19 Mulch Alternatives for a Beautiful and Sustainable Garden

Mulch is a material that is spread on the surface of the soil to protect plants and help retain moisture. Mulch can be made from a variety of materials, including wood chips, leaves, straw, and plastic.

While mulch is generally beneficial for gardens, it can also have negative effects if not used properly. In this blog post, we will discuss 19 mulch alternatives that are both beautiful and sustainable!

1. Bark and wood chips

They are mulch materials that are made from the bark and wood of trees. Bark mulch is a good choice for gardens because it helps to suppress weeds, retains moisture, and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

Wood chips are also a good mulching material because they help to control erosion, add nutrients to the soil, and provide insulation for plants that are susceptible to frost damage.

2. Cardboard or Newspaper

These mulch materials are made from newspapers or cardboard boxes. Newspaper mulches are a good choice for gardens because they help to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Paper mulches can blow away easily and become a tripping hazard, so it’s best to use them in an area where there won’t be people walking on them often. They are also not as effective at retaining water compared with other mulching materials like wood chips or straws (which is why they’re sometimes called “fast mulch”).

3. Cocoa bean hulls

Cocoa bean hulls are a mulch material that is made from the outer casing of cocoa beans. Cocoa bean hulls have many benefits for gardens, including suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, and adding nutrients to the soil as they decompose. They also have a pleasant chocolate aroma which can be appealing to gardeners!

They can be expensive and are not widely available.

4. Ground corncobs

Ground corncob mulch is made from the shells of corn kernels. It is a good mulching material because it helps to control erosion, add nutrients to the soil, and provide insulation for plants that are susceptible to frost damage.

Cons of Ground corncob mulch:

– Can blow away easily

– May contain weed seeds

– Not widely available

5. Crushed Shells

One mulch alternative you may not have considered is crushed shells. Crushed shells can be used as a mulch to help retain moisture in the soil, and they also add calcium and other nutrients to the soil. Be sure to use a weed barrier underneath the crushed shells to prevent them from blowing away or becoming embedded in the soil.

Cons of Crushed Shells:

– Can be less effective at preventing weeds than mulch made from organic material.

– They can cost more than mulch made of organic materials and may not be readily available in certain areas.

6. Eggshells

Another mulch alternative that is becoming more popular is eggshells. Eggshells are a great source of calcium and other nutrients for the soil, and they also help to retain moisture. When using eggshells as mulch, be sure to crush them into small pieces so they will decompose more quickly.

Cons of Eggshells:

– They can be slow to decompose, making them less effective at preventing weeds than mulch made from organic material. 

– If not crushed into smaller pieces before application, they may also attract rodents and other wildlife who want to eat them.

7. Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are a great mulch alternative because they are free and easy to obtain. They also add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Cons of Grass Clippings:

– May not be effective at preventing weeds if not applied properly. 

– Can create an unsightly mess if left out for too long before mulching.

8. Dead Leaves

Dead leaves make great mulches because they are free and easy to obtain, plus they help retain moisture in the soil. They also add potassium and other nutrients as they decompose into mulch material over time.

Be sure to use a weed barrier underneath when using dead leaves as mulch to prevent them from blowing away or becoming embedded in the soil.

Cons of Dead Leaves:

  • Dead leaves need to be replaced several times a year, so it can become a hassle.

9. Groundcover  Plants

One of the best mulch alternatives for your garden is to plant groundcover plants. This mulch alternative option not only enhances the appearance of your garden, but it also helps retain soil moisture, reduces erosion and suppresses weeds.

Groundcover plants are great mulch alternatives because they can prevent pesticides from leaching into groundwater by blocking sunlight that could trigger pesticide absorption.

Some of the best mulch alternative groundcover plants to choose from include: Ajuga, Creeping Phlox, Geranium, Myoporum Parvifolium (Creeping Boobialla), Sedum Species and Stachys. 

10. Hay or Straw

Straw mulch is another mulching material that can be used in gardens and landscaping projects. straw mulch is made from the stems of cereal grains like oats or wheat, which have been cut into small pieces (often called “straw”).

Straw mulches are great because they suppress weed growths, help to retain moisture, and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Hay mulch is made from grasses such as straw or alfalfa that have been cut and dried in the field before baling. Hay mulch typically has fewer weeds than some other mulches and makes an excellent mulching material for food crops.

Cons of Hay or Straw:

Hay and straw mulches can be expensive, and they must be replaced more often than some other mulching materials.

11. Metal mulch

Metal mulches are made from a variety of materials, including aluminum, copper, brass or steel. Metal mulches have several advantages over other mulching materials: they are long-lasting (up to ten years), help control weeds and pests, and reflect heat back up into the soil to improve crop growth.

One major disadvantage of metal mulches is that they can be expensive.

12. Recycled Tires

One of the most popular mulch alternatives for gardens and landscapes is recycled tires. Tire mulch comes in a variety of colors, including black, brown, green and red, and it is long-lasting (up to five years). 

Tire mulch is also a great mulching material because it has many other uses. Recycled tires can be used as planters, mulch rings around trees and flower beds or as pathways through landscaped areas.

One major disadvantage of tire mulch is that it tends to absorb water rather than retain moisture in the soil, which means that you will need to water more often.

13. Tea Leaves

Tea leaves make a great mulching material because they are lightweight, absorbent and help retain moisture in the soil. In addition, tea leaves add nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

One disadvantage of using tea leaves as mulch is that they can be expensive. Another potential problem with using tea leaves as mulch is that they may attract animals such as squirrels, raccoons and other rodents.

14. Sawdust or Wood Shavings

Sawdust and wood shavings are two other mulching materials that can be used in gardens and landscapes. Sawdust is made from the sawing of lumber into small pieces, while wood shavings are made by shaving blocks of wood with a sharp blade.

They both help to retain soil moisture, and they also have a unique decorative appeal. 

A major drawback to using sawdust or wood shavings is that they often contain chemicals from the treatment process. In addition, they can attract pests, such as termites and carpenter ants. Be sure to check with your local municipality before using sawdust or wood shavings mulch in your garden.

15. Landscape fabric

Landscape fabric is a mulch alternative that can be used to prevent weeds from growing. It is made of woven plastic and it helps to conserve water by blocking the sun’s rays. Landscape fabric should be covered with another type of mulch to keep it in place.

16. Organic compost

Organic compost is a mulch alternative that is made of organic matter such as leaves, grass clippings, and food scraps. It helps to improve the soil’s quality and it also attracts beneficial insects. Compost can be used alone or combined with other mulches.

Cons of organic compost:

– It needs to be reapplied regularly because it decomposes.

– It can attract pests (e.g., rats, mice).

17. Pea gravel

Pea gravel is a great mulch alternative for those who want a natural look to their garden. It is also very durable and helps suppress weed growth.

Cons of pea gravel:

– can be expensive

– may need to be replenished every few years

18. Pine Needles

One mulch alternative is pine needles. Pine needles make a great mulch because they are acidic, which helps to keep the soil pH in balance.

They also help to retain moisture in the soil, and add nutrients over time. However, pine needles can be difficult to work with, as they tend to form clumps. Additionally, they can be a fire hazard, so be sure to keep them away from any heat sources.

19. Rock mulch

Another mulch alternative is rock mulch. Rock mulch comes in a variety of colors, and can be used to add interest to your garden.

It also helps to retain moisture in the soil and keep weeds at bay. However, it can be expensive, and it’s important to make sure that the rocks you use aren’t sharp, as they could injure your plants.

FAQs about mulch alternatives:

Q: What are some of the benefits of using mulch?

A: Mulch can help to protect plants from heat and cold, retain moisture in the soil, and reduce weed growth.

Q: What are some of the disadvantages of using mulch?

A: If not used properly, mulch can lead to soil compaction, waterlogging, and increased weed growth.

Q: What are some of the most common types of mulch?

A: Wood chips, leaves, straw, and plastic are all common types of mulch.

Q: What is the best type of mulch for my garden?

A: The best type of mulch for your garden depends on the climate, soil type, and plants in your garden. You can experiment with different types of mulch to find the one that works best for you.

Q: What should I do if mulch is not available in my area?

A: There are many other materials that can be used as mulch, such as stones, gravel, and plastic. You can also use compost to mulch your garden.

Q: How often should I mulch my garden?

A: The frequency with which you mulch your garden depends on the type of mulch you are using and the climate conditions in your area.

Conclusion

Mulch alternatives are great for your garden and can help to reduce weeds, retain moisture in the soil, and add nutrients over time. However, mulch can be expensive and difficult to work with if not used properly.

There are many other materials that you can use as mulch such as stones or gravel instead of wood chips, leaves, straw, or plastic. Experiment with different mulches to find the one that works best for your garden. The frequency with which you mulch your garden depends on the climate conditions and type of mulch you are using.