How to Mulch Your Garden – Organic vs Inorganic

How To Mulch Your Garden: Organic Vs Inorganic

Gardening is a complicated activity.

There are multiple aspects that one needs to consider when getting down and dirty in the soil.

From the quality of seeds to the ground’s fertility, a grower has to ensure that they provide all the desirable growing conditions for the crops they wish to harvest later.

If any of the growing terms aren’t ideal, the seeds will not germinate properly and most likely form into lopsided plants.

Hence, it’s safe to say that the growing conditions in gardening determine the health of the produce.

While most of the determinants of a plant’s health can be hard to fix, the soil is probably the hardest to get right.

Since the soil has several features that affect crops, such as dryness, acidity, fertility, etc., a gardener has to ensure all of those are on target to yield the best possible produce.

A gardener is responsible for taking all the necessary measures to improve the quality of the ground work in order to enhance the soil’s fertility.

Some of the most common methods experts use to improve the quality of dirt when gardening include composting, mulching, and irrigation.

While irrigation is pretty unambiguous, composting and mulching aren’t, and are often mistaken for one another.

Garden Irrigation

Although both maneuvers add nutrients to the soil, they work differently to restore soil quality.

Compost and mulch are organic materials that are decomposed and then add to the ground to supply nutrition to plants.

However, compost, which is also sometimes known as humus, is added in between and around plant roots under the surface, whereas mulch is applied on top of the soil.

While mulch also provides nourishment to crops, its primary function is suppressing weed growth and preventing soil erosion.

In regions with inferior quality soils that are prone to erosion, mulching can make a world of difference in gardening outcomes.

When the topsoil erodes, it takes away all the natural nutrients and fertility of the land, leaving plant roots at high risk of developing various gardening problems.

Typically, silty and sandy soil runoff faster than soils containing higher clay content as their aggregate stability isn’t high enough.

Therefore, gardeners who practice their profession in areas that receive heavy rainfall and gales and have erosion-prone soil use mulching to enhance the quality of their produce.

Mulching can be done using natural elements found at home, such as grass clippings, dead leaves.

However, you can also buy nutrient-dense mulch from garden centers to ensure a better harvest.

Multiple types of mulches are used by growers worldwide, and all of those get the job done.

But when buying mulch, it’s essential to know which one would be best for your financial and soil needs.

What Is the Best Type of Mulch?

Different Mulch

As mentioned above, all mulches get the job done, but which one will be ideal for you depends on your budget, gardening needs, and preference.

Mulch doesn’t only add to the quality of your soil, but also the aesthetic appeal of your garden/planter bed.

Many growers can experience problems using some types of mulches due to their messy appearance. 

To help you decide on mulch for your garden, we have rounded up the most commonly used options for you to look over.

Pine Needles or Pine Straws

Pine foliage is readily used for mulching in urban gardens, especially for plants that prefer acidic soils.

Pine needles and straws are lightweight, but they can withstand heavy winds and rainfalls, standing their ground and keeping the topsoil safe.

Therefore, they are ideal for applying over sloppy gardening beds.

Compared to other organic mulches, pine needles take a while to breakdown and generally turn silver-grey over time, which some people can find unappealing.

Pine Bark Nugget Mulches

Pine bark nuggets are also popular within the gardeners’ community. They come in various shapes and sizes, and supple ample nutrition to the soil.

However, they can easily runoff or float away if soaked in moving or stagnant water.

Hence, pine bark nuggets are not suitable for areas that receive heavy rainfalls and are at high risk of getting flooded.

Shredded Hardwood

Shredded Hardwood

Shredded hardwood is a residue produced by lumber and paper factories. It is quite similar to pine marble nuggets but offers better protection to the soil.

Shredded hardwood spreads easily and lasts longer, but it also turns the soil alkaline, which renders the ground ill-fitted for acid-loving plants.

Therefore, a grower needs to add acid fertilizer to their field to grow acidic plants when using shredded hardwood as mulch.

Also, shredded hardwood mulch can become compact over time, obstructing water and nutrients from reaching the soil.

Colored Wood Chips

Often made from recycled wood, colored wood mulch can sometimes contain arsenic compounds, if made with pressure-treated wood, making the product unhealthy.

Although mulch made from pressure-treated wood was discontinued by the EPA a decade ago, some manufacturers still market it.

So, be sure to ask your retailer about the wood used in the mulch you buy.

Wood chips are pretty cheap and spread easily. They are excellent for spreading over flower beds, shrub borders, and garden pathways as they will add a lot of aesthetic appeal to the mentioned spots.

However, they may not be a viable option for vegetable harvesting as that requires periodic digging, which can be difficult with wood chips covering your garden bed.

Plastic Mulch

Plants Under Plastic Mulch

One of the most effective materials for mulching is plastic. A plastic sheet over vegetable beds can do so much for your crops.

It keeps the soil protected but allows just the right amount of heat from the sun to pass through, providing an ideal temperature for vegetables to grow.

It also prevents the fruits of vining crops such as strawberries and cucumbers from rotting.

Moreover, plastic mulch significantly suppresses weed growth and retains soil moisture.

Typically two types of plastic sheets are used for mulching; infrared transmitting (IRT) and standard black plastic. Out of the two, IRT is pricier; however, it yields a better harvest.

Although plastic is a great mulch option, it doesn’t let rainwater penetrate and reach the soil.

So you cannot rely on Mother Nature for hydration of your plants, you need to lay soaker hoses or drips before putting down plastic.

Compost or Manure

Even though compost is not typically used for mulching, it does make up an excellent mulching solution, thanks to its high organic content.

It provides plenty of nutrients to the soil and increases water retention. However, it also makes an excellent breeding ground for weeds, which is why it is not commonly used for mulching.

Landscape Fabrics

Garden Mulch

Landscape fabrics, also known as geotextiles, make a reasonably effective mulch.

They allow water and air to pass through and enter the soil, but they are not durable and degrade over time, losing color.

To increase the longevity of geotextiles, growers need to add another mulch on top, which can be too much effort.

Most mulches are useful for preventing soil erosion, but some are better than the others and last longer.

Also, in areas with naturally damp soil, organic mulches can lead to over-hydration and cause weed and pest infestations.

Therefore, a grower has to consider the climatic conditions in their region before choosing a mulch option for their plants.

Mulches need to be maintained and periodically replaced; otherwise, they can develop issues. While some mulches need to be replenished faster, others can last a while.

What Types of Mulches Last the Longest?

Mulch’s lifespan can vary depending on its material.

Whether natural or inorganic, mulches need to be maintained to keep them functional. Typically, growers prefer organic mulches over inorganic ones.

And the most commonly used organic mulches are woodchips and bark mulch. Out of the two, bark mulch lasts longer.

Woodchips generally stay vital for five to seven years, while bark mulches can last up to seven to ten years.

In the case of organic mulches, gardeners need to replace them as they decompose over time.

The average overall lifespan of natural mulch is five to six years, and the aesthetic lifespan is much shorter; only about one to two years, after that the mulch starts to change color and becomes unappealing.

Some inorganic mulches, such as pebbles and gravel, can last a long while, but they don’t provide nutrition to plants, so they don’t make for a healthy mulch option.

What Is the Best Type to Prevent Weeds?

Using Straw Mulch

There are a number of factors that play a role in making mulch effective for weed prevention.

Those include what you need mulch to do, where it is placed, and the type of gardening a grower wants to do.

Therefore, there is no one size fits all answer to this question.

However, experts suggest that some organic mulches are better at weed prevention than others, such as straw or hay.

To decide which mulch will be better at suppressing weed growth, consider the water holding capacity that the mulch lends to the soil.

Any mulch that allows too much water retention will not be substantially effective at preventing weeds.


Mulching is an essential landscape management technique that can do wonders for your harvest.

To get the healthiest produce, consider using an organic mulch as it provides abundant nourishment to crops and lasts for a considerable time.

About The Author

Gina Harper grew up dreaming about farms and growing her own food. She began an urban garden to feed herself and turned it into an incredible hobby. Gina is here to teach you everything from raised beds to container gardening, how to keep plants alive and well in a smoggy city, and the works. It’s time that we carve our own piece of green earth and reap what we sow—she’s here to help you with that.