How To Shop For Mulch

Last summer, I almost broke into a sweat deciding what type of mulch to use in our garden. Could there be more product decisions available these days (not to mention colors!). I’m checking in today to lay down some of the details I honed in on when selecting mulch.

Hopefully you’ll find something to help make your springtime gardening process a little bit more streamlined, and my, my, my, I’m sure when you’re done you’ll think your garden looks swell.

Mulch photo credit: Julie A. Martens.

Why quality matters:

You don’t have to invest in mulch every year? This was news to my ears. If you invest wisely, some natural mulch varieties are known to last for a second–and sometimes even a third!–season. And if you invest in stone, plastic underlayment, or rubber mulch, it can last even longer.

Organic mulches are worth considering for investment, as they actually enrich the soil while protecting it from erosion and limiting weed growth. Straw, pine needles, compost, and bark chips fall into this territory, as do the shredded hardwoods you see commonly dyed at most landscaping stops. Keep in mind that the organic mulches have a quicker rate of decay though, and may only last 1-2 seasons.

How it’s made affects how it’ll look long term:

I gravitate to the most natural looking shredded hardwoods, the coloring that looks most like freshly chipped wood that you know will dry and sun bleach itself into a respectful weathered hue by the second season. It has good drainage, so underlying roots still get plenty of moisture. (Also natural, did you know there was such a thing as cocoa mulch, and depending on your geography, did you know that seaweed was a viable source of garden groundcover?)

Mulch photo credit: Julie A. Martens.

Lately I’ve been weighing the benefits of investing in a rubber mulch, because I’m seeing more and more varieties at home & garden shows that look very realistic. The price is what kills though, it’s often 3-5x more expensive per cubic yard. It would be a pricy investment upfront, but if it were proven to last (and not wash away, not deteriorate, and not discolor) over the course of, say, 5-6 years, it might be worthwhile.

How to pick color?

The mulch color you select for your yard is invariably dependent on your neighborhood and the exterior of your home. As I mentioned, I tend to invest in the most natural looking shades, a medium to dark brown, but that’s because I favor the palette to the gray exterior of my home. It also flows better with the earthy vibe of the homes in the neighborhood. Black seems like it would be a little harsh for my taste, and red, out of place against the gray, although some of my neighbors choose the shade and it looks great in their yards.

Where to buy?

Get a sense of your options at a local gardening center. The shops that specialize in landscaping services often have displays to showcase their varieties of pavers, shrubbery, and ground cover. Explore how different mulches work in different scenarios. If you’re going to buy bulk, the gardening centers have the capacity to fulfill your order at a great rate per yard, and deliver promptly.

Big box stores are good if you want to compare multiple products and multiple brands by price. Don’t forget to focus on volume of the bags too, they often vary from 0.8 cu. feet to 2 cu. feet. Bonus tip: Some stores have been known to discount price bags of mulch and topsoil that have been inadvertently torn. Check carefully, because if much hasn’t been lost and if you keep a roll of duct tape in your car, you can likely seal it right back up until you arrive home, and save 10-50% in the process.

Brown gardening mulch wood chips.


Now that we’re clear on mulch, here are some great ideas for container gardens that I found inspiring.

Catching the home improvement bug at an early age, Emily Fazio is a now a devoted DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects she covers on her blog Merrypad range from painting a wall to building a deck, so it’s only natural she landed at You can follow Emily on twitter at @merrypad and like her on facebook at


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    We grow bamboo as divider walls and do they shed! The daily sweeping and yield of their dried leaves are good exercise plus you gave wonderful mulch material. They are very light however, and do get strewn about and what we do it to sweep them to the areas that needed mulching or removing them to a holder.

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  12. Brenda says:

    We live on a rural acre property and burn hardwood every year. I have gotten good results using chipped hardwood bark that we collect from our load of wood each year. The price is right and it looks great. The thing about cedar mulch or pine needles I find is that they can add unwanted acidity to soil. For this reason I tend to prefer a chipped hardwood product. Re. the cocoa mulch, we also tried this one year and while it looked great initially, I discovered some mold in areas which this type of mulch is prone to.

  13. Erin says:

    We did cocoa shell mulch one year because we thought it seemed like a fun idea and it smelled good. Unfortunately, animals thought it smelled good too and they tore up our garden.

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About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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