9 Mulch Alternatives Worth Trying

Sharon Greenthal
Written by Sharon Greenthal
Updated July 13, 2021
front of red brick house with bushes and mulch
wanderluster/E+ via Getty Images

Skip those seemingly endless bags of wood mulch and opt for one of these alternatives

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Traditional mulch like bark and wood chips are familiar choices for gardeners, but there are other types of mulch for your garden. If you opt for an alternative, you can save money by making your own mulch. Our list of nine options for mulch will help you get your lawn in top shape. Before adding mulch, be sure to prepare your garden for maximum benefit.

1. Stones

Stone mulch is an option for people who don’t want to reapply mulch every year because it lasts longer than wood chips or bark. Stones will also inhibit the growth of weeds in your garden and add a design element to your landscaping. Rocks, gravel, and pebbles work especially well with more contemporary home designs. 

Your options with stone mulch include:

  • Large stones: More stable and less likely to move because of rain or other conditions, but takes more work to install

  • Small stones (including pea gravel): Easier to install than large stones but can be moved and dislodged by animals or weather

You should use large stones on any hilly terrain, as small stones will be more likely to shift and slide.

2. Pumice Stone

Pumice stone is a beautiful and textural alternative to mulch. It also helps repel insects and pests. Unlike other rocks, pumice rock allows water and air to pass through, which helps prevent mold and fungus. The pale colors of pumice rock add a nice contrast to the greens and other bright colors of your plants and flowers. 

3. Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is usually the most expensive option, starting at $7 per bag compared to wood mulch, which goes for as little as $2 per bag. Rubber mulch is an excellent choice for people who want to reduce their carbon footprint because it’s made from recycled tires. Even in high winds and storms, it stays in place because of its weight, which means it doesn’t need replacing as other mulch alternatives do. 

4. Shredded Newspaper

Shredded newspaper that only has black ink is an inexpensive and eco-friendly choice for an alternative mulch. If you choose to use newspaper, make sure you don’t include any inserts or ads when you shred it, as those pages have harmful chemicals in the ink. Shredded newspaper may not be the most attractive option, but if you like the idea of using something recyclable, you can put a layer of another type of mulch over the top of the shredded paper to make it look nicer.

stone retaining wall holding mulch and bushes
Willowpix/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

5. Leaf Mulch

Leaves make excellent mulch, but you must look for any blight or ailment that could harm the soil and plants. Use a leaf shredder so the leaves will be the right texture and size to allow plants to grow. Whole leaves will keep moisture from penetrating the ground. If you don’t have a leaf blower, a lawnmower will do. 

6. Groundcover (aka Green Mulch)

You can keep weeds at bay and use less water by choosing a low-growing groundcover as a mulch alternative. Living plants will add nutrients to your soil to help your other plants grow and thrive. Groundcover mulch may need to be maintained and kept trimmed to prevent it from creeping from your garden into other areas of your yard. A local landscaper can help you determine which plants would be best for your garden.

Low-growth plants that work well as ground cover include:

  • Clover

  • Creeping Thyme

  • Chamomile

  • Alyssum

  • Creeping Jenny

  • Lamium

7. Grass Clippings

Grass clippings from mowing your lawn make a great DIY mulch for your garden. Place the green clippings closest to the soil to allow for absorption of nitrogen and put brown grass on top of that. Grass clippings are also very economical and environmentally friendly. 

One caveat: do not use grass clippings treated with fertilizer or pesticides because the chemicals can damage your plants or interfere with their growth.

8. Straw

For a farm-friendly feeling to your garden, nothing beats straw. A convenient and moisture-friendly natural product, straw is a good choice for an alternative to mulch. Straw is perfect for vegetable gardens. 

One caveat: The biggest drawback with straw is that little critters love to eat it. If you live in a place with lots of rabbits, rodents, or other small animals, straw may not be the best choice for you.

9. Cold Compost

There may be nothing more healthy and nutrient-rich for your garden than compost. It takes time to build up a good cold compost, which can include vegetable peels, fruit skins, eggshells, coffee grounds, and other organic materials from your home and garden refuse, but the wait is worth it. Some people find the smell of compost unappealing, but its organic matter, which gives it that pungent aroma, is what makes it oh-so-good for your garden.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.