Gardening: To Mulch or Not to Mulch

March 19th, 2013 No Comments

Wood MulchI must admit that before I really started to garden I often wondered about people who used mulch.  There would be these neat little kept gardens with red wood pieces to top off the look, like a cherry on a sundae.  Honestly, I had thought mulch was for the visual effects of a garden alone.  It had never really occurred to me that there could be other benefits to it.  Well, live and learn as they say.  Later I found out that the pros to mulch was a much larger list than I had originally pictured.


Just like with most things, the mulching world is vast and has numerous possibilities.  What type of soil you have, types of plants, region, climate, even where your garden is in your yard can all play a role in what kind of mulch you use.  Or for that matter, what you do with it once you figure out which mulch you should use to begin with.  Not to worry though, there are general, all-around-good mulches to use.


In this post I’m going to highlight the pluses to a mulched garden as well as a couple of tips on different mulch types.  In the end I hope you can look at those daunting piles or bags at your favorite gardening supply place with a bit more confidence.  You may even find the type of mulch you want you can get for free!


To start off… the advantages.  After all, why bother learning about everything else until you know what good will come of mulching in the first place.  😉


The Values of Mulch

Value #1:  Weed Deterrent – Mulch is often a great barrier to weed growth as well as preventing weed seeds from taking to begin with.  This is important because weeds compete with plants for moisture and nutrients.  It also means less back breaking work in pulling the buggers up!  If you use chemical weed killers (personally I think “yuk!”), you won’t have to now!  😉

Value #2:  Moister Protection – Mulch is a great way to keep your soil (and in turn your plants’ roots) from drying out as it acts like an insulator and shading.  Evaporation in the soil can wreak havoc on a garden, and your water bill.  By mulching you could reduce this loss greatly, and cut your watering time by usually at least 50%.

Value #3:  Temperature Regulator – If you live in an area where the climate can change from season to season, mulch is awesome at helping maintain a constant temperature.  During warm weather it keeps your garden cool.  During cold weather it keeps your garden warm.  This also helps protect your plants’ roots from the cold and frost heaving, which is when a plant is pushed up out of the soil due to the expansion and contraction of the earth.

Value #4:  Extra Nutrients – When using a natural organic mulch the mulch itself will add beneficial “food” to the soil for your plants as it breaks down over time.

Value #5:  Erosion Protection – Mulch is a great way to help prevent and reduce soil erosion!  No more little rivers of run off leaving trenches and holes in your garden.  Unless you were planning on remaking a model replica of the Grand Canyon.  😉

Value #6:  Mud-less Gardens – If you are simply adding fertilizer or compost to your soil, or simply leaving bare dirt, you may have noticed that after a good rain or watering you have a bit of a soggy (sometimes muddy) garden.  Mulch is a great way to let water seep into the soil yet keeps a nice “clean shoe” area for you to walk.


Types of Mulch

Grass Clippings:

  • Pros – It’s free, from the collector on your mower.  It’s easy to add, and you usually have plenty of it, at least when the grass is growing.  😉
  • Cons – Decays quickly, which means you need to add more of it more often.  If you use chemicals on your lawn those can have an adverse effect on your gardens.  Put too much down and it can turn slimy.  If the grass/weeds in your lawn go to seed before you cut it, they can end up growing in your garden!


  • Pros – Does very well at keeping the weeds at bay and keeps the soil moist.  It’s cheap, or free from your trees, and relatively easy to add.  You can usually find plenty of them.
  • Cons – It can contain seeds that will grow unwanted in your garden.  Soft leaves, such as Maple, can mat.  Acidic leaves, such as Oak, can lower the pH in your garden soil.  Can blow away in the wind.

Peat Moss:

  • Pros – Looks good, versatile.
  • Cons – Often expensive.  Tends to form a crust over time.  If you apply it while it’s dry, it has a tendency to repel water.


  • Pros – It’s cheap and easy to apply.  Can usually be easily found.
  • Cons – Can be light weight and prone to blowing in the wind.  Possibility of harboring little critters during colder climates.

Wood/Bark Chips:

  • Pros – Looks attractive.  Stays where you place it.  Takes a while to decay, so you don’t need to add more very often.  Great weed deterrent.  Holds moister very well, and awesome temperature regulator.
  • Cons – Placed too deeply around tree/shrub trunks, it can make a lovely spot for bark-damaging rodents, especially during cold months.  Pine bark mulch can be acidic, which you will want to take into consideration.


  • Pros – Nice look.  Easy to add.  Lasts a loooooong time.  Comes in a variety of sizes and colours.
  • Cons – Can allow weeds to sneak through.  No nutritional benefits to soil/plants.

Garden Plastic:

  • Pros – Keeps weeds away.  Hold moisture in the soil.  Keeps gardens warm.
  • Cons – Watering or “feeding” your garden can be hard, even with cut openings.  Hard to place if you’re not doing a whole area at the same time.  No nutritional benefits to soil/plants.


  • Pros – Lasts for a very, very, very long time.  Available in different colours.  Looks like wood mulch.
  • Cons – It’s rubber, which means it’s more than likely going to smell strongly of rubber in your garden.  No nutritional benefits to soil/plants.


Mulching Tips

Tip #1:  Wood/Bark chips is probably the best way to go and works well in just about any climate or garden type.  It’s a beautifully general, all around mulch.  (It’s what I use all the time.)

Tip #2:  Medium to coarse mulch is best, as finer mulches tend to let weeds get through, and can be beds for weed seeds to take hold.

Tip #3:  It’s best to keep a well kept mulch layer on your gardens year around.

Tip #4:  Go to your local recycling, or garbage dump/tip.  Most will have a “green waste” area where they often chip wood and plant material.  It can be a great place to get cheap, or sometimes free, organic, medium to coarse wood/bark mulch.

Tip #5:  Another good place to get cheap or free mulch… your friends, family, and neighbors!  Ask them if they are willing to save their yard waste for you.  😉

Tip #6:  An eight inch (20cm) thick layer is a good general rule of thumb for how much to lay down.

Tip #7:  Be sure to keep think layers of mulch away from plant stems/trunks.


I hope that this article has made sense and put you in a mulching mood.  😀  Now go out and enjoy a beautiful garden!


Conversation Starters:

  • Do you use mulch?
  • What type do you use?
  • Have any tips to add?



About the author

I’m a Goth/Hippie who loves to try new things and dabbles in anything and everything that I find enjoyment in. That can include but is not limited to, cooking, art, digital design, jewellery making, photography, gardening, nature, animals and whatever else strikes my fancy. I’m an optimistic (occasionally) perfectionist (constantly), who can be very sarcastic (incessantly), but all in good humour. :)

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