First, a bit about commercial mulches.
Some commercial mulch manufacturers use what's termed “trash wood” for the basis of their mulch.
This trash wood could contain CCA (chromated copper arsenate) and dyes which may leach contaminates into the soil. This can harm or even kill beneficial soil bacteria, insects, earthworms and sometimes even plants.
Commercial Bagged Soils and Mulches
If you're looking for an organic approach to your mulch, there are some good substitutes, and some of the ingredients for it can be found right in your own backyard!
Leaf Mold/Leaf Compost
Chopped leaves are mostly carbon, low in nitrogen but very rich in minerals and will add great organic matter to your soil. Leaf mold is one of the best soil conditioners there are and makes a great mulch.
Since slugs love leaf mold, however, don't use it near lettuce crops or any plants that are susceptible to slug damage. For our detailed article on making leaf mold, click here.
Shredded newspaper or cardboard
If you wet them down, these will stay in place and smother most weeds. If you don't care for the look, however, you could top the newspaper or cardboard off with another mulch choice. A combination of shredded paper and leaf mold is a winning combination and you'll find the worms love it.
You can mix the green clippings right into the bed for some added nitrogen. The brown clippings can be used as mulch. If they compact too tightly, however, they could inhibit air circulation. Do not use grass that has already gone to seed or has been treated with chemicals.
Since compost is full of nutrients, it won't suppress weeds, but it will break down and will add to the soil structure. To read our blog about composting, click here.
An old favorite of vegetable gardeners. Straw will hold moisture and add nitrogen to the soil. The disadvantage to using straw is that straw won't block out the light, so weed seeds will germinate and grow, and because straw decomposes quickly, it may need to be reapplied two to three times per season.
With a little extra effort, you can make the organic choice for mulching your plants.
Where to go next!