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Types of Mulch for the Home Garden

Mulching helps with weed prevention, prevents soil erosion, and absorbs water while slowing the process of evaporation. Mulching can and should be done in flower beds, raised beds, containers, and in-ground gardens. There are several types of mulch for the home garden, so experiment to see what you like best and what is most available in your area.

Mulch Options

Newspaper, cardboard, paper bags

Instead of sending out the paper for recycling, upcycle it in the garden. Shredded paper is nice around plants, while full sheets a few layers deep are great as a weed barrier for walkways. Be sure to top with a light layer of one of the other mulches on this list to prevent fly away.


I love straw for mulching right around plant stems. It’s loose enough that plenty of water seeps in but dense enough to hold water in the soil. Straw should be at least 4” thick to be effective.

Composted sawdust

Pallet companies sell this for $5+ per truckload. (make sure to ask if this is sawdust from untreated wood!) Fresh sawdust can be used in walkways, but it’s highly acidic so it shouldn’t be used right around plants. When picking up sawdust, ask for the old stuff. It should be dark brown. This mulch holds water well, and makes a very pleasant walking surface in the garden.

Sweetgum fruits a.k.a. “Gumballs”

People hate these things, don’t they? Here’s the bright side: they make great, water absorbing mulch. I particularly like this option for flower beds, their prickly outsides keep cats from using your space as a litter box and squirrels from digging up new plants. Use 2+ inches of gumballs as mulch in your beds and you shouldn’t have any problems with weeds, and the dense covering will help prevent evaporation.

Fallen leaves and grass clippings

Leaves and grass clippings are perhaps my favorite mulch. As they decompose, they return restorative nitrogen into the soil and they’re free! It’s time to stop bagging up our leaves and sending them to landfills, they are far too valuable for that. Grass clippings added directly to the soil tie up nitrogen while they decompose so only add thin layers or add grass clippings to an area where nothing is growing yet.

Mulching is a must for no-till gardens as well as for those who want to avoid watering too frequently and weeding. Enjoy exploring the different types of mulch for your home garden and find what works best for you.

Do you keep your garden mulched?



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