You don’t have to travel far to get a load of free, high-quality mulch. You also don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a truckload or dozens of bags of mulch for your flower beds and landscaping. You can find free mulch in your city, on your street, or as close as your front porch or backyard.
Here are eight alternatives for getting mulch ado for nothing.
8 Ways You Can Get Free Mulch
1. Tree Care Service
Tree services produce wood chip mulch from pruned, chopped down, or removed trees. You can request a mulch delivery from your local tree care company, and they will often bring a free load to your home instead of disposing of it in a landfill. Be sure to plan ahead and provide a spacious, open area for them to dump the mulch.
Wood chips obtained from an arborist typically consist of bark, wood, and leaves. This mulch’s diverse composition results in varying decomposition rates and promotes a biologically diverse soil. Wood chips are an excellent choice for mulching because they:
- Retain moisture
- Moderate soil temperature
- Control weeds
- Decompose slowly
Pro tip: Don’t hesitate to ask about the mulch’s quality. Sometimes, low-cost or free wood chip mulch is not aged. Mulch that has not undergone the aging process can produce organic acids that are toxic to plants during decomposition. Additionally, free wood chips may also contain weed seeds or insect larvae.
2. Your City
Many cities offer a free mulch program that provides clean and high-quality mulch. To pick up the mulch, simply visit designated free mulch locations, such as a park or recycling center. When collecting the mulch, it is recommended to bring your own shovel and the following items:
- Heavy-duty construction or plastic bags
- Containers or a cart
- Goggles or protective eyewear
- Mask (to avoid breathing in spores or allergens)
Pro Tip: Many cities and counties recycle Christmas trees and turn them into free mulch after the holidays.
3. Backyard Leaves
Instead of bagging your yard waste for the landfill, shred it and return it to the earth. Leaves make a free, effective, plentiful mulch, especially in the fall. You can shred your leaves with your lawnmower while cutting the grass.
Homeowners can also use the leaves to make compost or leave them in the yard. Shredded leaves decompose quickly and help with weed control, enriching the soil with nutrients.
Pro Tip: It is important to shred the leaves, as whole leaves can become soggy and attract mold to your garden.
4. Grass Clippings
After mowing your lawn, mulch your grass clippings and use them in your gardens or lawn. However, avoid using fresh grass clippings, as they can create a moist and matted barrier that hinders water absorption into the soil.
Once the grass clippings have dried, they become an excellent weed-resistant mulch and do not contribute to thatch buildup. Grass clippings serve as a nitrogen-rich mulch, particularly beneficial for vegetable gardens.
Pro tip: Do not use grass clippings treated with herbicides as mulch.
Yes, you can use your compost as mulch. Compost is rich in nutrients, and, of course, it’s free. Don’t have a compost bin? Free mulch may be the incentive you need to make your own compost pile, or opt for one of the best compost bins to make it easier to start.
You can also compost:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Tree trimmings and yard waste
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
6. Pine Needles
Finally, you can put those pine needles to good use. Pine needles decompose slowly and provide a pleasant fragrance to your landscaping. They are an effective mulch, especially on hillsides, as their interlocking needles help them stay in place and make an excellent alternative to landscape fabric.
Pine needle mulch is free and easily accessible, plus it also:
- Allows air and nutrients to penetrate the soil
- Retains soil moisture
- Helps prevent weeds
- Maintains soil temperature
Pro tip: Pine needles won’t make your soil more acidic.
Recycling your newspapers (if you’re still a subscriber) as mulch limits waste in the landfill and saves you from spending on store-bought mulch. Newspapers have organic inks that are safe to use in your garden beds.
They are excellent for sheet mulching. To do this, layer two to four sheets of newspaper and cover them with attractive organic mulch like grass clippings or leaves.
If you live on or near a farm, straw makes a beneficial mulch for vegetable gardens, annual and perennial gardens, and newly sown lawns. Be sure to use straw rather than hay. Straw may contain weed or crop seeds, but hay often carries much more.
Pro tip: Remember that straw is highly flammable, and you’ll need to replace it regularly.
Other Types of Mulch
If money is no object, you can purchase organic or inorganic mulch. Our mulch guide can help with the types of mulch, cost, and the best places to use specific mulches. While the cost of mulch will vary based on the material and amount needed, the average price for homeowners in the U.S. is $17 to $68 per cubic yard.
When you’re ready to spread your wood chips or straw, the Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center provides handy tools for applying mulch and identifying problems with your ground coverings.
How Much Mulch Do I Need?
One cubic yard of mulch can cover approximately 80 square feet with a depth of 3 to 4 inches. It is important to note that one cubic yard equals 27 cubic feet, equivalent to a volume of 3 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet high.
To calculate the amount of mulch needed, follow these steps:
- Determine the square footage of the area you want to mulch by multiplying the length by the width.
- Divide that number by 80 to get the required cubic yards of mulch.
Should I Add Topsoil to My Mulch?
No, it is not necessary to add topsoil to your mulch. Adding topsoil over the mulch can make it more challenging to dig later, especially if you are adding plants, and you may also risk losing more topsoil due to wind and rain.
Does Mulch Attract Bugs?
Yes, mulch can attract certain pests, but there are ways to prevent this. One effective pest management strategy is to use mulch that is less attractive to insects, such as cedar or cypress mulch, or to use inorganic mulch like rocks. Another approach is regularly turning or fluffing the mulch, which can disrupt insect habitats and discourage nesting.
Free mulch offers several benefits. It promotes healthy plant growth by providing essential nutrients. It is a budget-friendly option for homeowners, saving money on landscaping. Using free mulch enhances curb appeal and potentially increases its value.
Taking advantage of free mulch benefits your plants, wallet, and property value.If you prefer professional assistance with your landscaping and mulching needs, consider contacting a landscaping service near you. They can efficiently handle weeding and mulching your garden, giving you more time to enjoy your outdoor spaces.
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