Getting Started Guide: Mulch Materials

Materials to USE as Mulch

When you put mulch on your garden, you're putting something down to discourage growth. Mulch blocks the light from hitting the ground so weeds cannot germinate. Anything that has already sprouted should be unable to permeate the mulch. Therefore, mulch material should meet specific criteria; 


Opaque

Being able to block light is a vital trait of any mulching material. 


Durability

Any good mulching material should handle direct sunlight, moisture, and heat for an extended period. Materials low in nutrients are also ideal because they won't be broken down by micro-organisms as quickly. 


Availability

Ideally, any material you use should be readily available and affordable. 


Cost

Cost is dependent on how you want your garden to show and the size of your wallet.


Disposal

The method the materials are disposed of at the end of their life cycle. Ideally, materials should break down to organic material for your garden. Inorganic materials, however, must be thrown out.


Below you will find a shortlist of potential mulch materials with a short description of each.

If you choose to use grass clippings, be sure that they are dry and brown. Grass clippings should come from yards that are not known for using pesticides and herbicides as these toxins stay with the grass for extended periods. 


Opaque 

Good with adequate coverage.


Durability

Inadequate due to the fact you will have to reapply multiple times a season. Grass tends to break down quite quickly due to the abundance of organic matter and nutrients.


Availability

Readily available, but beware, if you haven't produced the grass clippings, you need to be sure they don't have chemicals.


Cost

Free.


Disposal

Ideal because the organic matter can be quickly broken down and reused by your garden.

Straw is the byproduct of harvested grains and is dry and dead when baled. It is an ideal product to use as mulch due to its light composition and the fact that it can be found readily and reclaimed by your garden in fall.


Opaque

Adequate light blocking abilities, use 12cm of material for coverage on your walking paths.


Durability

Adequate as it tends to pack down if walked on and blows away in strong winds. You may need to add more straw through the season.


Availability

Unless you are a farmer, you will likely have to purchase it from somewhere. However, there is usually plenty in rural areas.


Cost

$3-10 per square bale is the average rate depending on your location in the country.


Disposal

Ideal because the organic matter can be quickly broken down and reused by your garden.

Dried leaves you've collected in the fall are an ideal mulch. You will have to water them after installation to keep them from blowing away.


Opaque

Good with adequate coverage.


Durability

Good durability, but water frequently so they don't blow away, or you will need to reapply.


Availability

Excellent availability if you have large trees in your yard. Some areas even have facilities you can collect them for mulch for free. Avoid oak leaves as they tend to take a long time to decompose. 


Cost

Free.


Disposal

Ideal because the organic matter can be quickly broken down and reused by your garden.

Cardboard from shipping packaging is acceptable for mulch. Try to avoid anything with excessive colours, such as thin cardboard or cereal boxes. Also, try to stay away from cardboard dipped in wax or plastic.


Opaque

Excellent capability to block light with several layers overlapping.


Durability

Excellent.


Availability

Excellent accessibility if you collect boxes, visit the local stores, or collect cardboard from a recycling center.


Cost

Usually free.


Disposal

Excellent because the cardboard will get soft and break apart to be absorbed by your garden at the end of the season.

Large sheets or shredded newspaper makes a great mulch. Avoid anything colourful or with shiny paper as it contains chemicals you don't want to add to your garden.


Opaque

Best if paired with another form of mulch like straw or grass.


Durability

Good.


Availability

Easily accessible if you use your old newspapers or head to your local recycling center.


Cost

Usually Free.


Disposal

Ideal because you can work it into your soil at the end of the season.

This fabric lets air and water through while holding back sunlight and blocking weeds. It's an expensive method of mulching on a large scale.


Opaque

Excellent.


Durability

Excellent should last several years with proper care.


Availability

Good as it's found in your Local Garden Center or on the internet.


Cost

Quite Expensive if you have a large area to cover.


Disposal

Inadequate as this product does last for several years. However, once it starts to degrade, it must be pulled up and thrown away.

Plastic mulch is arguably the best form of mulch for your garden available. However, also the worst for the environment. The heat it traps is a catalyst for your plants, and it's very effective at keeping weeds down. 


Opaque

Excellent as it's usually black.


Durability

Good enough to last an entire season.


Availability

Good availability in your Local Garden Center or even through a Local Hardware Store. Readily available on the internet.


Cost

Reasonable cost if you buy in bulk and use it over several years.


Disposal

Inadequate, never incorporate into your soil. Pull up and dispose of the plastic every year.

There are several other items you can use as mulch materials. This list is by no means comprehensive, but these are the most commonly used in Canada. Do some research, and maybe you'll find a readily available supply in your local area!


Materials to NOT USE as Mulch

Some weed-killing materials you should avoid using as mulch include bark chips, sawdust, and wood chips. Wood-based items contain a protein called lignin, which takes 100s of years to break down in the soil. They're for areas you don't intend to have vegetables or flowers growing.


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