8 Types of Wood Mulch

Wood mulch on a white background.

Cedar and cypress mulch are only two of the many kinds of wood mulch available to homeowners. Mulch is the term used to describe the material used as ground cover or water-retaining material around shrubs, trees, and landscaping. Cedar and cypress mulches are considered the "cream of the crop" when it comes to wood mulches, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

1. Cedar Mulch

Cedar oil is a natural insect repellent. That same fragrant aroma that keeps moths and pests out of your cedar chest or closet works to keep pests away from your plants when you mulch with cedar. In areas where termites are a problem, it is worth paying the higher cost for cedar mulch. However, this type of mulch does have its downsides. It decomposes very slowly, adding only trace amounts of nutrients back to your soil. On the other hand, this does mean that cedar mulch is quite long lasting.

TIP: Rachel Klein, our gardening expert, mentions that cedar mulch can have its downsides. "Cedar mulch may also discourage beneficial types of insects from taking up residence in your garden, such as worms and ladybugs."

2. Cypress Mulch

Cypress mulch, like cedar, is a natural insect repellent. It's a good pest repellent, but it's more expensive than other mulches perhaps due to its attractive blonde color. In addition, the process of harvesting cypress trees can cause untold environmental damage.

3. Straw or Hay

Straw isn't the same as hay. When it comes to mulches, straw is preferred over hay, because it has fewer weeds and seeds. Straw is the preferred winter mulch because of its insulating qualities. Straw mulch is ideal for veggie gardens and can be turned under the soil as it begins to decompose, adding tons of beneficial nutrients. Straw is typically sold in compressed bales that are cheap, lightweight, and easy to work with.

4. Pine Needles

Pine needles make a great mulch for acid-loving plants, like azaleas. Advantages to pine needles include a boost to the soil for acid-loving plants, and the fragrance of pine around your house and yard. The texture of pine needle mulch used to mulch an entire bed is very eye-catching and unique. Pine needles are also typically inexpensive unless they are not native to your area and you need to have them shipped in. Pine needles come in bales that are light and easy to work with.

5. Bark

Bark mulch is probably the most attractive mulch, according to the experts. The even color of the bark and the naturalness of the color make it more appealing than a dyed wood chip. Bark mulch, especially if you are mulching your own, can be less expensive and easily available. Advantages are plentiful, but a major one is that bark allows water and air to move into the soil more freely.

TIP: Rachel also suggests that you can buy bark mulch as chips or as shredded bark. "The big bark chips look more attractive and will last longer but the shredded bark decomposes faster, adding more beneficial nutrients to your garden soil."

6. Wood Chips

Wood chips are the roughest kind of mulch you can get. Most homeowners use chips from their own yard clearing efforts. Wood chips are usually free or inexpensive. However, they don't last as long, look as good, and may have pest infestations from the limbs used.

TIP: Rachel points out: "Many gardeners caution to use composted wood chips and never fresh (chips) since fresh wood chips may raise the acidity of the soil and carry disease."

7. Colored Mulch

Colored mulch gives a cleaner, more uniform look to extensive mulching. Colored mulch comes in red and black and some specialty colors. It's more expensive than non-colored mulch and the dyes fade in the sun, or fade unevenly, eventually ruining the appearance. The dye is environmentally safe and non-toxic, but can transfer to your hands when you spread the mulch.

There has been recent debate about the types of woods used for colored mulch. Some studies have shown that colored mulch is actually made from treated hardwood gathered from demolished buildings, decks, or other construction projects. Dying this wood covers its imperfections. Treated hardwood has a great potential for leaking chemicals into your garden. If you intend to buy colored mulch, you may want to spend the extra money to buy it from a reputable and safe source.

8. Non-colored mulch

    Non-colored mulch is made from pine peelings that are merely wood shavings. Many homeowners who do a lot of woodworking, or have done recent home construction, may use shavings as a mulch as well. Pine shavings make a great mulch for vegetable gardens.