Cheap, Natural Mulch

Mulching a garden

Mulch, a cover over the surface of your garden, keeps the soil moist, moderates temperature, lessens weed growth, and adds nutrients to soils as it decays. Best of all, you probably have something around your house or yard that you can use as mulch. Mulch can be free.

A Few Mulch Choices

I like the idea of using what you have for mulch. We have pine cones, so we use pine cones. You might also try:

  • Fall leaves
  • Grass clippings (ours stay in the lawn)
  • Chicken manure (so many of my friends seem to be keeping chickens now)
  • Compost with straw
  • Cardboard covered with another layer of mulch
  • Wool (such as that you might use to make diaper covers) covered with another layer of mulch
  • Cedar (if you happen to have cedar around and don’t have a better use for it, cedar can also deter pests—plus it smells great)

Pine cones, cardboard, and especially wool will all decompose very slowly. If you have an abundance of choices, ask yourself what you want the soil to do that it isn’t doing yet. Is the soil drying out? Then choose something that gives you solid coverage like cardboard with another layer on top. Do you want a consistent color to your ground? Our pine cone mulch doesn’t change color, and it blends in with the color of the soil.

As with your compost, you need to strike a balance with your mulch between green and brown. Green mulch could be grass clippings, which will add nitrogen to the soil as they decompose; brown mulch could be fall leaves, which will all carbon to the soil. Be mindful of where you are putting the mulch and what type of soil nearby plants need. Mix different materials in your mulch to get a balance.

Put down 2-4″ inches of mulch. I just make my pine cones one layer, which sometimes leaves it at the shallow end of useful.

Pinecone Mulch

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I send my kids out to collect pine cones for mulch. We have a variety of pine trees to choose from, and they produce a variety of sizes. We use different pine cones in each section of the garden so I can keep the areas consistent because I keep the cones whole.

I’m not such a serious gardener that I have a wood chipper around the back yard. I’m not sure I would want to put my pine cones through a chipper anyway, but this is what some backyard gardeners do. I like the look of whole cones.

Pinecone (or pine needle or pine bark) mulch will tend to make your soil more acidic over time, which is fine if you have plants that love acidic soil, like blueberries. If you have Hydrangeas that you are trying to grow blue, keep mulching with pine cones. If you are frustrated that your pink Hydrangeas are growing blue, it’s time to stop using pine cones. (Hydrangeas in the blue to pink range have the very cool property of growing different colors depending on the soil.)

My Crush on Glass Mulch

I really do have a crush on glass mulch. A friend of mine has a gorgeous swirl of colors in her garden. If I were to choose multiple colors of glass mulch, I can see myself sitting in the garden separating out the colors at the end of the season.

If you aren’t necessarily looking for free mulch, using recycled glass is an option—though you might even find it free from a recycling center if you aren’t set on the effect created by solid, gorgeous colors. Glass mulch is not sharp, since it is tumbled before you get it. It comes in a lot of colors and sizes. It won’t maintain soil moisture like other mulches will, so consider your climate and plants carefully, but it does create a beautiful rock garden effect.

Glass mulch keeps the ground a bit warmer, as it magnifies the heat of the sun, so keep that in mind when you are deciding whether to try class mulch. If you plants are already suffering the heat, don’t use glass. If you have a nasty slug problem, glass mulch will deter them (since they don’t want to slime over anything rough). If you just can’t help but add big swirls of red, yellow, and blue to your green garden, glass is your mulch.

You have quite a few cheap and natural choices for mulch. It’s easy to cover the surface of your garden, and your garden will grow better if you do.

Image © Alisonh29 |

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