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Money Saving Organic Mulches

Updated on March 28, 2014
Patsybell profile image

I inherited my love of gardening from mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.

Wood Chips Supress Weeds

wood chips in this garden area, smother weeds.
wood chips in this garden area, smother weeds. | Source

In the garden

The tree trimming services are usually happy to give you a load of chipped wood.

Mulches are usually added to the garden or landscape to control weeds or “finish” a look, creating an attractive overall appearance.

You can buy bagged mulches such as cocoa bean hulls or, pine bark chips. That can get pricey if you have a big area to mulch. Some mulches you might generate on your own are grass clippings, leaves, pine needles. If neighbors are bagging grass clippings or leaves, collect them. It's like free fertilizer and an excellent addition to your natural look.

In the vegetable garden materials that will quickly decompose and can be incorporated into the soil by the end of the season, are best. That includes shredded leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, newspaper, even cardboard.

Straw is an inexpensive mulch. Finding straw that is free of weed seed is a challenge. Choose wheat or oat straw. I like to use straw around the potatoes and strawberries. Don't use straw around trees. It may be used as a winter habitat for mice who will damage your trees.

Young trees can benefit from mulch, for all the reasons listed and also to keep the weed whacker and lawn mower out of striking range.

Grass clippings are and excellent mulch. Do not use fresh clippings, allow them to dry out first. Wet or fresh cut grass can form a dense stinky mat. If you are gathering grass clippings from a lawn that has been treated with broadleaf herbicides, wait for two or three mowings after the application, before you use that grass in you garden.

I am not mulching yet in my tomato patch. There is plenty of spring rain and the ground is warming up - which makes the tomato plant happy. Later, as the heat sets in, I'll apply mulch to hold moisture and keep down the weedy competition for water and nutrients. I use shredded leaves that were raked up from my lawn last fall.

Straw Is Ideal for Vegetables

Mulching around raised beds will retains moisture and supresses weeds.
Mulching around raised beds will retains moisture and supresses weeds. | Source

In the landscape

In the landscape an attractive and more long lasting material is better. Layering mulches will save you money. First, lay down news paper shredded paper, cardboard. That is the money saving weed suppressant. Top that layer with a more attractive layer. You will be saving money by using less of the decorative mulch. Use 2 or 3 inches if there is an under layer. As opposed to using only the attractive which will require 3 or 4 inches of mulch

Mulches can help conserve and control moisture, very important to shallow rooted plants. It will also reduce plant stress caused by temperature extremes year round.

If your goal is to suppress weeds, consider a layered mulch. Starting from bare earth, lay down several overlapping layers of newspaper. Top dress or add a second layer of more attractive mulches. This will save money by using less of the more costly topper mulch. If you have a paper shredder, start with your shredded paper or amy combination of newspaper sheets and shredded paper. Again, top with the more attractive (and costly) mulch, such as a purchased pine bark mulch.

Any organic material will also benefit your garden or lawn by improving the soil with additional organic matter as it decomposes and as you add or top dress with new mulch. Once you have a well established mulch layer covering a garden area, such as wood chips, consider rakingthe mulch in the fall to encourage the gradually decomposing matter to sift down to the soul. This will also refresh the look of your mulch.

Mulch completes the picture

Mulching paths through the garden creates a finished look.
Mulching paths through the garden creates a finished look. | Source

Use and reuse what you have

A deciding factor in choosing a mulch is: what is available and what can you readily access? If you have old barn wood, lay it between rows in the garden. Use strips of old carpeting or worn out cotton sheets. Corn cobs can be used as mulch - the dry and darken with age.

Coffee shops usually have coffee grounds for the asking. Ask for old newspapers at a hotel or library. If you have access to stepping stones, bricks or pavers, use what you have. Use packing or shipping paper and cardboard. Check with an office to see is they have shredded paper.

Make it a game and look around you for potential mulches. Let this be a challenge: never buy mulch again!


Submit a Comment

  • daisyjae profile image


    6 years ago from Canada

    A useful hub on mulch. I will definitely use some of these ideas. Rated up & useful!

  • Patsybell profile imageAUTHOR

    Patsy Bell Hobson 

    6 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

    Thanks Donna. Since grass clippings are a result of the fertilizers we put on our lawns, using them as mulch means getting more for our money.

  • DonnaCosmato profile image

    Donna Cosmato 

    6 years ago from USA

    Great hub and some awesome, frugal ideas for saving money on mulches! Voted up and shared


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