What Are the Different Types of Mulch?

Walnuts shells can be used as mulch.
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  • Written By: L. Burgoon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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Mulch keeps a garden healthy and plants happy by providing a ground cover to retain moisture, tamp down weeds. and protect soil from heat or cold. There are dozens of types of mulch, from common ones such as wood chips, straw, and leaves to unusual varieties including cocoa hulls, black plastic, and newspaper. Some gardeners choose to make their own mulch from household materials as a way to adopt greener gardening methods. Gardeners also may have mulch brought into their yard in bulk for large jobs.

Wood is among the most common types of mulch. This variety comes in chips made from branches and bark. Some gardeners prefer wood mulch because it looks pleasing and, depending on type of wood selected, can be color coordinated. For instance, cedar mulch can provide a deep red garden cover. Wood mulch is heavier than other types; it may better withstand rainy or windy conditions, although others object to the clearcutting of trees that may be required to produce some wood mulches.


Some gardeners opt to use materials that may be less aesthetically pleasing, but offer other benefits. Straw and dead leaves, for example, are standard types of mulch. Straw provides a stable ground cover that’s easy to walk over, making it a good choice for vegetable gardens. Straw decays quickly and must be replaced throughout the gardening season it nourishes the soil as it decomposes, however. Dead leaves, also not the most attractive choice, are thick enough to prevent weed growth, inexpensive, and also nourish the soil as they decay.

Gardeners looking "outside of box" for types of mulch may turn to smooth glass, which comes in different colors. Shells from pecans, walnuts, and oysters also provide stable ground cover. Some gardens feature cocoa hull mulch, which has the added benefit of smelling like chocolate for several weeks. Sheets of newspaper or black plastic also are among types of mulch. The latter is especially effective at heating the soil in early spring and preventing weed growth.

Even with so many types of mulch available, some gardeners have moved away from store-bought varieties to produce their own ground cover. Newspaper mulch is easily crafted by individuals. Gardeners can create their own glass mulch by smashing up bottles, i.e., recycling in action. Creating one’s own mulch reduces demand on materials such as wood chips and may help protect the environment. Some gardens, however, are simply too big for do-it-yourself mulch, and landscapers may do better with bulk mulch available from home improvement centers.


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