Mulch Types - Organic

Organic mulch types can include soil amendments.

Broken down by categories, this page starts with those that are solely weed control methods.

The second category discusses additives used to amend garden soil, many of which also cross-over as effective garden mulch.

Also: Soil amendments that do not cross-over as mulch
and a list that should
never-ever be used.

Types of Mulch - Organic

This first list is of natural weed killer options that are easy to apply.

1) Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch is preferred over other shredded bark chips.

  • Highly effective against termites, ants and other unwelcome insects. Cedar has oils that repel these insects.
  • Doesn't breakdown quickly
  • Not harmful to plants. Improves soil structure and water retention.

2) Hay

Hay is comprised of legumes (Alfalfa, Red Clover) and grasses (Timothy). The two types of hay are:

Meadow Hay
  • Meadow Hay

          - Adds nutrients as it
            decomposes into soil.
          - Weed seeds common.
          - Recommended to apply
            newspaper first.

  • Salt Hay    
    - Gathered from
    - Free of weed seeds.
    - If not familiar with
      source where hay is
      purchased, it may
    weed seeds.

3) Hulls and Shells - Cocoa Bean Mulch

This includes peanut shells, buckwheat hulls, cocoa bean shells, rice hulls, oat husks and more. If you reside in rural area these can be found at local mills.

  • Offer limited nutrients to soil, best used as mulch
  • Attractive
  • Longevity can vary
  • Most popular of this group is cocoa bean mulch.

                - Shells are removed during the roasting process.

                - Weed seed free.

                - Longer lasting, gets darker in time rather than lighter.

                - Works especially well around woody shrubs and plants,
                   especially roses.

                - Can attract some insects, as with other organic
                   mulch types.

                - Apply about 1". Spray down with water to create
                  an interlocking structure.

                - Light mold at times, as with many organic mulch options.

                - Can promote diarrhea and vomiting if excessive
                   amount consumed by dogs.

4) Leaf Mould / Leaf Mold

Comprised of dry, dead leaves from shrubs and trees.  Use the whole leaves of fall as winter mulch rather than placing at the curb for pick-up in the fall. When spring comes it can take some time to rake off.

  • It's Free!!
  • As weather gets colder, leaves pack gradually over frosting period.
  • Once winter arrives the wet packs them effectively creating a blanket.

  • Technically Leaf mould is considered a compost soil amendment. It is better used only as a mulch. This because breakdown of leaves is...

  • Limited nutrients.
  • High acid content. Use only with plants that prefer acidic soil.
  • Low nitrogen producing ineffective decomposition.
  • Requires one to two years to breakdown.
  • Avoid using around certain trees, such as native Oaks. An undesirable fungus can transfer creating adverse effects.
  • Best to Sterilize if used as compost.

5) Pine Bark Nuggets

Pine bark nuggets is the composted bark from Pine tree. Use only as mulch.

  • No nutrient value
  • Most common of Bark mulches.
  • Long lasting, takes many years to break down.
  • Some bacteria can set in over time.
  • More expensive than other mulch types.
  • As it begins to pack down can cause nitrogen deficiencies.

6) Peat Moss

There is Peat Moss and Sphagnun Peat Moss. Recommended use as mulch only. Regular moss is..

  • Naturally acidic. Use only with plants that prefer acidic soil as mulch.
  • As soil amendment has many fungi, possibly causing diseases, unable to grow with peat moss.
  • Pliable for plant roots.
  • Retains water well.

  • Sphagnun Peat Moss is..

  • Never to be mixed with other soil amendments.
  • Poor in nutrient value.
  • Attractive as mulch.
  • Doesn't require a lot on top of soil - 1/4" - 1".
  • Good for Sandy soils for texture.
  • Retains up to 20-times water but hard to re-wet.
  • Blows away when dry.

7) Pine Needle Mulch

This is one of the mulch types that termites seem to favor.

  • Lots of acid if large amount is applied.
  • Long lasting.
  • Works well on smothering weeds.
  • Attractive.
  • Can combine with other mulching methods.

8) Redwood Mulch

The significant difference with redwood mulch is its resistance to termite damage. Overall it is one of the many types of mulch that is insect repellant.

Redwood mulch hardly removes any nitrogen. The nitrogen that is removed is only from the soil surface, not deep within. If anything is adds more soil nutrients.

  • Softwood mulch.
  • Slightly Acidic.
  • Less prone to decay over other shredded bark mulch.

9) Sawdust

To be used as mulch, sawdust must be 'finished'. This means wait a year before applying. Finished sawdust has a sweet smell, non-finished smells like ammonia.

  • Works well on (creating) pathways.
  • Highly effective natural weed killer.
  • Apply a lot.
  • As long as it is finished, it is OK if sawdust works itself into soil. There is no nutrient value.

10) Shredded Bark Mulch

Shredded bark mulches are made from the outer layer of trees, dried, then shredded. These are different bark mulches and can be more bulky than those already listed - Cedar mulch and Pine Bark nuggets.

All listed Bark Mulches (Cedar, Pine and Shredded) should all be placed approximately one foot away from your home. This is done to deter insects from nesting close to dwelling.

  • Doesn't conserve moisture as well as other mulch types.
  • Long lasting.
  • Adds acid to soil, check soil pH regularly to ensure nutrients not being taken out if this mulching method is used long term.
  • Works well on smothering smaller weeds.
  • Not as effective on perennial weeds.
  • Different mulch colors and grades of coarseness available. Neither really matters which is used. It is personal preference.
  • Apply anywhere from 2" - 5".
  • Attractive.
  • Can be expensive, depending on mulch types.
  • Depending on the space you have to fill it may be more cost effective to purchase an electric wood chipper to make your own.
  • Can attract insects.
  • Depending on the type of mulch and brand, there are chemicals applied to give some of these bark mulches their color.  If living in a hot environment like Florida the sun's heat and rays can have a magnifying glass effect.  If the sun's rays shine at one point of the bark for an extended period of time a fire can start.  The heat causes smoldering beneath the mulch and spreads eventually causing a fire.  This is very, very rare.  
  • Some bacteria can set in over time.
  • If you can't locate some of these, try tree trimming services and landscaping centers.

    Cypress mulch is popular because it is known to be insect resistant.

11) Straw

Straw is made of wheat, oats, rye and barley. Because only the stem and leaves of the grains are used there are fewer weed seeds than Hay, if any.

  • Easy to remove
  • Can harbor insects including vine weevil and flea beetles.
  • Consider putting newspaper down first to catch weed seed from touching soil.
  • Less expensive. Approximately 1 Bale per 1000 square feet, about 6" thick.
  • Great at smothering weeds.
  • Last long time. Re-apply annually.

Before applying types of mulch understanding different
weed killing methods

Soil Amendment to Mulch and Fertilize

Mulch types can also include using a soil amendment for both natural weed control while additives to soil increase nutrient value.

There are pro's and con's when using to amend garden soil.

1) Animal Manure

It is very common to use manure as fertilizer and mulch. Cow and horse manure are more often used.

Regardless of type, it is recommended
to age at least six months until it is
well rotted because of ammonia.

Raw manure can also burn roots
and change soil growth levels.
Young vegetation can also be
scorched above soil line if manure
is not aged.

Even better is to heat manure when composting. This way any weed seeds that were consumed by animal are killed.

  • Most manures are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
  • Apply when warm so micro-organisms can release nitrogen.
  • Nutrients are slow and can be unpredictable with releasing.
  • Improves water and nutrient retention.
  • Improves soil structure.
  • Fairly expensive.
  • If sold in bags, contents can vary.
  • If sold in bags, great for potting.

    Other manure fertilizer and mulch types available:
  •  Chicken - High in nitrogen and nutrients.
  •  Goat - Considered better than horse.
  •  Pig - Heavier, colder and wetter than horse and cow manure. High in nutrients. Use professionally handled only.
  • Pigeon and Rabbit - Both require a lot for coverage. Both hard to get. Both considered excellent.
  • Sheep - Sheep usually graze in fields, not inside. Fewer micro-organisms, if any.
  • It is recommend asking questions depending on manure type and where you get it. Handling can be different from farm sources and others. Aging times can vary.

2) Coir

Gaining in popularity, Coir is made from the pith of a coconut shell which is located between the nut and shell. When removed it is dehydrated.

Coir has been used for years making floor mats and other daily living objects. It is considered a much better alternative over peat moss mulches.

Coir made from coconuts
  • No acids, neutral pH.
  • High in nutrients.
  • Retains water well.
  • No disease organisms.

3) Compost

Any plant material that is thoroughly rotted, including kitchen scraps. Learning to compost is easy but there are a few rules to learn.

  • If purchasing bags of compost material, contents
    will vary.
  • Can be used to amend garden soil and mulch.
  • When used as a mulch most composts break down more quickly than other mulch types such as shredded bark chips.
  • Weed free if properly made.
  • Good for soil structure and retaining water.
  • Apply anywhere from 3" - 6".
  • Kitchen scraps can include:

         Coffee grounds and filters (see below about dogs)
         Corn cobs
         Eggshells, Oyster/Clam and Crabshells
         Fruit pits
         Fruit rinds and cores (Butterflies will love you!)
         Nut shells
         Stale, moldy Bread
         Raw or Cooked Vegetables

4) Corn Gluten Meal - Organic Weed Killer has more info on Corn Gluten.

One of the more effective mulch types used for crab grass, dandelions and purslane weeds.

  • More expensive.

5) Cover Crops - See Green Manure below

6) Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are abundant for us with mowing. It can take some time to master the art of application. Too thick of an application and no air gets through to bottom. If air doesn't get through cuttings will rot and begin to get slimy and smell.

  • Apply about 6".
  • High in nitrogen.
  • Good at smothering weed seeds.
  • Saves a lot of money over other mulch types because it's free.
  • Don't put near young plants.
  • Best to apply ASAP unless chemicals were recently added before mowing.

7) Green Manure

Made of Alfalfa, Red Clover, Lupine, Crown Vetch and more.

  • Planted seeds in fall will hold the soil over winter and become a cover crop. In spring work green plants into ground.
  • Wait about 2 weeks before planting anything.
  • Decomposes rapidly in warm weather.

8) Ground Cover Plants

Ground covers compete with weeds, ultimately smothering weeds out.

  • Some ground covers produce natural herbicides that prevent weed growth.

9) Mushroom Mulch

This is a combined mixture of mushrooms, horse manure, peat and chalk. Called 'Mushroom Mulch' because it is made by various commercial mushroom industries.

  • Chalk makes it more alkaline. Don't use on plants that thrive on acidic soils.
  • Somewhat effective as pesticide.

10) Seaweed Mulch

Seaweed mulch including Kelp. Seaweed mulch has many organic compounds and is nutrient rich.

  • Improves soil structure.
  • Good potassium content.
  • Modest nitrogen content.
  • Excellent at smothering weeds when fresh compared to other mulch types.
  • Not long lasting.

The list are soil amendments
that do not cross-over as mulch types.

  • Alfalfa Meal - Made from grasses. Protien rich, high in nutrients.

what is coffee?
  • Coffee Grounds -
    Releases ammonia but
    can be nitrogen rich.

    Dogs can get caffeine poisoning if ingested.

  • Gypsum / Mined Gypsum - Used as clay soil amendment.
  • Humus - A generic, catch-all word describing organic matter.
  • Loam - High quality soil that contains large amounts of organic matter/humus.
  • Meals -
         Blood Meal - Rich in nitrogen
         Feather Meal - Rich in nitrogen
         Bone Meal - Rich in phosphorous and calcium
  • Perlite - Lightweight, adds volume, helps drainage. Best to mix into other amendments.
  • Soybean Meal - High in nitrogen
  • Spent Hops - Little nutrient value or organic matter
  • Wood Ash from wood burning stoves - Very alkaline, excellent for treating Acidic soil, pH raised quickly. Good potassium and calcium.
  • Vermiculite - Excellent for holding water. Even better than a sponge.

Never - Never - Never

1) Use these kitchen scraps in garden:

  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Grease
  • Oils
  • Dairy
  • They become rancid and can attract unwanted wildlife,
    including rodents.

2) Use these as manure mulch types:

  • Human
  • Dog
  • Cat
  • Pet Birds
  • Pig
  • These may contain parasites that are communicable.

3) Charcoal Barbecue or Coal Ashes

  • Contains chemicals you don't want to transfer.

4) Treated Wood Products

  • Contains chemicals like paints and chemicals. Pressure treated wood is also chemically treated.

Related Articles:

Inorganic Mulch List -
     Solarizing black plastic mulch to black rubber mulch.

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