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11 Best Mulch Alternatives for Your Garden

Mulch is essential for keeping your garden healthy and beautiful, but it can be expensive. 

You want to have a lush garden without breaking the bank. There are many mulching alternatives available that work just as well as real mulch but cost much less.

We will show you how to choose the best mulch alternatives for your garden so that you don’t spend more than you need to.

1. Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is a popular alternative to mulch that looks great and can come in many colors. It’s not just for lakes, but also on walkways paths patios driveways playgrounds as it works amazingly well at adding natural variation with its color variations

Mulching Pea Gravel creates an aesthetic appeal unmatched by any other method used due to the round size smooth shape some people might have seen while walking along with one of these bodies if water or another place where they are commonly found naturally However others may know this material from landscaping projects often done around homes such us when someone wants a cheap way create a beautiful flowerbed without having spend hours digging holes.

Pros

  • Good for weed suppression
  • Good for retaining moisture and aeration
  • Looks great and can be color-coordinated to fit any décor

Cons

  • Can be expensive
  • Doesn’t last as long as other types of mulch because it can become compacted down.
  • Doesn’t hold up well during the winter against snow and ice.

Cost

The price of pea gravel ranges from about 25 dollars to 60 cents per cubic yard. Sometimes online retailers offer small 5-pound bags at around $10-30 each for use in smaller areas or just as an aesthetically pleasing look.

2. Pumice rock

Pumice is a naturally occurring volcanic rock that can be ground up to be made into pumice stone, which is commonly used in the bath and shower industry.

This material works very well for mulching because it retains moisture while letting air get through. It’s porous so water can drain easily through it while at the same time keeping the soil hydrated, just like real mulch would do.

The pores in this natural material allow plant roots to breathe instead of suffocating them by drowning them with too much water, while also helping to prevent washouts during heavy rains or when water runs off of other surfaces such as roofs or driveways by soaking it up before it goes anywhere else.

Pros

  • Retains moisture while still allowing air in, which makes it perfect for plants that need to dry out between watering.
  • Is porous, letting water drain through easily while at the same time keeping soil hydrated like real mulch would do.
  • Helps prevent washouts during heavy rains or when water runs off of other surfaces such as roofs or driveways by soaking up water before it goes anywhere else.

Cons

  • Can be expensive if you want it in a color other than natural grey.
  • Doesn’t hold up well during the winter against snow and ice because of its light color.

Cost

The cost of pumice ranges from about 30 to 40 dollars per cubic yard depending on the size, shape, and brand. Sometimes online retailers offer small 5-pound bags at around $10 each for use in small areas or just as an aesthetically pleasing look.

3. Rubber Mulch

This is one type of mulch that doesn’t get a lot of love from some people because they think it looks tacky or cheap, but there are a lot more benefits to using rubber mulch than meets the eye though. Livestock farmers use it for bedding and other types of livestock containment to keep their animals safe and healthy, so if you love the idea of your garden looking like a farm then this may be the perfect mulch alternative for you.

Pros

  • Is very durable and doesn’t break down easily.
  • Helps suppress weeds greatly because it’s dark in color and acts as a heat sink that absorbs sunlight during the day and then radiates that heat out at night to help warm up soil that would otherwise remain cold.
  • Retains moisture really well since it’s made from recycled rubber tires which absorb oils and dirt particles over time.
  • Can last for years without showing signs of breaking down even after repeated exposure to sun ice rain snow or hail.

Cons

  • Doesn’t look very good aesthetically because it’s black.
  • Can get very warm during the day, which can burn plants if they are too close to it.
  • Is one of the more expensive mulch alternatives out there.

Cost

The cost of rubber mulch is around $25-45 per cubic yard depending on where you purchase it and what brand it is. Sometimes online retailers offer small 5-pound bags at around $10 each for use in small areas or just as an aesthetically pleasing look.

4. Newspaper and/or Cardboard

This may sound like an odd thing to put in your garden but there are plenty of reasons why this could be a really good idea so don’t knock it until you try it. For instance, newspaper is one of the best materials for weed control because paper does not let light through at all so it deprives emerging weeds of their light source. This is also a great way to recycle old newspapers or cardboard that would otherwise just be thrown away into something that actually has use instead of being out in the landfill where no one will ever see it again.

Pros

  • Is very inexpensive and can be used several times on different plants before being thrown away.
  • Is really good for weed control since it doesn’t allow any light to pass through which means weeds won’t grow through it either.
  • Won’t become waterlogged like organic mulches do heavy rains because there are no pores in it to hold water.
  • Can help keep soil moist when used under organic mulches too because they will absorb any excess moisture before it has a chance to make the newspaper wet.
  • Is made from recycled materials which also helps save natural resources that would otherwise need to be mined or harvested in order for something new to be made instead of being reused again.

Cons

  • Is not very aesthetically pleasing since it can look messy, especially if you’re using paper instead of rolled-up cardboard.
  • Doesn’t retain moisture very long after heavy rains so waiting until the top layer of soil is dry again before adding organic mulch on top is important.

Cost

Newspaper usually costs around $10-20 year depending on how many newspapers you have to buy, so it will typically last for at least a year or two before you need to add more. Rolled-up cardboard is around $2-3 per square foot.

5. Leaves

These are one of the most common types of organic mulches out there and should be considered by anyone who has a garden bed that has been cleared from weeds but not replanted yet because they’re a good way to get your garden beds ready for new seeds or seedlings very quickly and inexpensively, plus they look really nice when spread across soil in a thick layer too. Plus, if you mix in some other organic materials then you’ll have a garden that is good for the environment and your wallet too.

Pros

  • Is free if you have some trees on your property or live next to a neighbor who doesn’t mind you taking their leaves for this purpose.
  • Is dark in color which will help it absorb heat from the sun during the day and only lose that heat at night instead of continuing to radiate it out all night long like lighter colored mulches do.
  • Won’t let any light through at all, meaning weeds won’t be able to grow through them either.
  • Great for weed suppression even underneath organic mulch because they’re so thick that no new weeds can emerge through them anyways.
  • If mixed with other organic materials, then soil will become richer in nutrients over time because these other organic materials are added.

Cons

  • Doesn’t stay moist for very long after rain or watering depending on how thick it is, so waiting until the top layer of soil dries again before adding more mulch is important to prevent rotting plant roots underneath where they can’t get any air.
  • You’ll need to rake up leaves that fall into garden beds during autumn every week or two which could be more work than some people want to deal with just for mulching their garden beds even though it’s free if you have trees nearby.
  • Fire hazard. These will catch fire very quickly if they’re dry, plus once burned they release carbon dioxide back into the air too fast and don’t behind any ash like wood does, so this should never be used as mulch around shrubs or any other plant that could easily catch fire.

Cost

Is free if you can find a neighbor willing to let you take their leaves for this purpose.

6. Grass Clippings

Another common type of organic mulch that people use for their garden beds is grass clippings because these are free if you have a lawnmower and grass always seems to be growing too high in some areas anyways.

Pros

Free as long as you have a lawnmower or someone nearby who does.

Is green so will provide the benefits of natural ground cover just like regular grass does, which means it can help keep soil moist, suppress weeds from emerging too quickly, and will also warm up soil a bit more than other mulches might during wintertime.

It’s good at preventing weed growth since grass has strong roots that grow very close to the surface of soil where they absorb nutrients from soil directly rather than having to send their roots down into soil like other plants do.

Can be mixed with leaves or other organic mulches very easily since grass clippings are small enough in size to mix in well with most other material types without needing much extra work.

Cons

It’s free but only lasts for around 6 weeks before drying out and warming up too much, which means it’ll need to be replaced 4 times per year on average if you want to use this type of mulch everyday throughout the entire growing season.   This is probably too often for many people so they opt instead to spread it once at the beginning of each season then wait until just before wintertime when rain will be more plentiful again before adding fresh mulch for insulating purposes.

It’s not dark in color so won’t absorb heat from the sun during the day and continue to radiate that warmth out all evening long. At night, it’ll lose any heat that was absorbed throughout the day which can be a problem if you have very cold winter weather since this will cause colder soil underneath mulch once again.

Cost

None, if you have a lawnmower and grass.

7. Pine Needles

Pine needles are another type of organic mulch material which can be used around plants to help protect them from extreme weather conditions too, although they’re mainly used because they have an aesthetically pleasing appearance for flower beds or other types of formal garden arrangements where appearance matters more than anything else.

Pros

  • Is green so will provide the benefits of natural ground cover just like regular grass does, which means it can help keep soil moist, suppress weeds from emerging too quickly, and will also warm up soil a bit more than other mulches might during wintertime.
  • It’s good at preventing weed growth since pine needles have strong roots that grow very close to the surface of soil where they absorb nutrients from soil directly rather than having to send their roots down into soil like other plants do.
  • Can be mixed with leaves or other organic mulches very easily since pine needle clumps are small enough in size to mix in well with most other material types without needing much extra work.

Cons

Is not free because you have to buy this type of mulch from a store unless you happen to have a pine tree on your property or know someone who does.

Won’t last very long since it’s not dark in color so won’t absorb heat from the sun during the day and continue to radiate that warmth out all evening long. At night, it’ll lose any heat that was absorbed throughout the day which can be a problem if you have very cold winter weather since this will cause colder soil underneath mulch once again.

Cost

About $10 per 32-gallon bag of mulch.

8. Hay or Straw

Another common type of organic mulch material is hay or straw because these are free if you own some farmland or happen to know someone nearby who does who would be willing to share with you for no charge.

Pros

  • Is free if you know someone nearby who’s willing to share some with you for no charge.
  • Won’t last very long because it loses its nutrients quickly and becomes dry which means it won’t insulate heat as well either which can make the soil underneath colder once again during wintertime.

Cons

  • Is not dark in color so won’t absorb heat from the sun during the day and continue to radiate that warmth out all evening long. At night, it’ll lose any heat that was absorbed throughout the day which can be a problem if you have very cold winter weather since this will cause colder soil underneath mulch once again.  
  • It’s also good at preventing weed growth like pine needles are.

Cost

None, if you know someone nearby who’s willing to share some with you for no charge or if you own farmland and can use it yourself.

9. Cocoa Bean Hulls

Cocoa bean hulls make another type of organic mulch material which can be used around plants to help protect them from extreme weather conditions too since they’re dark in color which means they’ll absorb heat during the day and release that warmth into surrounding air all evening long which makes soil underneath more hospitable for growing things like roots and bulbs once again.

Pros

  • Is green so will provide the benefits of natural ground cover just like regular grass does, which means it can help keep soil moist, suppress weeds from emerging too quickly, and will also warm up soil a bit more than other mulches might during wintertime.
  • Is good at preventing weed growth since cocoa bean hulls have strong roots that grow very close to the surface of soil where they absorb nutrients from soil directly rather than having to send their roots down into soil like most plants do.
  • Can be mixed with leaves or other organic mulches very easily since cocoa bean clumps are small enough in size to mix in well with most other material types without needing much extra work.

Cons

  • Is not free because you have to buy this type of mulch from a store unless you happen to sell bags of cocoa beans for a living which would make it free if you could then use the leftover cocoa beans.
  • Is not dark in color so won’t absorb heat from the sun during the day and continue to radiate that warmth out all evening long. At night, it’ll lose any heat that was absorbed throughout the day which can be a problem if you have very cold winter weather since this will cause colder soil underneath mulch once again.

Cost

About $10 per 32-gallon bag of mulch.

10. Compost

Compost is a type of organic mulch material that’s made from rotting plant waste which can be very beneficial to have around plants if you want those plants to grow well because the decaying matter will provide those plants with lots of nutrients as it breaks down.

Pros

  • Is green so will provide the benefits of natural ground cover just like regular grass does, which means it can help keep soil moist, suppress weeds from emerging too quickly, and will also warm up soil a bit more than other mulches might during wintertime.
  • Is good at preventing weed growth since compost has strong roots that grow very close to the surface of soil where they absorb nutrients from soil directly rather than having to send their roots down into soil like most plants do.
  • Can be mixed with leaves or other organic mulches very easily since compost clumps are small enough in size to mix in well with most other material types without needing much extra work.
  • Is good at helping soil retain moisture so it won’t dry out too quickly during hot summer months which is helpful for preventing plant roots from drying out and dying if they don’t get watered very often. Compost also has nutrients inside of it which can help plants grow so they’ll be healthier than before you added this type of mulch onto the surface of soil where they’re growing.

Cons

  • Is not free because you have to buy this type of mulch from a store unless you happen to sell bags of compost for a living which would make it free if you could then use the leftover compost.
  • Is not very dark in color so won’t absorb heat from the sun during the day and continue to radiate that warmth out all evening long. At night, it’ll lose any heat that was absorbed throughout the day which can be a problem if you have very cold winter weather since this will cause colder soil underneath mulch once again.
  • Can smell like rotting plant waste which might not be appealing for some people who don’t like strong smells around their homes or yards.

Cost

About $10 per 32-gallon bag of mulch.

11. Landscape Fabric

Another common type of organic mulch material is landscape fabric because it’s usually free if you ask for some at local garden centers or landscape supply stores who may be willing to give away some old pieces they have just lying around their store cutting room floor which are usually going to be too small in size to sell anyway.

Pros

  • Is usually free if you ask a garden center or landscape supply store for some old pieces they may have lying around, specifically ones that are just right for your needs and not too large or small which is unlikely to happen since most stores use the same type of mulch material over and over again because it’s such a common type of material.
  • Won’t last very long because it loses its nutrients quickly and becomes dry which means it won’t insulate heat as well either which can make the soil underneath colder once again during wintertime.

Cons

  • Not dark in color so won’t absorb heat from the sun during the day and continue to radiate that warmth out all evening long. At night, it’ll lose any heat that was absorbed throughout the day which can be a problem if you have very cold winter weather since this will cause colder soil underneath mulch once again.
  • Can also become nutrient-deficient over time which means weed growth underneath organic mulches like landscape fabric is common since weeds will grow quickly without having to send roots deep down into soil to find nutrients first.
  • Is usually not free unless you know someone who’s willing to give away some for no charge or they’re planning on using them themselves but then don’t need anymore which are unlikely possibilities most of the time.

Cost

None, if you know someone nearby who’s willing to share some with you for no charge.