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 care services make wood chip mulch from the trees they have pruned, chopped down, or removed. Ask your local tree care company for a mulch delivery, and they’ll likely bring a free load to your home instead of taking it to the landfill.
 
Be sure to plan ahead: Make sure you have a spacious place for them to dump the mulch.
 
Wood chips make an excellent mulch because they retain moisture, moderate the soil’s temperature, control weeds, and decompose slowly. Wood chips from an arborist often include bark, wood, and leaves. The diversity in this mulch allows for a varying decomposition rate and a biologically diverse soil.
 
Pro tip: Don’t hesitate to ask about the mulch’s quality. Free or low-cost wood chips have sometimes not aged. Mulch that has not aged forms organic acids toxic to plants when decomposing. Free wood chips also may contain weed seeds or insect larvae.

2. Your city

Most cities offer a free mulch program that can be a source of clean and good quality mulch. All you have to do is pick it up at a park or other designated location. You’ll likely need to bring your own shovels, bags, and containers.
 
After the holidays, many cities and counties recycle Christmas trees and turn them into free mulch.

3. Backyard leaves

Instead of bagging your leaves for the landfill, shred them and return them to the earth. Leaves are a free, effective, and plentiful mulch (especially in the fall). It’s crucial to shred the leaves, since whole leaves can become soggy and invite mold to your garden.
 
Shred your leaves with your lawnmower as you cut the grass. Either leave the shredded leaves on the lawn to decompose in the soil, or use them. Leaves help to control weeds and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

4. Grass clippings

After mowing your lawn, save the grass clippings to mulch your gardens. Avoid using fresh grass clippings, as they may create a moist, matted barrier that prevents water from reaching the soil.

After the grass clippings have dried, they make an excellent weed-resistant mulch. Grass clippings make a nitrogen-rich mulch that works best in vegetable gardens.

Pro tip: Don’t mulch with grass clippings that you have treated with herbicides.

5. Compost

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.

6. Pine needles

You can finally put those pine needles to good use. Pine needles decompose slowly and add a pleasant fragrance to your landscaping.

Pine needles make an effective mulch on hillsides – they stay in place due to their interlocking needles. This free, easily accessible mulch enables air, nutrients, and water to penetrate the soil.

7. Newspapers

Recycling your newspapers (if you’re still a subscriber) as a 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.

For an effective mulch, layer two to four sheets of newspaper and top them with an attractive organic mulch, such as grass clippings or leaves.

8. Straw

If you live on or near a farm, straw makes a useful 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: Keep in mind 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.

When you’re ready to spread your wood chips or straw, the Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center provides handy tools on how to apply mulch and how to identify problems with your ground coverings.

And if you’d rather leave your landscaping and mulching to a professional, your local landscaping service can weed and mulch the garden in no time.

Bottom line (and in this case, it really affects your bottom line): Free mulch has clear benefits. Free mulch helps your plants and your budget.

Main Image Credit: manfredrichter, Pixabay

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