Managing Your Mulch and Making the Right Choice for Your Garden

You may still be in the clutches of Old Man Winter, but for many areas of the United States, spring is just around the corner! Who knows a seed catalog or two may have already made their way to your mailbox. Either way, it’s never too early to begin planning your flower and vegetable gardens.

We’re going to explore some more common types of mulch, and some rather uncommon types, too! We’ll also cover where each type will work best in your own garden, and go over some tips for their use.

First, here are a few selections for mulch to use around trees, and in landscaping flowerbeds:

Lava Rock


Lava rock is inexpensive, and a smart choice for many landscape needs. It’s lightweight, adds color to your yard, and will last forever. And that’s one reason to be careful when choosing it – it’s very hard to remove once laid. The edges of lava rock are sharp, so it’s not a good choice for areas where little feet or paws will be exploring barefoot. But if you’re looking for a low-maintenance, colorful addition to your landscaping, lava rock fits the bill.



Garden stone comes in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Different types and colors of stone in different sections of a garden looks absolutely lovely, and stone is another very long-lasting mulch. Price depends largely on the variety you choose. One benefit of stone is that it absorbs sun during the day and is a great insulator, allowing you to grow somewhat less hardy plants, or even jump-start your garden sooner in the spring.

Cocoa Shell Mulch


The shell of the cocoa bean, when chopped up, creates a lovely dark color and a buttery chocolate smell that lasts a few weeks after the mulch has been laid. It’s a great choice if you have a sitting area, or a fire pit – anywhere people will be hanging out. It’s a bit expensive, but you don’t need to have inches of depth when placing cocoa bean shells. An inch will do the trick.

Pet owners beware: Cocoa mulch contains the same ingredients that are harmful to dogs as are in chocolate…just nine ounces will cause death in a 50-pound dog. So if you have furry friends around, this might not be the best choice.

Autumn Leaves


Surprisingly, fallen leaves provide an excellent cover for placing on empty planting areas in the fall after your crops have all been harvested. Use your lawn mower to chop the leaves up before placing them, or you’ll likely end up with a lot of mold. The best part about using autumn leaves? It’s absolutely free!

Hardwood Mulch


The biggest benefit of hardwood mulch is its widespread availability. It will impart a very natural, subdued look to your flowerbeds and elsewhere in your landscaping. The colors will always be neutral, and this kind of mulch works very well on slopes, lasting up to three years. Hardwood mulches create quaint garden paths, too!

Grass Clippings


If you’re like most people who don’t expect an immaculate lawn, you probably mulch your grass as you mow and just let it lie on your lawn. If you do bag your clippings, though, they can be used as a light mulch that is quick to decompose (takes only a few weeks!) Use clippings in your vegetable garden, and under shrubbery as top mulch. (Never re-use clippings that have been chemically treated, though.)



Straw has been used by many generations of gardeners needing an inexpensive solution to insulate their vegetable beds. Make sure you get weed-free straw from your local nursery, and you’ll be able to till it under in the fall after you’ve harvested your gardens. You can spread it up to six inches thick without having to worry about mold forming.

Pine Straw (or Duff)


If you live in an area of boreal forest, you might be able to utilize the pine needles that have fallen over the years as effective mulch. It has a distinctive burnt-orange color that can add interest to landscapes, and it is known for reducing issues with slugs in gardens and flowerbeds. As mulch, it is rather short-lived at only two years.

Fresh Wood Chips


Freshly chipped or shredded wood will be very long-lasting mulch that won’t blow away and doesn’t contain weed seeds. It’s easy to care for, looks great in a wide array of environments and landscape designs, and will last up to four years. Check your local nursery for readily available varieties.



If you’re lucky enough to live on the coast, gathering seaweed to use as compost is a free option that’ll last several months. It is absolutely filled with nutrients that will enhance your soil as it decomposes. If you don’t live near a coastal area, or near lakes, you can buy prepared seaweed-based mulch at superstores and garden centers.

Weed Fabric


Typically utilized under another type of mulch, this weed barrier will provide long-term coverage that’ll help you stop the weeds before they start. Stay on top of weeding, because if weeds grow through the fabric, your weeding job will be a lot harder!

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