10 Mulch Types That’ll Majorly Improve Your Lawn and Garden

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Reviewed by Tara Dudley
Updated August 11, 2022
Yellow wheel barrel with mulch in the front yard
Photo: ozgurcoskun / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

So much mulch—which is the best for your landscape?

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Mulch is like a warm hug for your garden and landscape. It holds in moisture while preventing weeds and scorching from the sun, along with a number of other benefits. Here’s a look at the different types of mulch and which could be the best fit for your outdoor space.

Photo comparison of organic and inorganic mulch
Photo: R.Tsubin / Moment / Getty Images (left) and Andreas Krumwiede / EyeEm / Getty Images (right)

8 Organic Mulch Varieties

Organic mulch is hands-down the best choice for your landscape, as it breaks down naturally and adds nutrients to the soil. You’ll need to replenish it on a regular basis, but consider it an investment in the health of your plants and lawn.

1. Grade A Cypress Mulch

Grade A cypress consists of only the bark stripped from the outside of the tree and holds in moisture better than any other mulch. It’s one of the priciest options, but it keeps its shape and color the longest. It also has the slowest breakdown of all organic types.

2. Bulk Cypress Mulch

woman wearing gardening gloves mulching garden
Photo: artursfoto / Adobe Stock

Bulk cypress mulch is the most common type found at home improvement and retail stores. It contains the interior wood of cypress trees after they get stripped of their bark to make Grade A cypress mulch. This typically holds its color for about a year before it needs to be replaced.

If you opt for this type of mulch, be sure to remove the old before spreading the new. It doesn’t break down as effectively as other organic mulches. It will also suck up more moisture from the ground and can clump up, grow mold, and attract insects such as ants, roaches, and termites.

3. Crushed Pine Needle Mulch

Pine needle mulch has a vibrant color and is one of the best choices for weed control. Although you’ll need more to block sunlight than cypress, it takes less effort because it’s lighter to spread and provides better coverage.

It also has the best nutrients to add to the soil, but it breaks down faster than cypress and needs more frequent replenishment. Plus, it’s pretty lightweight and can get carried away easily by a strong gust of wind. Overall, though, it’s an affordable option that spreads further than any other mulch.

4. Pine Bark Mulch

Gardener using pine tree bark to mulch garden
Photo: ronstik / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Pine bark mulch typically holds its color and lasts longer than most organic mulches. It comes in crushed or nugget forms. Crushed mulch will take more bags to spread, but will give the best coverage and keep its natural brown color the best. Keep in mind that this is a lightweight and buoyant mulch, meaning it could get washed or blown away in harsh weather.

5. Straw

Straw works best as a light cover for your freshly seeded lawn. It helps hold the seed in place while also preventing hungry birds and rodents from having it for lunch. Like other mulches, it also holds in moisture, which is extra important for thirsty grass seeds. 

If you mulch your yard with this, remember to pick straw rather than hay—hay contains seeds that may later turn into weeds.

6. Composted Manure

Man shoveling manure into a wheelbarrow in the backyard
Photo: P A Thompson / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Animal manure mixed in with compost is a top-tier choice for your vegetable garden, but it works for other plants as well. A major benefit of this material is that it breaks down slowly, allowing a continuous release of nutrients over time. 

Be sure not to use fresh manure on your lawn or garden though, as this contains way too much nitrogen and will burn your plants. Also, don’t use manure from cats, dogs, or pigs, as it can contain parasites. Rather than raiding the backyard or litter box, head to your local garden center or find an animal farmer who will happily provide it for free.

7. Grass Clippings

The clumps left behind by your lawnmower are an excellent (and free) option for controlling weeds around your trees, shrubs, and flower garden. Take care not to spread it too thickly, as it can mat together and form an impenetrable layer that blocks out water. Be sure the clippings you use weren’t treated with herbicides within the last month. 

8. Cardboard/Newspaper

Closeup of a newspaper mixed with soil
Photo: Whiteway / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

A great DIY mulch for natural weed prevention is either cardboard or newspaper. Be sure to leave out glossy ad flyers, tape, and other inorganic materials that won’t break down. As a bonus, you’ll be providing delicious munchies for your earthworm friends.

"You can also use newspaper in conjunction with other organic mulches to provide additional weed prevention,” says Tara Dudley, Angi Expert Review Board member and owner of Plant Life Designs.

2 Inorganic Mulch Types

These inorganic mulches will help prevent weeds and slow their spread, plus they won’t require replacement nearly as often. They’re also quite pleasing to the eye and create a clean aesthetic that some favor. 

However, they don’t bring any soil nutrition to the table, as they won’t break down naturally. Don’t use these options for plants, trees, and other living parts of your lawn.

1. Rock/Gravel

Ornamental flower bed covered with rocks
Photo: beekeepx / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

There are quite a few rock varieties to choose from, and these make great weed-busting materials for walkways. However, they can compact soil and cause too-high soil temperatures, which can stress out your plants. Because of this, you should not use it around your garden, trees, and other plants.

2. Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch consists of cut-up old tires and dye. This is technically playground mulch, but it’s sometimes found in landscaping (although this is not recommended). It will dry up a garden instead of retaining moisture, and it can damage plants due to its weight.

If you’re still unsure which type of mulch to use for your lawn or garden, consult a landscaper in your area for advice. 

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