Make Your Own Mulch

gloved hands applying mulch to a flowering plant
  • 1-100 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-100

Whether you have a postage stamp lot or acres that stretch for miles, mulching benefits your crops, trees, and plants. It insulates roots against drying out when the weather is hot and from freezing during colder temps. Mulch also helps the plant absorb water more efficiently and feeds nutrients into the soil. Because mulch comes in many forms, making your own saves you money and gives you control over the materials you’re using.

1. Save Money

When it comes time to lay down mulch, having options you’ve made yourself not only saves you the hassle of running around to stores or nurseries, but it also eliminates the plastic waste from bags. Notably, making your own mulch saves you a truckload of money, especially if you’ve been paying someone to deliver it by the yard.

2. Upcycle Natural Materials

Making your own mulch also provides natural upcycling and a circular economy between your plants. Because the materials come from grass, trees, and things made or provided by trees, you’re helping your yard do what it does naturally.

vegetable growing in straw mulch

3. Create your Own Organic Matter

When considering the type of mulch for your plants, remember that all materials should be organic if being used on edible plants. Mulch feeds plants so you want to make sure anything you’re eating is being fed a clean diet too.

4. Many Material Options

Making your own mulch is easy and rewarding. Start by taking an inventory of what you have on hand. If you regularly use a wood chipper, bark chips are an obvious choice. On a farm, you might have hay or straw readily available. The suburban backyard likely has a large supply of grass clippings. You can also use pine needles or pine cones, leaves, peat moss, or even newspaper.

shredded newspaper

5. Know your Seasons

The type of mulch you use can change throughout the year. For example, grass clippings, small yard trimmings, and compost all work well during the summer months. More durable options like pine needles, bark, and straw, will stand up over the winter.

6. Mulch Comes in Many Forms

When making mulch, know that a combination of ingredients works well. Using what you have on hand allows you to know exactly what is in your mulch mix and control nutrients as needed. Your best bet comes from what is already in your yard, or your home. Think about products that come from trees and use them if you don’t have other options. Paper bags, newspaper, cardboard, and even toilet paper rolls are all examples.

7. Compost

Making your own compost allows you to clean up natural materials around the yard, use kitchen scraps, and reduce lawn and home waste. You can use a commercially-bought composter, build one DIY style, or simply make a compost mound. Include layers of green material such as grass clippings, brown materials such as small branches, 100% wood ash, and paper bags, and organic matter from the kitchen such as skins, peels, or whole fruits and vegetables.

Everything on the list above from pine cones to bark chips can go into the compost as well. Keep your compost pile moist. It will break down within a few months if in direct sunlight. Also spin it or stir it with a pitchfork occasionally to encourage the breakdown of materials.

pine bark mulch with white flower groundcover

8. Application

Whether you use a single material, such as peat moss or leaves, or a combined compost, be sure to prep the space before application. Remove mulch from last season for a fresh start. Also pull any weeds. Mulch not only feeds your plants, but can encourage weed growth so clear them out rather than working against yourself. Apply mulch in a layer around two inches thick. Create a void closest to the plants to give them room to breathe.

To prep leaves for use around the base of trees and other plants, run them over with a lawnmower. This reduces their size. If your lawnmower has a mulching bag, it also facilitates easy collection. Then spread the leaves using a rake or your hands.