What’s The Best Mulch To Use In The Landscape?

Spring is a time when we emerge outside, poking around the garden to see what winter wrought. What many homeowners find is their mulch is in need of refreshing. But, what mulch is the best? Following are commonly used mulches and my picks for the best to use in the home landscape.

Shredded wood mulch- By far the most popular type of covering, shredded wood mulch can be easily found at any garden center. Shredded wood mulch can knit together to hold in place. The double-edged sword with this is the mulch can form a “shell” over time, limiting water and air exchange in the soil. Cultivate your shredded wood mulch at least once a year. Shredded wood mulch also decomposes over time to add nutrients into the soil. (As do all the other wood-based mulches I’m about to mention.) One final drawback is shredded wood mulch is often made from trees harvested merely to shred and toss on our landscapes. It seems somewhat tragic to cut a tree down, shred it, then scatter its remains around – say an invasive ornamental pear.

Bark Mulch – Often bark mulch is a byproduct of the timber harvest process, which makes it preferable in my book. Look for products specifically labeled as “bark mulch.”

Dyed Wood Mulch – Commonly found at big box garden centers and convenience stores, dyed wood mulch comes in a variety of colors, but most are red or black. I’ll admit my bias in that I am not a fan of dyed mulch. My wife called me a mulch snob the other day.

Arborist wood chips – From a sustainability standpoint, this is one of the better wood-based mulches. Arborist wood chips are byproducts from the day-to-day tasks of arborists or municipal tree crews, and many are looking for a free place to get rid of this stuff. In Macomb, and many other places, these are free to haul away, all you need is a truck. Arborist wood chips are not as uniform as commercial mulches and may include shredded vegetation.

Rubber mulch – Is this still a thing? The EPA designates tires dumped in an unregulated landfill as hazardous waste. How does shredding the tires, dying them red, and putting them around our daylilies change this fact?

Compost – One of best mulches you can buy or make. It provides nutrients and enhances the soil. There are many different types of composts on the market. Yard waste compost or commercial compost work well in the landscape.

Shredded Fall Leaves – In light of the cost of compost, I often turn to shredded fall leaves in my landscape beds as my mulch of choice. Fall leaves are plentiful in the Midwest and often underutilized. And usually, by the time the summer ends I need more leaves. Fortunately, the deciduous trees in my backyard are happy to supply.


Source: Jananne Finck, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness, finckj@illinois.edu