Mulch. What is your favorite mulching material and why?

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

What is your favorite mulching material and why? What have you tried that doesn't work for you? I live in zone 10b...lots of palm trees and am thinking of dried palm fronds that have fallen or been trimmed. What do you think?

Warrenton, VA

I believe that the chosen mulch needs to match the job. And, it is proper to use native materials. I cannot reply to your use of palm fronds, as I am in a different zone (7a).

My Mulching history:
a. Used cocoa mulch years ago on my strawberries. A faint memory now, but remember the awesome scent, but seemed like the hulls blew all over, and collected fungus.
b. Using shredded hardwood now due to cost, availability, and amount needed. Not really happy with the quick fading after application, but then, I would fade in the sun too!
c. I raked up some long-needles from the pines next door. I love this much for my NEW strawberry patch (new home, new land). But I have to wait until some more is shed...LOL!
d. Ran out of patience waiting for the needle drop, bought straw. It is a bit too long, and I'm not going to take time to break or cut it up...seems to give proper root cooling and weed control, and should break down for nice compost next Spring...I'm an ex-horse person so know the properties of dealing with straw. Cheap, too.
e. I am AFRAID of any type of rock mulch, due to the strong sun and also the uneven landscaping, from rolling land to gravel driveway to grass lawn...too many textures to keep within their bounds-can easily look unkempt!

Good luck!

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Thank you Gracye! I suppose different natural mulches will add different components to the soil, for example pine needles might be best used for acid loving plants? Also i need to take into consideration a material that will be easy for caterpillars to move around on. I have a butterfly garden with lots of caterpillars running around. And would like to find something neutral in the acid/basic area. I guess i'll need to read up on mulch. Doesn't look like there is very much activity on this forum...surprising.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

im a pretty frugal and practical most times..LOL
for me..its what i have at the time.. and experience of what worked well in the past..
also..ive gleaned alot from fellow gardeners here.. so much thanks !!! :)
i use grass clippings by far..then spade into the gardens..
i use straw (watch out for weed seeds)
cardboard boxes
shredded leaves..also i spade into the gardens..
fhey have all worked well for me..

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I'm frugal too!
Grass clippings are left on our lawn. I use shredded leaves or pine needles. Also use half done composted leaves.

I mulched my veg garden paths with cardboard last spring and covered that with pine straw bought in bales. That stuff is much harder than my local white pine straw.
I mulched between some planting beds with newspaper. That blocks weed growth. I covered that with leaves or pine straw to pretty it up.

Madras, OR

Shredded leaves, non-gmo'd straw, grass clippings lightly applied.

I leave some grass clippings on the lawn, but i like that green clippings add heat to the compost pile so I use some there as well. In the fall the clippings go to mulch the beds from winter erosion and then are either worked in to the ground in late Feb or added back to the compost pile/

Non-GMO'd straw I use to mulch beds to slow water loss and keep heat in the raised beds. In the fall, I take the straw that didnot break down and add it back to the compost pile. so it does double or triple duty.

I have 8 large chinese elms on the property so leaves are available in abundance, so again they go into compost piles, mulch beds for winter along with aged manures and mulch berry beds in the fall to prevent root cold damage/

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

We use a lot of salt hay as mulch. It has no weed seeds so it's perfect. We also have a compost pile going, and that gets some of our grass clippings although we do leave some of those on the ground, and it also gets leaves, chopped garden debris, and lots of pine chips mixed with chicken manure from our hens.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Mulched leaves are my favorite. They break down into wonderful free soil and contain no weed seeds. I also assume they don't contain pesticides - I only collect from yards that don't have manicured lawns!

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

As long as those yards aren't too close to a street. Car exhaust concerns me!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

GG - Our neighborhood streets don't have lots of traffice, and I only collect bagged leaves in the fall. I don't think the leaves hang around long enough to get contaminated too much with exhaust fumes. But you make a good point, and I had not thought of car exhaust contaminating fall leaves.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Honeybee, we can think and think and there are still some things that escape us. When I was using our friends' horse manure for amendments it never occurred to me that horses are routinely dosed with medications for worms and other conditions. And only recently did it occur to me that even though our chickens are free-range and their feed didn't have antibiotics added to it, it probably DID include GMO grains.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

GG - I learned right here on DG about possible contamination from horse manure. Like you, it had never occurred to me.

Can you not purchase organic feed for your chickens?

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Oh, yes, I've begun doing that, but it's double the price and since our customers really don't care we can't pass the increase on to them. It turned out that Tractor Supply could get organic feed in for me so I didn't have to order it myself and pay huge shipping charges, but it's still a lot of money.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

GG - yes, it's a shame that the word *organic* can raise the price so much. BUT - I admire those who are still willing to produce things organically despite all the government red tape. For my personal use, I will continue to support organic farmers as long as I am able.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Grass clippings for the veg garden. We have plenty of pine trees so pine straw for the roses. Also, I have a pretty good compost pile going with clean up from the goat stalls, chicken coop and shredded oak leaves and coffe grounds.

Mendon, NY(Zone 6a)

Horse bedding because its free from the farm up the road. They even bag it for me.

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

Don't your grass clippings grows in your veggie garden?
I made the huge mistake to put dry Bermuda grass clipping on my compost pile and ... they started to grow inside the pile.
Are you talking about a different grass?
Bermuda grass is the most horrible kind of weed !!

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

No, we don't have bermuda grass (just as a weed--which I kill as soon as I spot it). We are out in the country and have bahia. So we have plenty of clipping to leave on the lawn and still rake up more for mulch. I don't like bermuda grass either.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I use grass clippings, leaves and pine straw. My mind seems to change on which is best, I think it depends on what is available. I pick up truck loads of all the above, mix them all together and make compost, use that for mulch sometimes also. Sifted enough compost to cover the entire rose bed last year and it looked beautiful. However by the time I planted other things in the bed, and added different mulches here and there the pretty top dressing didn't last that long. I have never had any grass grow in my compost piles from clippings, with many clippings my piles get so hot nothing much grows. I did make the mistake of scattering a lot of rye grass seed all over during dry weather. Nothing sprouted for months, then I shredded a huge supply of grass clippings and leaves to put in the compost pile using the lawn mower and the rains started. Without knowing it I had mixed in all those seeds in the pile. This was late in the fall when the weather had cooled and all those rye grass seed started sprouting, I had rye grass in all the beds but it pulls out really easily.

Akron, OH(Zone 5a)

My fav are definitely leaves because I have tons of them. We just bought a shop vac which is also a leaf shredder and I like the fluffy mix it makes. I spread the staff under the trees, shrubs and around perennials. I just wonder is it ok to leave the leaves in spring? because our neighbors have the service remove all debris and apply commercial mulch. My hubby believes we have to do the same. But do they do it because of the looks only or some other reason? and can I just top dress the front beds with some mulch to hide the old leaves?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I think it is ok to leave your leaves in spring and cover them with 'real' mulch if you want for the appearance.
Yard services may just automatically include that clean up, but I don't know any reason it must be done. I see them removing nice compost old mulch from commercial plantings, and I assume, trashing it, and I want to bring it home.

Duxbury, MA(Zone 7a)

Did anybody read this very interesting article about different mulches in a recent Organic Gardening magazine?

Warrenton, VA

Great article, cindyeo. I need to get the energy (and TIME) to gather some more pine needles from next door, as for some reason I am getting very interested in them.

Hobart, IN

cindy - thanks for posting that link. While the grass is still growing here (but not for much longer), I'm bagging fall leaves with grass clippings in big garbage bags to hopefully compost a bit over winter. We normally leave the grass clippings on the lawn but my compost pile gets lots of weed seeds and I need some weed-free compost for mulching.

Mandaluyong, Philippines

Sheet mulching is my favourite. It is a procedure that makes use of the existing soil and plant debris to turn them into a rich humus. This is possible by allowing the nature to perform most of the work. There is almost no cost to pay, making it very affordable to try. Thus, this procedure is an organic farming technique utilizes to enable people to plant on the top of the ground. There will be no digging that will happen on the organic farm anymore.

Aside from its affordability, this procedure will also prevent soil erosion and enhance water storage. You can utilize a wide range of materials in layering, provided that they are organic and it doesn’t have any protein content.

Hobart, IN

DD started using the sheet mulching technique in her new gardens last year, especially the veg garden. She's got sandy soil on top of clay. I have to be a little careful here because almost all of my leaves are from oaks, tend to be leathery and mat too easily to compost well.

(Zone 9a)

I live in the hot steamy southeast and always loved hay for flower beds because it breaks down so quickly into wonderful compost. It always amazed me that I had no weeds with it either. Then I figured out it was probably Round Up ready which is why there were no weeds. DUH on my part.

Contrary to most beliefs, pine needles (or pine straw as it is referred to in the south) do not make your soil particularly acid. I have dozens of pines which shed constantly and my soil has a pH between 6.5 to 6.8. I usually use them for most mulching along with the free wood chips from the tree trimmers. We also have many Live Oaks which shed their tiny leaves each spring so I have plenty of free material and plenty of home made compost.

However, right now I am battling a chigger problem in the mulch. They do not hurt the plants but I have become unusually sensitive to them myself in my old age. They live in the mulch and as I work outdoors I am being attacked. Unless I can come up with a safe solution to somehow eliminate them from the mulch it seems I will have to give up gardening, hire professionals or remove the mulch. None of these are viable solutions for me. I have been tucking my pants into my socks so there is no open skin and I have taken to spraying the outside of my clothes with deet but they still manage to work their way in and bite. I would love to know if anyone has any ideas on how to safely discourage these evil pests.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I have never had to deal with chiggers or red bugs in the yard, so I have no personal experience with that. Here are some suggestions from the University of Kentucky.

(Zone 9a)

Thank you, it sounds like I need to pave over the whole yard. LOL I am not interested in spraying toxic chemicals, maybe I can find something less lethal to discourage them.

Richmond, TX(Zone 9a)

A, Burt's Bees has a natural insect repellent oil that helped me w/ chiggers. They used to love me! Strangely, I haven't been as bothered in last two years. Maybe cyclical? Re: ur comments on pine needles. I can attest that it doesn't acidify soil. I tested after several yrs of pine needle mulching and it came back perfectly neutral.

I use cedar in beds near walkways so I can enjoy fragrance, and free
Shredded branches from tree trimmers in others beds. No weeds w/ cedar mulch but some with freebie stuff. I police often and don't let it get out of hand and so far not a reason to quit using it.

Warrenton, VA

Let's look at mulching in a totally different way. Isn't SNOW a mulch? I threw down lime, grass seed, and fertilizer yesterday, in anticipation of the big blast coming our way, and this morning, that 8" was sweetly covering all my efforts...ah! Now, that's life!

Pompano Beach, FL

I have a bunch of papaya plants in my property and their leaves break down very fast. The plant shed the leaves as they grow. As the leave dried, it's very easy to crumble them into tiny fragments with your hands.

It's so easy to grow papaya if you live in warm climate, they grow like weeds.

This message was edited Dec 5, 2014 11:21 AM

Dallas, TX

Carpathian Girl - You said you bought a shop vac that's also a leaf shredder. Really? Tell me more. Who makes it? Who sells it? How much did it cost? Or are you just somehow re-purposing your shop vac? I have lots of large trees as do my neighbors and thus have more leaves than you can shake a stick at. Haven't found a good shredder, just have my lawn guys mow over the leaves. I wasn't home yesterday when they were there and they blew all of the leaves into a humongous pile against my fence. (These guys have been warned and will be fired.) So please tell me about your shop vac/shredder.

My answer to the original question of what my favorite mulch is - - - cedar! It smells so good and the skeeters don't like it. I also use shredded native hardwood. And of course, shredded leaves. For any grass that I actually have, the clippings stay right where they fell.

I agree with sallyg about the yard service people. I think I might be the only person on my block, nay - on my street - that doesn't bag up all my fallen leaves to send to the local landfill. What a waste! Ok. Getting off soapbox now.

Lima, OH(Zone 5b)

I've used alfalfa pellets from TSC for fertilizer and alfalfa hey for mulch and for loosening up soil in my raised garden. It has always worked well, but just discovered that the brand they sell, Standlee, now adds GMO alfalfa to their products.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I'd like to hear about that shop vac too. Our shop vac is like a giant vaccuum, there is nothing to shred (no blades or impeller in the path)

I think cedar chips are supposed to repel insects? Could get pricey. I use cedar or cypress in dressier beds at the front of my house, to avoid termites.

we just found free wood chips and are using them way away from the house. I'm going to top them with pine needles to make them softer to walk on. Thanks to those who've posted that pine needles do NOT acidify the soil.
edited for typing, eek

This message was edited Jun 8, 2015 8:12 AM

Dallas, TX

I found a shop vac/leaf shredder last week at Lowe's. There were several different brands. Sadly (for me) they all run on electricity. My house was built in 1947 and I only have one electrical outlet outside. And wouldn't you just know it - - - some clever person placed that outlet about 8" straight above my water faucet. Jeepers. Makes you wonder.

Anyway, I talked to the clerk at Lowe's for a long time. He said there might be some that are battery operated. So I'll be cruising the internet to see what I can see.

Also, if Lowe's sells shop vac/leaf shredders then Home Depot probably does as well.

Lynnwood, WA

wood chips are a wonderful form of mulch. They are generally delivered free of charge by local tree companies. They are coarse in nature and so good at slowing rain fall down and allowing it to reach the soil, contribute a mineral component to the soil, foster greater microbial activity in the soil but earlier and later in the season, improve the soil quality in the areas they area applied, and, when weeds to grow, they are much easier to pull.

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