Types of mulch

by Caroline Brown

I’m continuing the scintillating series on mulch with more information from an article that was first published in the Kent County Daily Times.

It’s easy to be confused by the many different types of materials that are used as mulch. Here’s a little information to get you started.

The most popular mulches are organic — made from formerly living materials that decay over time and add nutrients to the soil. Examples include wood chips, shredded tree bark, sawdust, pine needles, compost, buckwheat hulls, peanut shells, and shredded yard waste such as leaves.

Mulch made from cocoa bean hulls leaves gardens smelling like chocolate, and coffee lovers will savor garden beds covered with spent coffee grounds or roasted coffee beans. But these more exotic mulches come with a higher price tag.

Each type of mulch has different pros and cons. For example, mulch made from cypress mulch is fairly easy to find, but is considered environmentally unfriendly because it’s made from cypress trees that grow in fragile wetlands. Pine needle mulch decomposes very slowly, is readily available to many homeowners, and is best used on acid-loving plants. Shredded leaves are very plentiful to homeowners with deciduous trees, but are considered unattractive by many. Shredded pine, cedar, and hemlock bark are very plentiful and reasonably priced.


Inorganic mulches include materials that do not break down over time, such as decorative stone and gravel, synthetic rubber mulch made from recycled tires, plastic mulch, and geotextile landscape fabrics.

Inorganic mulches are preferred by gardeners who only want to mulch once, but they are more expensive than conventional organic mulches. In addition, they deprive plants of the nutrients provided by mulch decay and are not appropriate for all plants. Some inorganic mulch is impermeable to water and may heat the soil to unacceptable levels, especially in warm climates. Reflective mulches may actually burn young plants and thin-barked trees.

Your local nursery expert (but probably not a big-box garden center salesperson) can to help you choose the best type of mulch based on your budget and the needs of your plants.

Photo of wood chip mulch courtesy of Truly Free Stock.


27 Comments to “Types of mulch”

  1. Have you ever heard that cocoa bean mulch is not good for dogs? Chocolate is not supposed to be good for them, although one of my dogs once effortlessly survived ingesting some major chocolate dessert she swiped off the kitchen counter. What is the word on using cocoa bean mulch if you have dogs (or cats)? Also, where can you buy buckwheat hulls in August in Rhode Island? Thanks for info, Caroline! Sue

  2. Hi Sue, I have heard this about cocoa bean mulch, but I’ve seen at least one company advertise that its cocoa mulch is safe. The two ingredients that are harmful to dogs are the same ones in chocolate that are harmful–caffeine & something called theobromine. Maybe there’s cocoa mulches that extract these two ingredients.

    As for buckwheat hulls, I have no idea where to get them in RI. But, I know a couple of people who might know so I’ll ask around.

  3. Is chipping christmas trees converting into mulch good for broadleaf trees. would this make ph soil to acidic?

  4. Hi James, mulch is an excellent use for an old Christmas tree! In fact if your town has a curbside “treecycling” pickup program, this is probably what they do with the tree….run it through the chipper and use it or sell it as mulch. It isn’t too acidic.

  5. I have heard that cocoa mulch is unsafe for dogs – personally, I’d stay away from them. As for pine needles, which is supposed to make a good mulch, they’re harmful too.

    For dogs, pine needles are not poisonous but can cause some mechanical GI problems if too many are swallowed. They can be toxic to cats, however, because pine oils are toxic to cats. If a dog swallows only a few needles, you may see some vomiting and diarrhea. If a large number are swallowed the GI problems may be more severe, to the point of an actual stomach or intestinal impaction. If you see persistent vomiting, signs of abdominal pain (see #1), loss of appetite, or absence of bowel movements, call your vet right away.

  6. Oh, if anyone can tell me of a mulch that is dog-friendly, please let me know! I’m trying to plan my garden but I have 2 big golden retrievers that are very oral, so I do need help! I’m not even sure if wood chips or shredded wood would be OK. I’m sure they’d eat them.

  7. I do not have a reply, but another question. How about using pine needle mulch when you have previously been treated for termites. Would the pine needles aggrevate the problem?


  8. Hi Sharon, pine needles are certainly more resistant for termites than wood chips. I don’t know where you had the problem but I wouldn’t put any kind of mulch, pine needles included, up against a wooden foundation of any kind.

  9. Hi, Is it true that using mulches made from construction waste, (old pallets, old lumber etc.) can harm flowers,shrubs and trees? If so why?

  10. Hi Scott, if the wood is treated with a chemical it can be a problem for the plants. A lot of wood like pallets or old fence posts might be treated with something that would leach into the plants. So if it were me, I would stick with regular mulch if possible.

  11. Hello,
    I wanted to know if there is such a thing called “Zilomat” for mulch? I am looking to mulch my playset and a nearby company is trying to sell it to me. I have never heard of it before. Thanks! Amy

  12. Hi Amy, I have never heard of this product! Google doesn’t turn up much when I spell it the way you did–it may have a different spelling. Ask the company what it is made out of and let me know.

  13. I had a pine tree cut down and have a lot of pine tiny pieces left from where the stump was ground down. Would this be good for mulch or not? Thanks

  14. Hi Myra, pine will be very good mulch. I wouldn’t use it up against a wooden structure such as a house or a shed due to possible termite problems in the future. Cedar is the best mulch if you’re going to do that. Also, I think you should let it compost for a little while before you use it–maybe a month or so, mix it with some old leaves if you have them, if not, by itself is fine. Fresh wood ties up a lot of soil nutrients as it decomposes–if you put it straight on your plant beds it will compete with your plants for these nutrients.

  15. Carolyn could Get Me some info on
    kellogg,s Gromuluh Brand mulch .Where to buy .i live in Tennessee. Thank You Ken.

  16. Hi Ken, if you go here and type in your city & zipcode, hopefully it will show you where to buy some Gromulch.
    Good luck!

  17. Carolyn thank you for the info.There is nothing in this area.I guess i will have to try another brand .I have these Knock out Roses on my place and they are new this year.I have never growen them before.I was told that type of mulch was very good.

  18. Hi Ken, there are many other brands of mulch out there that will do just fine on your Knock out Roses. You can try any nursery and they will be able to help you out. Though I don’t normally recommend shopping at big box stores like Lowes or Home Depot, you can get very decent mulch there as a last resort. Good luck!

  19. HI,

    Can you please let me know if there are any places where i
    can buy mulch , or wood chips in bulk for the garden.



  20. Hi Michael, where I live there are stone suppliers and mulchyards that sell it in bulk. You go there with your pickup truck and they fill you up, price is by the cubic yard. In the yellow pages try looking under mulch or stone and see if you find anyone in your area.

  21. Is cedar mulch, chips and saw dust, safe around berry bushes?

  22. Is red pine bark carcinogenic?

  23. We used cocoa bean mulch where I used to work, and it seemed to really attract the squirrels…I’m not sure if it was coincidental.

  24. Hi Linda, pine bark mulch isn’t carcinogenic in general, I assume by red you mean the stuff that has been dyed red. I don’t think it’s toxic, as almost all the suppliers say that they use vegetable-based, non-toxic, or organic dyes. If you dont’ want to take chances you could always go for a more natural kind with no dyes.

    Hi Anonymous, I haven’t heard about cocoa bean mulch and squirrels. It sure is beautiful stuff though, isn’t it.

  25. We are building a labyrinth and would like some time of mulch as a base. What would you recommend.

  26. Ann, since you’re going to be walking on it, you could try basic wood chips, shredded mulch or pine needles, depending on which you think looks nicer. Wood chips are used alot in kids playground areas b/c they last longer than shredded mulch and are usually cheaper. Shredded mulch or pine needles might be nicer if you’re going to walk on the path with bare feet.

  27. We are having some dead trees taken down (pine and maples). Could we use the fresh mulch for our playset? Is one preferable over the other (pine vs. maple)?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: