use as mulch only.
Regular moss is..
- Naturally acidic. Use only with plants that prefer acidic soil as mulch.
- As soil amendment has many fungi, possibly causing diseases, unable to grow
with peat moss.
- Pliable for plant roots.
- Retains water well.
Sphagnun Peat Moss is..
- Never to be mixed with other soil amendments.
- Poor in nutrient value.
- Attractive as mulch.
- Doesn't require a lot on top of soil - 1/4" - 1".
- Good for Sandy soils for texture.
- Retains up to 20-times water but hard to re-wet.
- Blows away when dry.
7) Pine Needle Mulch
This is one of the mulch types that termites seem to favor.
- Lots of acid if large amount is applied.
- Long lasting.
- Works well on smothering weeds.
- Can combine with other mulching methods.
8) Redwood Mulch
The significant difference with redwood mulch is its resistance to termite
damage. Overall it is one of the many types of mulch that is insect repellant.
Redwood mulch hardly removes any nitrogen. The nitrogen that is removed is
only from the soil surface, not deep within. If anything is adds more soil
- Softwood mulch.
- Slightly Acidic.
- Less prone to decay over other shredded bark mulch.
To be used as mulch, sawdust must be 'finished'. This means wait a year
before applying. Finished sawdust has a sweet smell, non-finished smells like
- Works well on (creating) pathways.
- Highly effective natural weed killer.
- Apply a lot.
- As long as it is finished, it is OK if sawdust works itself into soil. There
is no nutrient value.
10) Shredded Bark Mulch
Shredded bark mulches are made from the outer layer of trees, dried, then
shredded. These are different bark mulches and can be more bulky than those
already listed - Cedar mulch and Pine Bark nuggets.
All listed Bark Mulches (Cedar, Pine and Shredded) should all be placed
approximately one foot away from your home. This is done to deter insects from
nesting close to dwelling.
- Doesn't conserve moisture as well as other mulch types.
- Long lasting.
- Adds acid to soil, check soil pH regularly to ensure nutrients not being
taken out if this mulching method is used long term.
- Works well on smothering smaller weeds.
- Not as effective on perennial weeds.
- Different mulch colors and grades of coarseness available. Neither really
matters which is used. It is personal preference.
- Apply anywhere from 2" - 5".
- Can be expensive, depending on mulch types.
- Depending on the space you have to fill it may be more cost effective to
purchase an electric wood chipper to make your own.
- Can attract insects.
- Depending on the type of mulch and brand, there are chemicals applied to give some of these bark mulches their color. If living in a hot environment like Florida the sun's heat and rays can have a magnifying glass effect. If the sun's rays shine at one point of the bark for an extended period of time a fire can start. The heat causes smoldering beneath the mulch and spreads eventually causing a fire. This is very, very rare.
- Some bacteria can set in over time.
If you can't locate some of these, try tree trimming services and landscaping
Cypress mulch is popular because it is known to be insect resistant.
Straw is made of wheat, oats, rye and barley. Because only the stem and
leaves of the grains are used there are fewer weed seeds than Hay, if any.
- Easy to remove
- Can harbor insects including vine weevil and flea beetles.
- Consider putting newspaper down first to catch weed seed from touching soil.
- Less expensive. Approximately 1 Bale per 1000 square feet, about 6" thick.
- Great at smothering weeds.
- Last long time. Re-apply annually.
Before applying types of mulch understanding different
weed killing methods helps.
Soil Amendment to Mulch and Fertilize
Mulch types can also include using a soil amendment for both natural weed
control while additives to soil increase nutrient value.
There are pro's and con's when using to amend
1) Animal Manure
It is very common to use manure as fertilizer and mulch. Cow and horse
manure are more often used.
Regardless of type, it is recommended
to age at
least six months until it is
well rotted because of ammonia.
Raw manure can also
and change soil growth levels.
Young vegetation can also be
above soil line if manure
is not aged.
Even better is to heat manure when composting. This way any weed seeds that
were consumed by animal are killed.
- Most manures are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
- Apply when warm so micro-organisms can release nitrogen.
- Nutrients are slow and can be unpredictable with releasing.
- Improves water and nutrient retention.
- Improves soil structure.
- Fairly expensive.
- If sold in bags, contents can vary.
- If sold in bags, great for potting.
Other manure fertilizer and mulch types available:
- Chicken - High in nitrogen and nutrients.
- Goat - Considered better than horse.
- Pig - Heavier, colder and wetter than horse and cow manure. High in
nutrients. Use professionally handled only.
- Pigeon and Rabbit - Both require a lot for coverage. Both hard to get. Both
- Sheep - Sheep usually graze in fields, not inside. Fewer micro-organisms, if
It is recommend asking questions depending on manure type and where you get
it. Handling can be different from farm sources and others. Aging times can
Gaining in popularity, Coir is made from the pith of a coconut shell
which is located between the nut and shell. When removed it is dehydrated.
has been used for years making floor mats and other daily living objects. It is
considered a much better alternative over peat moss mulches.
- No acids, neutral pH.
- High in nutrients.
- Retains water well.
- No disease organisms.
Any plant material that is thoroughly rotted, including kitchen scraps.
Learning to compost is easy but there are a few rules to learn.
- If purchasing bags of compost material, contents
- Can be used to amend garden soil and mulch.
- When used as a mulch most composts break down more quickly than other mulch
types such as shredded bark chips.
- Weed free if properly made.
- Good for soil structure and retaining water.
- Apply anywhere from 3" - 6".
- Kitchen scraps can include:
Coffee grounds and filters (see below about dogs)
Eggshells, Oyster/Clam and Crabshells
Fruit rinds and cores (Butterflies will love you!)
Stale, moldy Bread
Raw or Cooked Vegetables
4) Corn Gluten Meal - Organic Weed Killer has more info on Corn Gluten.
One of the more effective mulch types used for crab grass, dandelions and
5) Cover Crops - See Green Manure below
6) Grass Clippings
Grass clippings are abundant for us with mowing. It can take some time to
master the art of application. Too thick of an application and no air gets
through to bottom. If air doesn't get through cuttings will rot and begin to get
slimy and smell.
- Apply about 6".
- High in nitrogen.
- Good at smothering weed seeds.
- Saves a lot of money over other mulch types because it's free.
- Don't put near young plants.
- Best to apply ASAP unless chemicals were recently added before
7) Green Manure
Made of Alfalfa, Red Clover, Lupine, Crown Vetch and more.
- Planted seeds in fall will hold the soil over winter and become a cover
crop. In spring work green plants into ground.
- Wait about 2 weeks before planting anything.
- Decomposes rapidly in warm weather.
8) Ground Cover Plants
Ground covers compete with weeds, ultimately smothering weeds out.
- Some ground covers produce natural herbicides that prevent weed
9) Mushroom Mulch
This is a combined mixture of mushrooms, horse manure, peat and chalk.
Called 'Mushroom Mulch' because it is made by various commercial mushroom
- Chalk makes it more alkaline. Don't use on plants that thrive on acidic
- Somewhat effective as pesticide.
10) Seaweed Mulch
Seaweed mulch including Kelp. Seaweed mulch has many organic compounds and
is nutrient rich.
- Improves soil structure.
- Good potassium content.
- Modest nitrogen content.
- Excellent at smothering weeds when fresh compared to other mulch types.
- Not long lasting.
The list are soil
that do not cross-over as mulch types.
- Alfalfa Meal - Made from grasses. Protien rich, high in nutrients.
- Coffee Grounds -
Releases ammonia but
can be nitrogen rich.
get caffeine poisoning if ingested.
- Gypsum / Mined Gypsum - Used as clay soil amendment.
- Humus - A generic, catch-all word describing organic matter.
- Loam - High quality soil that contains large amounts of organic
- Meals -
Blood Meal - Rich in nitrogen
Feather Meal - Rich in nitrogen
Bone Meal - Rich in phosphorous and calcium
- Perlite - Lightweight, adds volume, helps drainage. Best to mix into other
- Soybean Meal - High in nitrogen
- Spent Hops - Little nutrient value or organic matter
- Wood Ash from wood burning stoves - Very alkaline, excellent for treating
Acidic soil, pH raised quickly. Good potassium and calcium.
- Vermiculite - Excellent for holding water. Even better than a
Never - Never - Never
1) Use these kitchen scraps in garden:
- DairyThey become rancid and can attract unwanted wildlife,
2) Use these as manure mulch types:
- Pet Birds
- PigThese may contain parasites that are communicable.
3) Charcoal Barbecue or Coal Ashes
- Contains chemicals you don't want to transfer.
4) Treated Wood Products
- Contains chemicals like paints and chemicals. Pressure treated wood is also
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