11 ideas for using mulch in your garden

You'd be surprised how many different materials can be used as mulch to benefit your garden. Find out where to use the best kinds of mulch in your yard.

11 ideas for using mulch in your garden

1. What to use

Many gardeners prefer ornamental mulches for year-round use or for flower beds.

  • Shredded bark, wood chips, and cocoa or walnut shells are attractive but expensive.
  • For seasonal use in the vegetable patch, hay, straw, chopped leaves, ground corncobs and even newspaper are inexpensive and effective — and you can turn them into the soil at summer's end.

2. Live near a brewery?

Ask the brewmaster if you can haul away the spent hops. The fine-textured mash makes ideal mulch.

3. Free for the taking

  • Arborists and utility companies that trim trees around power lines often have surplus wood chips ground from felled trees.
  • Also check with your municipality; some have leaf-composting or brush-chipping sites and offer free mulch to the community.

4. Use mulch over something else

Wood mulches break down slowly and may tie up soil nitrogen while they're decaying. To keep this from happening, use them as part of a double mulch.

  • Spread hay or newspapers over the soil, followed by a five centimetre layer of sawdust or wood chips.

5. Go to where the sawdust is

Woodworking shops and cabinetmakers are good sources of sawdust. Be sure to find out which wood they've been using, however.

  • Walnut, cedar and chemically treated wood should not be spread around the garden.
  • Untreated pine is fine, as is hardwood sawdust from lumber mills. 

Strawberries like the acidity of sawdust mulch. It can also keep slugs away.

  • Raise the foliage and apply several inches around the bases of the stems, but be careful not to cover the plants' crowns.

6. Be careful using mulch near your house

Don't go overboard using wood mulches close to your house. They may harbour termites, mice or other invasive pests.

7. Give a reflective mulch a try

Silver and red-coloured mulches help repel pests because insects passing by are confused by the light and fly away.

8. Black plastic mulch

Black plastic mulch is useful in vegetable gardens when you want to warm up the soil, and it keeps dirt from splashing onto plants.

  • Lay it on the bed and make slits for transplants or seeds; fold it up at season's end and reuse it the following year.

Take note: Since rain can't pass through plastic, you'll need to water underneath with a soaker hose or drip line.

9. Bar weeds

  • Perforated geotextile weed barriers block light to weeds yet let water pass through freely, so they're good to use around shrubs and trees.
  • Top them with shredded bark or wood chips.

10. Paper mulch

Paper mulch comes in rolls that can be spread over the garden in spring and then tilled into the soil in the fall.

  • These are great timesavers if you're growing pumpkins, watermelons or other vining crops that need protection from weeds that spring up between wide rows.
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