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Mulch Types

July 09, 1994

There are many kinds of mulch to choose from, including:


Bark Chips and Ground Bark. Attractive and often used as a decorative material. It decomposes very slowly. On the downside, bark can harbor pests such as earwigs, termites and sow bugs.

Compost. Homemade or purchased is an excellent source of organic matter that improves the soil. It can be bought or made from materials found in the yard, such as grass clippings and leaves. If not properly composted, compost may contain weed seeds.

Grass Clippings and Leaves. Readily available for most gardeners. If not dried first, grass and leaves can mat and reduce water penetration. It is best to compost them, as this will kill weed seeds.

Hay and Straw. Promotes good water penetration and makes an attractive mulch. May contain grain seeds, however, which can germinate.

Leaf Mold. Adds acidity to our alkaline soils. It also looks attractive and natural. This can be found bagged in the nursery.

Newspapers. Readily available, but they aren't as visually attractive as other types of mulch. They also tend to blow around in the wind.

Peat Moss. Adds acidity to alkaline soils and contains very few weeds. It is expensive and resists wetting when dry.

Pine Needles. Add acidity to the soil and break down slowly. They should only be used on acid-loving plants.

Pressed Paper. Heavy fibrous paper for mulching, such as Hortopaper, is made specifically for mulching. It has good water and air penetration but does tend to tear after transplanting, or if it's walked on.

Sawdust. Improves the organic content of the soil, but if it mats, it will inhibit water penetration. It decomposes rapidly and may blow away. This may also contain an organic compound that can harm young plants.


Used Carpet. It's visually unattractive and can produce an offensive odor when wet, but is one of the most long-lasting and durable methods of mulching.

Black Plastic. It's been used for years to smother undesirable weeds. The plastic breaks down in a few months, however, and is not very attractive, often requiring a top mulch, such as bark. Weeds grow easily through any holes.

Clear Plastic. Similar to black plastic, but will encourage weed growth unless you place a top mulch on it. Weeds grow easily through any holes.

Woven Polypropylene and Nonwoven Polyester. Allows air and water penetration. It is very effective and generally long-lasting, although it can be expensive and unattractive, requiring a top mulch.

Photodegradable Plastic. Lasts indefinitely if not exposed to light.

Crushed Stone or Gravel. An attractive mulch, but tends to become infested with weeds if used alone. It is also expensive and may get hot in the sun.

Source: Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs: An Integrated Pest Management Guide. University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3359.

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