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Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

Mulch is your secret weapon in the garden. I talk about the need to mulch your garden in nearly every blog post; mulching is that important. This post covers the benefits of mulch, what to use for mulch in different areas of your garden, and the best tips for how to use mulch in your garden. 

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use and How to Use it

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.


Benefits of Mulching your Garden

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

1. Mulching your garden helps regulate soil temperature

  • Hot soil is hard on plants. Mulch keeps the sun off the soil, so the soil stays cooler. Thick mulch helps insulate it even more. 
  • Higher soil temperatures slow plant growth, and mulch moderates that temperature. 
  • Mulch shades the soil from the sun’s direct rays causing less temperature variation
  • During cooler temps, mulch also helps insulate the soil. 
Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

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2. Mulching your garden helps slow evaporation

A thick layer of mulch means that less moisture is lost through evaporation. You can then water less frequently, saving water, money, and time! 

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

3. Mulching adds organic matter to your garden

When you add natural mulch in the form of bark, straw, or compost, they are incorporated into the soil and add nutrients and organic matter.  

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

4. Mulching your garden helps prevent and control weeds

Mulching blocks the sunlight needed for weeds to germinate and often smothers existing weeds.

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

ALL OF THIS TOGETHER MEANS MORE GOOD THINGS GOING ON IN THE SOIL. Increased moisture, fewer temperature fluctuations, and more organic matter lead to more worm activity and more beneficial microorganisms in the soil. That means healthier soil and plants. 


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Different Types of Mulch:


Compost

Use homemade, bagged, or bulk compost. Compost is high in nutrients and has a finer texture than other mulching options

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

A note about fresh animal manure; it must be aged before using it as mulch or compost in the garden. 

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

Where to get it: I make my own and I also love the compost from Arizona Worm Farm


Composted mulch

Larger texture than regular compost. It is typically made from landscape waste and isn’t completely broken down yet.

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

Where to get it: Arizona Worm Farm has this available. They call it mulch or city mulch. I also like the bagged composted mulch from A&P Nursery.

Mulching Your Garden: What to Use & How to Use it

Pine needles

Pine needles are very light, airy, and easy to spread. One nice thing about pine needles is they don’t compact. Use a thick layer (3-4 inches) when using pine needles. 

Pine needles are very light, airy, and easy to spread. One nice thing about pine needles is they don’t compact. Use a thick layer (3-4 inches) when using pine needles. 

Pine needles may lower the pH of soil when mixed in with the soil. That may not be bad here in the low desert where our soil tends to be more alkaline. Pine needles become more pH neutral as they break down. 


Straw (not hay)

(Don’t use hay as it often contains seeds). Straw is the stalk left over after grain, like barley, has been harvested. It is dry and hollow, and there is no nutrition left in it. Use a pesticide-free straw. 

(Don’t use hay as it often contains seeds). Straw is the stalk left over after grain, like barley, has been harvested. It is dry and hollow, and there is no nutrition left in it. Use a pesticide-free straw. 

Where to get it: Shopper’s Supply and other farm supply stores.


Leaves / Leaf mold / Shredded leaves

Gather and save all leaves when they fall. Bag leaves and allow them to begin to break down; this creates leaf mold. Use your lawnmower to run over leaves to shred them. Shredded or small leaves are better at allowing water to penetrate and don’t become matted as easily.

Gather and save all leaves when they fall. Bag leaves and allow them to begin to break down; this creates leaf mold. Use your lawnmower to run over leaves to shred them. Shredded or small leaves are better at allowing water to penetrate and don’t become matted as easily.


Bark / Wood chips

The larger texture of bark and wood chips means they last longer in the garden. They may compete for some nitrogen as the wood chips break down in garden beds. 

The larger texture of bark and wood chips means they last longer in the garden. They may compete for some nitrogen as the wood chips break down in garden beds. 

Where to get it: Chipdrop; check with local arborist; Arizona Worm Farm.


Chopped up cover crops / Grass clippings

These options for mulch are full of nutrients. Grow cover crops in beds when they would otherwise be empty. Do not use grass clippings from Bermuda grass or grass treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

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These options for mulch are full of nutrients. Chop up cover crops and let them dry in the sun for a day or two before adding to beds. Do not use grass clippings from Bermuda grass or grass treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

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Cardboard / Newspaper

Cardboard is often used as sheet mulch under beds and in pathways to help prevent weeds. Spread newspaper in beds, but top with something else like compost or soil to hold it in place. 

Cardboard is often used as sheet mulch under beds and in pathways to help prevent weeds. Spread newspaper in beds, but top with something else like compost or soil to hold it in place. 

Where to get it: Finally, something to do with all of those Amazon boxes


Which mulch to use in your garden

Which mulch to use in your garden

Raised and in-ground garden beds:

Smaller-grade organic materials such as compost, composted mulch, shredded leaves, straw, and smaller wood chips are excellent mulch in raised garden beds.

Which mulch to use in your garden

Pathways:

Larger materials last longer in pathways and around raised beds. 

Which mulch to use in your garden

Treewells:

All materials are suitable for around trees, but take care to keep mulch away from the base of the tree. 

Which mulch to use in your garden


Tips for how to use mulch in your garden

Which mulch to use in your garden
  • Wait until plants have grown to several inches tall before applying mulch. 
  • Keep mulch about an inch away from the stems of plants. 
  • Add a little extra organic fertilizer below the mulch when using leaves or bark as they can take nitrogen from the soil as they break down. 
  • If you use Garden Grids for watering like I do, put them on top of the mulch. You may have to water a little longer to penetrate the mulch layer. 
  • Plan on applying mulch twice a year in the spring after planting (before the heat of summer), and again after fall planting.
  • Apply a 2-3 inch layer of most mulches. Less than 2 inches doesn’t give you all the benefits, but a larger layer can be difficult for water to penetrate.
Which mulch to use in your garden

If this post about mulching your garden was helpful, please share it:


Mary Faber

Wednesday 3rd of April 2024

This is helpful. Thank you. By the way, do you anyone who sells Yucon here in Phoenix area. Seen it on Tv. A man in Hawaii grows it. But I don’t want 25 of them. I only need 2 or 3. I don’t have much land.

Angela Judd

Thursday 4th of April 2024

I haven't heard of anyone. You could check Facebook groups - they may have some connections for you.

Michael

Friday 10th of November 2023

Have you found a favorite mulch/cover? It seems from your posts and videos you use straw but I also see wood chips. Do you have a specific plan or reason for using one or the other?

Angela Judd

Tuesday 14th of November 2023

Hi Michael - I use wood chip mulch for the most part. For some of the lighter crops like carrots I use a lightweight straw https://collabs.shop/mhecuh

Jacki

Thursday 19th of August 2021

Should mulch in garden beds be removed before preparing the beds before planting? Should I mix it into the soil? I use small pieces of bark from chip drop. Thank you!

Angela Judd

Thursday 19th of August 2021

I use wood chips as well. If you can, pull back (or remove) the wood chip mulch before adding more compost, etc. Then put the mulch back on top.

Todd

Sunday 25th of July 2021

For a truck load of mulch for$30, check out Tempe AZ recycled compost.

Jared

Friday 23rd of July 2021

Can mulching the entire yard area like you have done attract termites? We paid a lot to get rid of an infestation. I'd hate to have to go through that again.

Angela Judd

Friday 23rd of July 2021

Possibly. If you have had a problem in the past, I would check with the exterminator that helped you previously.