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Mulch is a great way to take your yard and landscaping from messy to marvelous with minimal time and expense. After taking the time to select the best shrubs, prepare flower beds, and plant seeds in your garden, adding mulch can really take it to the next level.
You should consider the areas that you plan to cover when selecting your mulch, as well as any family members or pets that will be in close contact with the new addition to your landscaping. Certain mulch products are harmful to pets, while others break down quickly. Some mulch options last for multiple years, but some need to be replaced frequently as they are worked into the soil.
Here are the best mulch options for your lawn and garden.
Best Overall: Texas Native All-Natural Hardwood Mulch
Type: Organic | Use: Soil regulation, weed suppression, moisture retention
This all-natural hardwood mulch is the perfect balance of value, use, and quality. It is a vibrant brown color naturally through an aging process that doesn’t add any chemicals or dyes. This results in a natural color that won’t fade over time. It is also a finely shredded mulch, resulting in fewer large pieces that can wash away or get into your grass.
For those who prefer a more striking colorized option, Texas Native mulch does come in an EPA-approved, black-dyed option. Either option makes an attractive addition to your garden, yard, or landscaping.
Best Budget: Vigoro Premium Colorized Mulch
Type: Inorganic | Use: Weed prevention, moisture retention, temperature control
This budget-friendly option comes in a bag that contains two cubic feet of mulch, which is approximately 56.6. liters, and you can choose from three different colors (black, brown, or red). One bag will cover eight square feet when placed three inches deep. This means that a small investment can really go a long way in large areas that need to be covered with mulch.
It does break down and fade faster than some of its competitors, but if you are looking to upgrade your outdoor space without spending a lot of money, Vigoro mulches will deliver a big bang for your buck. Colorized mulch does fade over time so to maintain the most vibrant looks, you should plan to replace it at least once per season. Keeping water off of the mulch for at least 24 hours after application can help with color retention.
Best for Landscaping: NuScape Rubber Mulch Nuggets
Type: Organic | Use: Weed prevention, moisture control
For a long-lasting mulch that will not fade or deteriorate, rubber mulch is the way to go. NuScape brown mulch has the same look as other wood-based mulches but is heavier, more durable, and made of 100 percent recycled rubber. It also provides a bit of bounce, making it a great option for playgrounds or swing sets.
Rubber mulch tends to be more expensive than its all-natural competitors but lasts for much longer. If you want to put down mulch once and enjoy it for years, the NuScape rubber mulch is a product you will love. Just be ready to invest upfront in its higher cost.
Best for Vegetables: CleanStraw Long Leaf Pine Straw
Type: Inorganic | Use: Weed prevention, plant growth
Mulch can do wonders to keep weeds at bay in your vegetable garden. It’s important when mulching a vegetable garden to choose a product that is easy to maintain and isn’t too expensive, as you will be turning over your garden at the end of the season.
Long Leaf Pine Straw is a great option because it is inexpensive and allows water to pass through easily to get to your vegetables. You may still get some weeds that pop through, but these can be easily removed by hand when needed. It tends to have fewer potential seeds than similar options, like straw or hay.
Best for Flower Beds: Soil Blend Super Compost 8 lbs. Concentrated Bag
Type: Organic | Use: Moisture retention, temperature regulation, plant growth
Compost is a great way to mulch flower beds since it provides nutrients to the soil and looks neat and attractive as well. This organic option is made with cow manure, alfalfa meal, and pure earthworm castings. Like any mulch, compost helps soil retain moisture and regulate temperature. It also has the added benefit of nutrients for the plants, often resulting in larger, more colorful, more plentiful, and longer-lasting flowers.
Best Black Mulch: Earthgro by Scotts Black Colorized Mulch
Type: Inorganic | Use: Temperature regulation, weed prevention, moisture conservation
If you’re looking for a black mulch that will keep its vibrant shade for a full year, Earthgro by Scotts is a great product. It works just as any other mulch does by locking in moisture, blocking weeds from getting sunlight, and regulating the temperature of the soil underneath.
This mulch is also available in brown and red. For the longest-lasting color, you should make sure that the mulch is dry for at least 24 hours after applying it to your yard. Colored mulch does need to be replaced at the end of the season or more often, depending on how much sun it receives. Harsh sun or extreme weather can cause the color to fade faster.
Best for Lawn: Scotts Topsoil Lawn & Garden Soil Conditioner
Type: Organic | Use: Soil conditioning, root development, weed prevention
One of the most important factors when adding anything directly to your lawn is to choose a product that will improve the soil as well as protect it. This is especially true if you are applying it to an area where grass struggles to grow. Scotts Topsoil is a mixture of organic soil and peat moss, which helps build strong roots to your existing grass.
This is a great option to fill in holes or improve bare patches in your lawn. For those beginning a new garden, Scotts Topsoil is the perfect addition to spruce up the area before and during planting. Keep in mind that this topsoil is designed to be used in-ground rather than in containers or raised beds. It does not prohibit the growth of weeds in garden beds.
Best for Weed Control: Dewitt Natural Garden Weed Barrier Biodegradable Paper Mulch
Type: Organic | Use: Erosion reduction, weed elimination, temperature control
For contained use, such as in a raised bed, this weed barrier cloth will keep only your desired plants growing strong. You can add another mulch on top if you prefer, providing both weed protection and the attractive clean look of mulch. A mulch barrier works great in an area where you really want to keep weeds at bay.
This mulch acts as a physical barrier between potential weeds growing in the soil and your beautiful garden. You will need to cut spots for your desired plants to grow. Rainwater has a hard time permeating the paper, though, so additional water is necessary to keep your plants healthy and growing. Unlike its plastic counterparts, this biodegradable option breaks down over time and adds nutrients to your soil.
Best Biodegradable: GreenView Fairway Formula Seed Success Mulch
Type: Organic | Use: Fertilization, moisture retention, bare spot repairing
After applying grass seed, following up with the GreenView Fairway Formula Seed Success Biodegradable Mulch will protect them as they grow. This paper mulch/fertilizer combo keeps water in, regulates temperature, and stays put thanks to the included tackifier. The fertilizer encourages grass growth in the areas where you apply.
You will need to purchase grass seed separately, which allows you to customize the application to match your existing lawn. All you need to do is water occasionally to keep the mulch in place. As your grass grows, the pellets break down naturally, leaving you with nothing but a lush lawn.
Our top pick for most mulch application needs is the Texas Native Hardwood Mulch (view at Lowe's) for its low cost, durability, and all-natural material. The color won’t fade and actually gets richer with exposure to the elements. For a longer-lasting alternative, consider the NuScape Rubber Mulch Nuggets (view at Walmart). It will require a larger investment upfront but will last for years without needing to be changed.
What to Look for in a Mulch
There are two main types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulch includes anything that is made from a natural material, such as wood, paper, straw, grass clippings, or compost, that will decompose over time. It does not necessarily mean that the material is free of pesticides or chemicals, although some compost may be. Inorganic mulch includes anything made from synthetic materials, such as rubber mulch or plastic weed cloth.
Mulch is used to create a barrier between the soil underneath and the environment. This can help regulate the temperature of the soil and retain moisture, both beneficial to the roots of plants growing in the mulch. It can also prevent weeds from sprouting, as they do not get sufficient sunlight to germinate and grow.
Not all mulch products are safe for pets. Cocoa shells as mulch, also known as cocoa bean mulch, is harmful to dogs because it contains caffeine and theobromine, two compounds that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, a very fast heart rate, tremors, and seizures in dogs. If you are a pet owner, it’s best to steer clear of these types of mulch completely. Instead, look for a natural alternative that is pet-safe.
What is mulch?
Mulch is any material that is used to cover the soil, either with a particular purpose or just to beautify the space. Mulch benefits a garden by retaining moisture, regulating temperature, and suppressing weeds. Depending on the material, it can also decompose and add essential nutrients to the soil.
Mulch can be made from natural materials, such as wood, straw, clippings, compost, or even paper. Called organic mulch, this type of mulch can help the soil quality as well as look great in your garden. You should make sure that your organic mulch does not include seeds that will sprout and work against your hard work.
Inorganic mulch includes types that are made of synthetic materials, such as rubber pellets or plastic weed sheets. This type of mulch is often more expensive to set up but can last for a long time and look great. It also does not break down over time. This can be a pro or a con, depending on your reason for laying mulch.
When is the best time to mulch?
The top mulch time is mid Spring after the soil has started to warm and before the weeds start rearing their little buds. If you mulch too early, it will prevent the soil from warming and make it harder for your garden to grow in late Spring and Summer. Waiting too long to mulch will mean that you have extra work to do to clear out any weeds that have already started to grow.
Fall is another great time to mulch your garden, especially if you are using organic mulch to improve your soil quality. Mulching in the fall insulates your soil during the colder winter months. Some plants need the cold weather to go dormant, so waiting until the first frost can be a great way to both support your plants and have time to get the mulch down before the cold days and nights of winter.
Can you use old mulch?
Organic mulch is made to break down and provide additional nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. This means that as your mulch ages, it may not function very well as a mulch. If you scoop up a handful of mulch and it looks and feels more like soil, it is time to replace the mulch. Simply work it into the soil to add nutrients and replace it with a new layer.
If the mulch still provides cover, you can reuse it for another season. Rake it to one side as you tend to the soil underneath. This is especially important in vegetable, herb, and fruit gardens where you plan to grow plants to eat. Test your soil, add any nutrients it needs, then rake the mulch back over to cover.
The one exception to this is when your plants or garden experienced disease that you think is tied to the mulch. In this case, you should remove and dispose of the mulch safely. You will need to add a new layer of mulch to cover your soil before the growing season begins.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was researched and written by Katie Begley, who has used mulch to spruce up her yard and benefit her garden in California, Hawaii, Virginia, and North Carolina. Texas Native is her go-to choice after testing out multiple options as she moved around the United States. She is always looking for the best value and performance to enhance her outdoor space.