How to Make Mulch From Wood Chips, Leaves, Grass, and More

Kelly Weimert
Written by Kelly Weimert
Updated November 25, 2022
Mulch around tree
Photo: ozgurcoskun / Getty Images

Making your own mulch is easy, fun, and can be done in just a few simple steps

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Mulch is the unsung hero of the garden, which is why many homeowners want to learn how to make mulch at home. Shrubs, flowers, and vegetables all depend on well-hydrated and nutrient-rich soil. 

We often associate mulch with large bags of wood chips from home and garden stores. But you can learn how to make your own mulch right at home. Your backyard already has most of the materials you'll need, making it an affordable and highly satisfying DIY project. 

How to Choose Your DIY Mulch

Mulching has many benefits, including keeping weeds down, beautifying your yard, and providing a safe space for your kids to play. That’s why choosing the right type is essential.

You have two main choices when making mulch from scratch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulch comes from materials that naturally break down. 

Think:

  • Wood chips

  • Pine needles

  • Leaf mulch

  • Newspaper

  • Compost

  • Straw

Inorganic mulch, on the other hand, includes rocks, plastic sheeting, and rubber chips that last longer than the natural alternatives. Organic material is more beneficial for gardens—i.e., higher nutrients and lower cost—but inorganic is a bit easier to maintain over time since it doesn't break down.

In the end, choosing the right mulch for your lawn comes down to the type of plants in your garden and your personal preference. You may simply like the look of fresh wood chips or prefer white stones at the base of your rose bushes. All are good options, so feel free to get creative with color and texture.

Many options exist when purchasing mulch for your lawn, such as type, quality and quantity. Check out this price comparison for buying in bulk and by the bag.

As for your DIY mulching, we recommend starting with what materials you have based on the season. Leaf mulching, for example, is a bit easier in the fall when you're not sure what to do with your piles. 

While inorganic mulch is typically best purchased from the garden store, we'll break down how to make each type of organic mulch to get you started.

How to Mulch Wood Chips

Branches and bark left in your garden after the winter make excellent mulch materials, especially under shrubs and along walkways.

Here’s how to make mulch from wood chips: 

1. Gather loose pieces of wood into small piles during spring lawn cleanup, and be sure to remove any rocks as you go.

2. Rent a wood chipper from your local hardware store if you don't already own one.

3. After reading the wood chipper’s instructions and putting on safety glasses, gloves, and clothing, grind the wood into small-to-medium flakes.

4. Lay the mulch around your plants, making sure your layer is at least 4–6 inches deep.

If you have trouble with this project, contact a local mulching company near you for help.

How to Mulch Grass and Pine Needles

Grass clippings and other organic materials pile up during the summer. As long as you don't use chemical treatments on your lawn—like herbicides or pesticides—these materials can make for great mulch.

Here’s how to make your own mulch from grass and pine needles: 

1. If your lawn mower has a bag to catch cuttings, simply use the collection of pine needles, grass, and ground-up leaves for your mulch. Each will enhance the soil around your flowers or veggies for brighter blooms and a heftier harvest.

2. If your lawn mower doesn’t have a cuttings bag, you can rake up the grass and pine needle clippings after mowing, then use a standalone leaf mulcher or stringer trimmer to shred them up. 

3. Create a 2–3-inch layer of mulch over desired areas. 

How to Mulch Leaves

Making leaf mulch is a popular fall project, especially when you're unsure what to do with them all. 

Follow these steps: 

1. Rake your leaves into a pile and wait for the pile to completely dry.

2. Run the leaves through your lawn mower once or twice, ideally with a bag to catch the clippings. You can also use a standalone leaf mulcher in lieu of a mower. 

3. Add a 3-inch layer of the mulch to any areas where you want to prevent weed growth.  

Important note: Leaf mulch can become a bit matted after heavy rainfall. Be prepared to loosen it up with a rake to let the air back into the soil after heavy rains.

How to Mulch Compost

When your compost pile transforms into that deep black hue, it's time to put it back to work.

Here’s how to make mulch from compost: 

1. Remove any weeds growing in your compost pile. 

2. Layer the compost pile, aka mulch, at the base of your shrubs, flowers, and other plant life to provide them with valuable nutrients. Your layer should be 1–3 inches deep. 

How to Mulch Straw

Straw is incredibly versatile, as it will hold in moisture for your vegetable garden and keep your soil safe from the first frost. Plus, you don’t need to treat it in any way to create mulch; any bale of straw is already mulch-ready. 

Follow these quick steps: 

1. Purchase a bale of straw, making sure it’s not hay since hay is often full of seeds.

2. Lay the straw around the areas you want to mulch, creating a layer about 6–8 inches deep. 

How to Mulch Cardboard

For DIY weed control that will also improve soil quality, give cardboard a try. 

Here’s how to make mulch from cardboard: 

1. The first step before applying cardboard is to water your soil deeply. 

2. Next, lay the cardboard over your grass or soil. Overlap each piece of cardboard by about 4 inches to help prevent weeds from getting through. 

3. Soak the cardboard with a hose and cover it with rocks and 1–3 inches of mulch.

Frequently Asked Questions

The average cost of professional mulch delivery is $175. Unless you need to rent a wood chipper—which can cost around $100 for the day—you can make your own mulch without spending a dime. 

If you don’t have the time, a mulch company near you can help determine what type of mulch would be best for your soil, plants, and flowers. 

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