Two basic mulch types are available for landscaping today: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches feature materials that were formerly living. The most common product sold in stores today is wood chips, but you can find grass clippings, straw, chopped leaves, sawdust, shredded bark, and pine needles incorporated into landscaping plans. [[1]]

Even shredded paper is considered an organic mulch since the product originates from wood pulp.

Inorganic mulches include anything that wasn’t formerly living. Landscape fabrics and plastics are typically used for this purpose, but you could also choose rubber pellets, pea gravel, or similar items. [[2]]

Does It Matter What Type of Mulch I Use?

Organic and inorganic mulches discourage weed growth. The advantage that you’ll receive by choosing an organic product is that the material works to improve the soil as it goes through its natural decomposition process.

Since inorganic mulches don’t break down easily, the advantage they offer is a single installation. They’ll look as consistent after five years (when cared for properly) as they did when initially purchased.

Even though inorganic mulches don’t provide soil enrichment benefits, it doesn’t mean they’re not an intelligent option to use. Black plastic does a great job of radiating heat at night while keeping the soil warm. That’s why cherry tomatoes, eggplant, and other heat-loving vegetables thrive when that option is available. [[3]]

What Mulch Type Should I Choose?

Each mulch type provides specific advantages and disadvantages that must be considered before adding them to your landscaping plan or garden area.

Here is a closer look at the most common mulch types that homeowners use today to achieve their preferred results.

Mulch Type Benefits of Using This Mulch Type for Landscaping or Gardening
Shredded Bark Most local garden centers sell this mulch in bags. It’s often used for shrub borders and flower gardens. Spread this product anywhere on your property to create moisture and heat retention benefits, although it’s better for perennials.
Grass Clippings You can gather this mulching option in a lawn mower bag whenever you cut the grass. This natural fertilizer delivers an extra boost of nitrogen that works well in a vegetable garden.
Compost Although compost is often used for soil modifications, it can serve as an effective mulch. Not only does it make the plants happy, but it also creates a biologically active profile that supports the root systems of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
Straw and Hay If you don’t like the look of grass clippings in a garden, consider a switch to this mulching option. It creates a cleaner look that prevents weeds, increases soil moisture, and adds organic matter to the soil. You’ll want to avoid piling it around tree trunks and plant stems to prevent pest damage.
Black Plastic Although this mulching option looks tacky to some, it does an excellent job of creating a microclimate for your plants. The soil stays about three degrees warmer, which can be the difference between damage and survival on a freezing night. You won’t want to use this option under shrubs. It is also necessary to lay a dripper hose underneath the product since water doesn’t permeate it.
Geotextiles Landscape fabrics allow water and air to the soil while preventing weeds from sprouting. Although this product degrades as time passes, you can always cover them with a second mulch to enhance their benefits. This product isn’t suitable for shrubs.

How to Mulch Correctly

Mulching has two basic rules to follow. [[4]]

  1. Lay the mulch on soil that you’ve already weeded to prevent future seeds from sprouting in your flower beds or garden areas.
  2. Create a layer up to four inches thick to discourage new unwanted plants from sprouting through it.

If you have shady areas that require mulching, applying a two-inch layer to maintain a clean look is usually suitable.

Double mulching might be a helpful technique when you know a garden is filled with perennial roots or lots of weed seeds. Set the plants in place, give them lots of water, and spread clean newsprint around them before topping it off with your preferred mulch. [[5]]

Since mulch can slow the soil’s natural warming process, pulling it away from perennials or bulbs is sometimes necessary. When organic materials get wet, they can encourage plant stems to rot.

It helps to keep deep mulch pulled back up to a foot from tree trunks to prevent insect and rodent damage.

By following these steps, you can mulch correctly with your preferred product to create a beautiful landscaping result.

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