Pros and Cons of Various Types of Mulch

Adding mulch is one of the best things you can do for your garden. When used properly, mulch will help to retain moisture in the soil and prevent weeds from growing in the flower beds. There are several kinds of landscaping mulch, each with its own pros and cons, but the primary difference is between inorganic and organic mulches.

Inorganic mulches do not decompose, so they do not get absorbed into the ground. Inorganic mulches include plastic, gravel, shredded rubber and landscape fabric.

Organic mulches will break down over time, which adds nutrients to the soil. Organic mulches include bark or hardwood, straw, newspaper, pine needles and grass clippings.

Here are the pros and cons of the three most common types of organic and inorganic mulch.

Shredded Hardwood or Bark

Shredded hardwood bark mulch is made from pure tree bark and not ground up wood.

Pros: It contains a lot of nutrients that will improve the soil as it decomposes.

Cons: Wood chips may wash away as the wood decomposes, and they pull nitrogen from the soil.

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings should be used after they are dried and spread in thin layers to prevent them from rotting.

Pros: Grass clippings are free from your lawn and supply compulsory nitrogen nutrients to the soil. If you do not use lawn chemicals, it is also organic.

Cons: It is often difficult to separate the grass from the weeds, which can increase weed growth in the garden.

Straw Mulch

Straw has become increasingly more popular over the last several years.

Pros: Straw is inexpensive, provides good insulation for a winter vegetable garden and suppresses weeds.

Cons: Straw decomposes quickly, can be unattractive, may contain weed seeds and is flammable.

Rock, Gravel, Stone and Lava Rock

Rock materials do not break down. If this type of mulch is properly installed, it may never need to be replaced.

Pros: It is available in a wide range of colors, sizes and shapes. It will not decay or blow away.

Cons: These can be difficult to keep clean and difficult to remove. Rocks draw heat and should not be used with acid-loving plants, such as rhododendrons. Must use fabric under the rocks to prevent them from sinking in the soil.

Shredded Rubber

One of the best benefits of using recycled rubber mulch is that you will be preventing the material from ending up in a landfill.

Pros: Available in several different colors and it will not blow away or decompose.

Cons: It is often difficult to remove, it is inorganic and is flammable.


Plastic mulch is typically sold in sheets that are placed directly over the soil. In the majority of situations, a layer of another type of landscaping mulch is placed over or mixed with the plastic.

Pros: It is quite effective at controlling weeds and absorbs heat, making it especially useful in gardens where warm soil is desired.

Cons: Soil cannot breathe under the plastic. It’s also inorganic, unattractive and may tear easily.

When choosing landscaping mulch, it is best to research the type you are considering to determine if it is appropriate for the area where you want to install it. For example, if you want an attractive mulch in a flower bed that is in front of a business, rock or gravel may be the most appropriate, because it is low maintenance.

Visit Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center to learn more about the equipment we have available to make your landscaping chores easier or visit our blog to learn tips and tricks for taking care of your lawn.



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