How to Make Mulch at Home – Full Mulching Guide!


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Wood Chip Mulch

Mulch is a product that is extremely beneficial to the health of plants. The benefits can vary with the type of materials used, such as the soil, the plants being used, and the cultural practices that are implemented when choosing and placing the mulch. Yes, it is typically easier to buy mulch, but is there any benefit to making the mulch at home?

How do you make mulch at home? To make mulch at home, first, you will need to identify what you want or need to mulch. Then, you will need to choose a mulching source, gather your materials, and convert them into mulch.

Selecting and using the proper method of mulching the desired plant location is imperative. Not all mulches are created equal, and there are specifics that you need to adhere to in order to ensure the quality and optimal performance of the mulch. How do you know which one to use and how to do it? We are going to walk you through it.

Making Your Mulch: Step by Step

We are going to look into the step by step process of making mulch. We will cover everything from choosing the mulch source, prepping, mulching and applying the mulch. Refer to the following steps to ensure the best mulch is being produced, with the added benefit of having it at a lower cost.

  • Choose Your Mulch Source: Mulch can be made from an assortment of different sources that will be covered in the sections to come. They can be short term/seasonal mulches, longer-term/persistent mulches, or even inorganic sources of mulch. This means that some materials are easier to acquire than others.
    • Bark is a great source of mulch due to its effectiveness and being rich in nutrients
    • Leaves and pine needles are also good sources but are season specific.
    • Compost will be the most effective, however, especially if used for a season.
  • Collect Your Materials: Once the materials you want to use for mulching are determined, you will need to collect them.
    • Put leaves, lawn clippings, pine clippings, or whatever has been gathered in a pile.
    • If a compost pile is being used, make sure to keep adding to the pile until mulching time.
    • Keep the compost pile moist and turn it regularly with a shovel or pitchfork to keep materials rotated as they break down. For more information, check out our article When Should I Turn My Compost Pile?
  • Convert Your Gathered Materials into Mulch:
    • Protect eyes with safety glasses when converting materials into mulch.
    • A lawnmower is an excellent tool to use in this case when it comes to leaves.
    • Branches and other wood materials are best suited to be placed through small woodchippers that can be rented from hardware stores.

When it comes to using compost as a mulch, just maintain the compost pile until it is ready to use. This time can vary from 2 weeks to 4 months, depending on the compost’s care and the weather in the area. When it is crumbly, dark brown, and gives off a more earthy odor, it is ready.

  • Prepare the Ground to Be Mulched:
    • Ensure there is no old, used mulch in the area that is being mulched unless a compost mulch is being used.
    • Make sure the area is thoroughly weeded. This will increase the effectiveness of the mulch and prevent weeds from taking advantage of the nutrients that the mulch will provide.
  • Spread Your Mulch:
    • When spreading the mulch, ensure that the mulch is about 2 inches high.
    • Do not over mulch. It will start to kill trees or gardens very slowly, especially when piled upon the base of the plant.
    • Do not pile it up in a “volcano” shape around trees. This will harm the tree.
    • The mulch also needs to be spread evenly. 

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Thessalonians 3:3-5

Choosing A Seasonal Mulch

Compost Mulch
Garden mulched with compost

According to Missouri.edu on their post about mulch, https://extension2.missouri.edu/g6960, mulches provide different benefits depending on the goal and cultural practices utilized when placing the mulch.

Whatever a gardener’s particular goal is when deciding on what type of mulch to be used, whether it is to make some landscaping more attractive or even reducing the amount of maintenance work required for a garden, it is necessary to know what type of mulch works best.

In the list below, you will find information on each mulch in terms of six important properties:

  1. Resistance to compaction
  2. Attractiveness in the garden
  3. Wind resistance
  4. Availability
  5. Weed and disease resistance
  6. Flammability

The Properties of Popular Mulches

  • Compost: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for a garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind, so it isn’t necessary to worry much about the wind blowing away this type of mulch. It is also highly available and does a fair job of keeping your garden free of weeds and disease. It also does not pose a fire hazard.
  • Corn Stalks: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction but doesn’t score high in attractiveness for a garden. It’s not the best-looking mulch. However, it does have excellent resistance to the wind. It is seasonally available and does an excellent job of keeping gardens free of weeds and disease, but it does pose a fire hazard. Also, since it is a bit coarse and unsightly, gardeners will need to compost this type of mulch before use.
  • Hay: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and is fairly attractive in the garden. It also has good resistance to the wind. It is also fairly available and does a fair job at keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. Hay mulch does pose a fire hazard.
  • Lawn Clippings: This type of mulch has poor resistance to compaction and a poor attractiveness for a garden. It doesn’t have very good resistance to the wind, so it may blow away. It is also highly available and does a fair job of keeping gardens free of weeds and disease. It doesn’t pose a fire hazard.
  • Leaf Mold: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and is somewhat attractive in a garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does a fair job of keeping gardens free of weeds and disease. It is not much of a fire hazard.
  • Leaves: This type of mulch has an extremely poor to unsatisfactory resistance to compaction, but it is fairly attractive in a garden. Unfortunately, it has a poor resistance to wind blowing, so wind blowing away this type of mulch can and will tend to be a concern. It is also highly available and does a good job of keeping your garden free of weeds and disease. However, it does present a fire hazard. It is also necessary to compost this type of mulch before use.
  • Manure (Well Rotted): This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for a garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind and is fairly available. However, it does an extremely poor to an unsatisfactory job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. Unfortunately, it does provide a fire hazard. It is manure, so the odor can be unwelcome.
  • Peat Moss: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and very attractive in the garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also widely available and does a good job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. It does not provide a fire hazard. Peat moss mulch of a coarse grade works the best.
  • Rice Hulls: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and a fair attractiveness for the garden. However, the rice hull mulch has poor resistance to the wind. It’s not the most available of mulches and can tend to be hard to find. However, it does a fair job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not pose a fire hazard. This type of mulch is great when it is available.
  • Straw: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction, but it has a poor attractiveness for a garden. Straw mulch also has poor resistance to the wind. It does, however, have good availability. Another shortcoming though, is that it does a poor job at keeping a garden free of weeds and disease, and it also poses a fire hazard.
  • Wastepaper: This type of mulch has fair resistance to compaction but can be extremely unattractive for the garden. However, it has extremely poor resistance to the wind. Your neighbors may find it on their lawn. It is highly available, however, and it does an excellent job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. However, it does provide a fire hazard. It is unsightly and must be shredded before use.

These types of mulches are best when used for a season, typically spring, to help ensure good health of a garden. They all have different strengths and weaknesses; it just depends on a gardener’s particular needs. Use the list as a reference when making a decision.

Longer-Term/ Persistent Mulches

Persistent mulches are mulches that last for a longer time beyond one season. They have various benefits depending on what a gardener wants to accomplish with trees or gardens. Take the time to review the following list to see which mulch will best suit your needs.

In these longer-term mulches, you will still be choosing a material based on six important properties:

  1. Resistance to compaction
  2. Attractiveness in the garden
  3. Wind resistance
  4. Availability
  5. Weed and disease resistance
  6. Flammability

Properties of Popular Long-Term Mulches

  • Bark Chunks: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction and an excellent attractiveness for the garden. Bark chunk mulch has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not provide a fire hazard. It is generally available and inexpensive.
  • Cocoa Shells: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction and provides an excellent attractiveness for a garden. Cocoa shells have good resistance to the wind. It has a poor availability, however, but it does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not provide a fire hazard. It has a high potassium content, which can affect plants’ ability to absorb other nutrients.
  • Corn Cobs: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction, but is unsightly in a garden. However, it has good resistance to the wind. It is also fairly available but does a poor job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. An advantage that it has is that it does not provide a fire hazard. Nitrogen will need to be added before use because corn cobs tend to rob the soil of nitrogen.
  • Cottonseed Hulls: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and a fair attractiveness for gardens. However, it has poor resistance to the wind. It also has poor availability. It does a good job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease and does not pose a fire hazard. However, cottonseed hulls are extremely lightweight and difficult to keep in place.
  • Pecan Hulls: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction and provides an excellent attractiveness for the garden. It also has good resistance to the wind. It is also fairly available and does an excellent job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. It does not present a fire hazard. It’s long-lasting and has a nice color and texture.
  • Pine Needles: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for the garden. It also has good resistance to the wind. It is also fairly available and does a good job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. However, it does provide a fire hazard. It is especially good on plants that like acidity.
  • Sawdust (Coarse): This type of mulch has a fair resistance to compaction and provides a fair attractiveness for the garden. It also has good resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does an excellent job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. It does not present a fire hazard. Be sure to use aged material and add nitrogen before use, as sawdust tends to rob nitrogen from the soil.
  • Sawdust (Fine): This type of mulch has poor resistance to compaction and has a fair attractiveness for a garden. It has poor resistance to the wind. It has good availability and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not present a fire hazard. Sawdust mulch compacts way too easily and will require nitrogen being before use, as most wood-based mulch will pull nitrogen from the soil.
  • Shredded Bark: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and an excellent attractiveness for a garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also very available and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not provide a fire hazard.
  • Wood Chips: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for a garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not present a fire hazard. An added benefit is that that wood chips are inexpensive. Some municipalities actually give them away in the early spring.
  • Wood Shavings: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for a garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also fairly available and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease, but it does provide a fire hazard. Make sure to use nitrogen when adding wood shavings to the garden, as they tend to absorb some nitrogen from the soil.
  • Wood Fibers: This type of mulch has a fair resistance to compaction and a fair attractiveness for the garden. It also has good resistance to the wind. It is also fairly available and does an excellent job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. It does not pose a fire hazard. Be sure to use coarse materials and add nitrogen before use. Wood fibers will pull nitrogen from the soil.

These types of mulches are best suited for trees and bushes and any type of plants that gardeners will typically maintain throughout the year. Look at what you want your much to do, whether you want to spend your time on rearranging mulch due to wind or compaction, and what benefits you are looking for when making your mulching choice.

Inorganic Mulching Options

Inorganic mulching options are those that aren’t going to decompose and break down over time like other materials such as leaves or bark. These mulches will not help build soil life or naturally feed your plants, so we do not recommend using these in a garden. However, depending on what you need to do or what you want to do to the appearance of your property, these inorganic mulching materials might be the best option for you.

  • Black Plastic Film: This type of mulch doesn’t apply where compaction is concerned; instead, it tears and doesn’t add attractiveness for the garden. It also has very poor resistance to the wind. However, it is highly available and does an excellent job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. It does not provide a fire hazard. To use this mulch, it must be anchored. Usually, small stakes will need to be put in place to hold it down.
  • Crushed Rock: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction and has good attractiveness for gardens. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does an excellent job of keeping gardens free of weeds and disease. It does not present a fire hazard. There are many colors available, but be sure to avoid crushed limestone. Too much limestone can raise the soil’s pH too high, which harms nearby plants.
  • Geotextile Weed Barrier: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction but has a poor level of attractiveness for a garden. It also has poor resistance to the wind. However, it is highly available and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not pose a fire hazard. It must be anchored and can be covered by another type of mulch.
  • Gravel: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for the garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not provide a fire hazard. Be sure to use this type of mulch sparingly.
  • Volcanic Rock: This type of mulch has excellent resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for a garden. It also has excellent resistance to the wind. It has good availability and does an excellent job of keeping a garden free of weeds and disease. It does not provide a fire hazard. Small pieces of this mulch will tend to float away if they come in contact with a significant amount of water.
  • Perlite: This type of mulch has good resistance to compaction and a good attractiveness for the garden. However, it has poor resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does an excellent job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. It does not present a fire hazard. It works best as a soil amendment.
  • Vermiculite: This type of mulch has a fair resistance to compaction and a fair attractiveness for the garden. It has poor resistance to the wind. It is also highly available and does an excellent job of keeping the garden free of weeds and disease. It does not pose a fire hazard.

How To Spread Mulch

When applying mulch to landscape, there a few simple tips to follow to ensure the best results. Here are a few tips courtesy of http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu:

  1. Be sure to maintain a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch around trees, shrubs, and bedding plants, like flowers. Coarse materials can be applied up to 4 inches deep. When applying mulch, however, be careful not to apply too much more than this in that mulch absorbs rain and irrigation that are meant for the plant’s systems.
  2. Do the math to figure out how much mulch is needed. Mulching up to a depth of 3 inches is ideal. To find out how much mulch is needed to cover an area, get out a pencil.
    • 1 cubic yard of mulch can cover 324 square feet of ground at 1 inch deep.
    • To figure out the amount necessary, multiply the length of the area by the width then multiply the square footage by 3, which is the number of inches of mulch.
    • Finally, divide the answer by 324 and that is the answer. The equation looks like this: [(L x W) x 3] / 324
  3. Avoid placing mulch in a “volcano” formation. This holds moisture, which promotes rot in the trunk of a tree. It can also create a habitat for rodents that will chew on the bark and eventually kill the tree.
  4. Mulch to the drip line or beyond. The area that is mulched around the should be about 8 feet in diameter.
  5. Rake old mulch as it can become matted and prevent the absorption of air and water to the plant. Raking mulch also helps to refresh its appearance and benefit plants’ absorption of nutrients.
  6. Use rock mulch sparingly in the landscape and try to limit its use to pathways, dry creek beds, and under downspouts.  

Making A Mulching Decision

As you can see, there are many different types of materials that can be used viably as mulch. You may choose from a wide range of potential materials based on your wants and needs for your garden.

Depending on what and where you are growing, you may select from the materials above to create the mulch that best fits your garden goals!

Many people decide to make their own mulch because it is a lot more cost-efficient than going to the store and purchasing it. Doing it yourself also provides greater options as to how you want to approach mulching your garden, trees, and shrubbery.

For more information on this particular topic, and to learn more about mulch itself, visit https://extension2.missouri.edu/g6960 the information is very helpful to anyone looking for information on this.

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