What are the Best Tips for Making Mulch?

Keith Koons

Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic formula when it comes to making mulch. All a homeowner needs is an area to create a compost pile, plenty of leaves and branches, and several months to allow decomposition to take place. Tools like a wood-chipper and a lawnmower with a mulching attachment are also very handy to have during this project. The best time to start making mulch is during the fall months when leaves will naturally fall from trees and branches will be easier to trim.

Pine cones are sometimes used to make mulch.
Pine cones are sometimes used to make mulch.

The process of making mulch is relatively simple, and despite what many will say, there is no “wrong material” to use. Anything green can be used to create mulch, so it does not matter if it is grass, leaves, branches, or pine cones. As long as a resource is available to grind the components up into fine pieces, it will typically work well. Only one exception applies here; individuals should avoid using weeds when making mulch since they will likely drop seeds within the compost pile and use the deteriorating nutrients to thrive.

Pine needles may be used as a natural mulch.
Pine needles may be used as a natural mulch.

The trick to making mulch is figuring out the relative composition time of the organic materials being used; finer cuts will degrade much more quickly. Overall hardiness of the tree also plays a factor in the time required for decomposition to take effect, and many homeowners make the mistake of starting their mulch piles too early in the year. Mulch should be applied to flowerbeds and around trees before it is fully decomposed so that its nutrients will be able to enrich the soil beneath it.

Another factor for individuals to consider is that homemade mulch is quite different from compost or store-bought wood chips. Although these items also help the soil to some degree, for the most part, they break down very slowly and will remain in place for a long time. Mulch should deteriorate almost completely into the soil within three to nine months depending on the thickness, so it is important to almost constantly cut and gather organic materials to replace the mulch throughout the year.

Perhaps the easiest way to make mulch from leaves and grass is to gather all of the organic materials in one pile and then chop them up with a lawn mower. This process should be repeated several times to ensure that the resulting material is small enough to break down quickly. If tree branches are being used to make wood chips, users can cut them into manageable sections and then feed them into a wood chipper, remembering to stay well clear of the cutting mechanism. The various types of mulch can be stacked separately or mixed together; this decision is entirely up to the homeowner in terms of preference.

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