Mulch is a general term used to describe any material spread over the surface of soil as a covering. It is used to retain moisture, suppress weeds, keep soil cool, & give gardens a finished look.

When we think of mulch, we often think of bark & wood chips. However, wood is high in carbon. Carbon seeks out nitrogen to help it break down. Nitrogen is also considered the most important component for supporting plant growth. When you mulch your plants with wood, the wood steals your plants’ food. In addition, some wood mulch is made by grinding up old pallets & other trash wood, & may contain arsenic, creosote & other toxic substances. 

If you want to give your gardens a polished & weed-free look opt for one of these alternatives:

Gravel & stone work well in beds that require good drainage or with plants that like a little extra warmth, like herb gardens or succulent gardens. Heat from rock mulch can also extend growing seasons in cooler climates. Gravel or stone is guaranteed to give your garden a distinguished, finished look. 

Pine straw is lighter than wood mulch which allows for greater percolation of water. Plus, pine straw will improve the soil structure as it decays. Pine straw comes from pine trees, which shed their needles throughout the year. Once the needles drop to the ground, they are hand-raked, cleaned & baled without the need to cut down or harm the trees. This makes pine straw a very environmentally friendly choice.

Compost enriches the soil, adding nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, & nitrogen to your garden. It’s also one of the cheapest alternatives if you make it yourself with discarded vegetable scraps, coffee grounds & dead leaves. Two inches of compost prevents weeds just as well as two inches of wood mulch. 

It’s important to note that rubber mulch is made of 100% recycled rubber, usually from reclaimed tires. Rubber mulch is similar to rock mulch & doesn’t provide nutrients to the soil. It can, however, leach small amounts of chemicals into the soil, which can be harmful to some plants. It also tends to give off an unpleasant smell in the summer. Best to steer clear of rubber mulch.