ECO gardener

How to make the garden look good while helping plants thrive, especially in volatile weather? Mulch works wonders for enhancing curb appeal and providing protection for plant roots. If you want to know more about mulch and what different kinds of materials to use, you have come to the right place.

In this guide, let’s dig deeper into the various mulches used in the garden and how to apply them.

What is Mulch?

mulch wood chips, leaves

Mulch is a hardscaping material layered over the ground for plant protection and aesthetic purposes. Reasons for applying mulch vary. Some gardeners apply mulch to conserve soil moisture and protect plant roots from soaring temperatures. Others use it to improve the visual appeal of their outdoor spaces. Other uses for mulch include regulating drainage, preventing weed growth, and reducing soil erosion.

Mulch can be applied in bare soils or around plants. Neatly layered, mulch can add a pop of color to the garden and makes your outdoor space look neat and well-maintained.

Types of Mulch Materials

There are three different types of mulching materials. These are: organic, non-organic, and living mulch. Let’s get to know each one:

Organic mulch: This is made from biodegradable materials or former living matter. Organic mulch is a popular choice among gardeners because it’s eco-friendly, provides excellent protection and insulation, and brings nutrients back into the soil. However, it has drawbacks. Because organic mulch breaks down within a few months, it has to be reapplied every season. This makes organic mulch expensive and laborious to reapply.

Non-organic mulch: Inorganic mulch is made from synthetic materials such as geotextiles (landscape fabric), plastic, stones, and rocks. The materials do not break down, so the mulch does not require frequent reapplication. This means you’ll save a lot of money because you don’t have to reapply the mulch every season.

Living mulch: Living mulch is simply a cover plant that’s interplanted or sown along with a main crop to suppress weed growth, regulate soil temperature, and enhance the look of your outdoor space. Dwarf white clover, alfalfa, hairy vetch, red clover, and winter rye are often cultivated as living mulches. Living mulch spreads slowly over time, so controlling its growth is easy. However, they do increase pests of certain crops.

Comprehensive Guide To Mulch Alternatives

What are the best mulching materials to use for the garden? Here are some of the most common mulch materials for your landscaping needs:

Non-Organic Mulch Materials

landscape fabric

Non-organic mulch is made from non-biodegradable raw materials. Some of the most common types of non-organic mulch are:

Landscape Fabric

A type of geotextile made from woven or non-woven plastic materials. For mulching, the landscape fabric is laid over the soil on its own, or an added layer of organic or non-organic mulch is layered on top. Landscape fabric is durable, practical, and affordable. It’s the least expensive mulch material and the easiest to install.


Stone mulch includes rocks, pebbles, gravel, pumice or lava rocks, granite, quartz, pea gravel, etc. When used as mulch, rocks, and stones add texture to various points of the outdoor space. Because rocks and stones do not break down, you don’t have to re-apply mulch yearly. The material is resistant to fungi and mold growth, so these are perfect to use around plants and crops. However, stone mulch is pricier and heavier.


This mulch material is typically made from 100% recycled rubber, so it’s eco-friendly. It’s often used as an alternative to wood mulch. It’s fungi and mold-proof, inhibits weed growth and does not require a yearly reapplication. However, some types of rubber contain chemicals that can leach into the soil. It’s also a more expensive mulch material compared to wood mulch.

Organic Mulch Alternatives

Organic mulch is made from biodegradable raw materials. These mulch materials will break down after several months to a few years and will require reapplication. Some of the most common types of non-organic mulch are:

Paper Mulch

Newspaper, cardboard, unwaxed boxes, and corrugated cardboard are some types of mulch made from paper. These materials can be used on their own or mixed with other organic mulch materials to extend coverage and save costs. Do note that some cardboard materials are more durable than others. Avoid colorful paper materials and use newspapers with black ink only.

Hay Can Be Used as Mulch

Hay and straw make terrific natural mulch because these suppress weed growth, insulate the soil, and retain moisture. Hay also brings nutrients back into the soil as it breaks down. Hay and straw are inexpensive, so you can apply several layers without spending a fortune on mulching. The only downside is nibbling rodents like rabbits, rats, and mice that love hay.

Wood Chips

Wood mulch adds a nice pop of color to an outdoor space. It insulates the soil and protects against water evaporation and soil erosion. The most common wood mulch is made from aged oak, hickory, ash, or maple bark and wood. The downside is wood mulch attracts termites and pests and is prone to fungi and mold growth. If you live where wildfires are common, find an alternative to wood mulch.


Fallen leaves and pine needles are perfect mulching materials because these are effective in insulating the soil and blocking the sun, thus suppressing weed growth. They’re also inexpensive and readily available. However, like most organic mulch, leaves are prone to fungi and mold growth. Diseased leaves can contaminate parts of the garden and spread diseases, so check thoroughly before using them as mulch.


Grass clippings are another inexpensive and widely available mulch material for the garden and yard. After mowing the lawn, layer the grass clippings on plant beds. As long as the grass clippings were not treated with chemicals before mowing, they’re safe to use.


Compost might have a pungent smell and doesn’t look as good as decorative mulch, but it can be used on its own or mixed with other mulch materials to improve the garden’s look. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, so it’s an excellent mulch material for vegetables and fruit-bearing plants. You can make compost at home, so you don’t have to buy this product for mulching. To prevent foul odors, use a heavy-duty compost bin with a cover.

Living Mulch

Ground Cover

Also known as green mulch or living mulch, ground covers are low-growing plants that spread around. This plant covers the soil with thick foliage, inhibiting weed growth and improving soil moisture. Types of ground covers include:

  • Clover
  • Chamomile
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Flowering thyme
  • Lamb’s ear
  • Sweet alyssum
  • Sedum
  • Creeping juniper

Green Mulch

This mulch consists of fast-growing, low-lying plants inter-planted with compatible crops. Most green mulch plants have dense foliage; when trimmed or mowed, the cut foliage covers the soil. Some of the plants used as green mulches are:

  • White Allium nigrum
  • European Meadow Sedge
  • Geraniums
  • Carex albicans
  • Carex rosea
  • Bouteloua gracilis
  • Bouteloua curtipendula

Mulch adds to the garden’s beauty, but it does so much more. It helps insulate the soil, protect fragile plant roots, and improve soil quality. In the case of living mulch, it also brings nutrients back into the ground and creates a habitat for garden insects and pollinators.

Adding Mulch To Your Garden with ECOgardener

backyard garden using landscape fabric and grow bags

Ready to add mulch to your garden? Buy premium weed barrier landscape fabric from ECOgardener.

We hope this guide has helped you find the perfect mulch material for your outdoor space. Don’t forget to stock up on garden essentials to make your outdoor tasks easier to complete.

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