How to Make Mulch – A Quick Guide

Mulch is a highly useful gardening product because it comes with a wide range of benefits including keeping the soil moist and your plants healthy. There are various types of mulch that you can buy at any garden store for a good price, but you can also make your very own for a lot cheaper.

Making mulch is easier than you think and is a good way of reusing the scraps from your garden. You can use many ingredients as you want or you can also go for just one ingredient. In this guide, we’ve got everything you need to know to make your own mulch at home so let’s go ahead and take a look!

Collect Mulching Ingredients


The first step is to collect the material you’re planning to turn into mulch. Here are some suggestions:

  • Leaves – Before you use leaves for mulching, spread them out into a pile about two inches thick. Run them over a few times with your lawn mower to shred them up into little pieces. Avoid using eucalyptus and walnut leaves since they can prevent your plants from growing.
  • Pine needles, tree bark, and branches– Also called pine straw, pine needles are a great option for mulching. Like with the leaves, rake up the needles into small piles and run them over with a shredder to break them down a little. A wood chipper, if you have one, would work as well, especially for tree bark and branches.  However, make sure to wear your safety goggles!
  • Grass clippings – Make sure that the grass you’re using is completely pesticide free or it will harm your plants rather than help them. Avoid using damp or wet grass since it can interfere with the oxygen absorption of the soil. The ideal thing to do would be to leave the clippings out for a few days to dry completely. When they look lightly brown and feel lighter and loser, you’ll know they’re ready to be used.
  • Straw – If you haven’t got any straw on hand, you can always get some from your local farmer or even the garden store. While it might be a bit of a hassle to find straw, it’s well worth the trouble because it’ll save you a lot of money on regular store bought mulch.
  • Newspaper – You can also use shredded or whole sheets of newspapers. Newspapers that use organic inks are safe so you won’t need to worry about contamination.
  • Compost – If you’re using compost, make sure that it’s aged well. Aged compost will look dark and earthy. If the compost smells bad or is slimy, it means that it’s rotten so avoid using it.

Prepare the Materials

Run your mulching material over with a lawn mower or pass it through a wood chipper to break it up into little pieces. If you’re using a lawn mower, lay the material out in a layer about 2 inches thick. This will prevent your lawn mower blades from getting damaged.

Use and Store Your Homemade Mulch

mulch in the garden

Once everything is broken into small pieces, your mulch is ready to use. You can use it right away and store any extras in a ventilated barrel or a large bag with holes in it to allow oxygen to pass through.

Storing homemade mulch is important to ensure its quality and effectiveness in the garden. Here are some tips for storing mulch:

  1. Choose a dry location: Mulch should be stored in a dry location to prevent it from becoming damp and moldy. A covered area like a shed or garage is ideal.
  2. Keep it covered: Mulch should be stored in a covered container or under a tarp to prevent moisture from getting in.
  3. Avoid contamination: Mulch should be kept away from any materials that could contaminate it, such as chemicals or animal waste.
  4. Check for mold: Before using stored mulch, check it for mold or other signs of decay. If mold is present, the mulch should be discarded.
  5. Use it within a year: Homemade mulch should be used within a year of being made. After that time, it may lose its effectiveness and become less beneficial for the garden.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your homemade mulch remains high-quality and effective for use in your garden.

How to Use Mulch in the Garden

using mulch in the garden

Now that your homemade mulch is ready, it’s important to know how and when you can use it in the garden so that your plants will get the most out of it. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Use it during summer and winter: The advantage of mulching during summer is that the mulch will help the garden soil to retain its moisture that’s necessary for keeping the roots of your plants cool. During winter, the mulch will help keep the soil warm and protect your plants from the frost.
  2. Make sure to remove winter mulch: Summer mulch can be allowed to decay slowly over time but remember to remove winter mulch in spring. The best mulches to use during summer include various leaf mulches and compost. In winter, it’s best to use pine needles, bark and straw.
  3. Do some weeding: Before you add mulch to your garden, make sure to pull out all the weeds. If you don’t remove all the weeds, the mulch will protect them and help them to thrive. This will be a problem for the plants that you’re actually growing.
  4. Add liberal amounts but not too much: Make sure to add enough mulch to your garden. The amount you need to add depends on how shady or hot and sunny the garden bed is. Shadier areas need about 2 to 3 inches of mulch (5-8 cm) while sunnier areas need about 3 to 4 inches (8-10 cm). For sunny and hot areas, use as much as 6 inches (15 cm).  Take a rake or shovel and spread the mulch carefully. Be careful not to add too much because this will kill your plants and trees.
  5. Pull the mulch away from the base of your plants: Once you’ve spread the mulch over the garden bed, pull some of it away from the base of your plants. Leaving some distance between the mulch and the plant will allow air to circulate around the plant, providing the ventilation that’s needed for optimal growth.
  6. Use it around trees and shrubs: Applying a layer of mulch around trees and shrubs helps to retain moisture in the soil, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weed growth. The mulch should be spread in a ring around the base of the tree or shrub, leaving a gap of a few inches around the trunk to prevent moisture buildup.
  7. In garden beds: Mulch can be used in garden beds to suppress weed growth and retain moisture in the soil. It can also add nutrients to the soil as it breaks down. The mulch should be spread in a layer of 2-3 inches, leaving a gap around the base of plants to prevent moisture buildup.
  8. In vegetable gardens: Mulch is a great addition to vegetable gardens, as it helps to retain moisture in the soil, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weed growth. It can also help to prevent soil-borne diseases. Organic mulches like straw or leaves are a good choice for vegetable gardens, as they add nutrients to the soil as they break down.
  9. In container gardens: Mulch can be used in container gardens to help retain moisture in the soil and regulate soil temperature. A layer of 1-2 inches of mulch can be added to the surface of the soil in the container.
  10. In pathways: Inorganic mulches like rocks or gravel can be used in garden pathways to suppress weed growth and provide a stable walking surface. Landscape fabric can also be used under the mulch to further suppress weed growth.

Should I Make My Own Mulch?

Making your own mulch at home can be a great idea for several reasons. Firstly, it can help you save money. Purchasing pre-made mulch can be expensive, and making your own can be a more cost-effective option.

Secondly, making your own mulch is a sustainable and eco-friendly practice. It can help reduce waste by repurposing yard waste like leaves and grass clippings.

Thirdly, using homemade mulch can improve the health of your garden. Mulch can suppress weeds, retain moisture in the soil, and provide nutrients as it breaks down.

However, making your own mulch does require some effort and time investment. You need to gather the materials, shred them, and properly store the mulch until it’s ready to use. You also need to ensure the quality of the materials you use, as contaminated materials can harm your garden.

Overall, making your own mulch can be a rewarding and beneficial practice for your garden and the environment, as long as you have the resources and willingness to put in the effort.

FAQs about Making Mulch

1. What materials can I use to make mulch?

You can use a variety of materials such as leaves, grass clippings, straw, wood chips, and shredded bark.

2. How do I make mulch at home?

To make mulch at home, you need to gather materials, shred them, and store them in a dry and covered area until they are ready to use.

3. Can I use any type of tree bark for mulch?

Not all tree bark is suitable for mulch. You should avoid using bark from black walnut, eucalyptus, and cedar trees as they can be harmful to plants.

4. How often should I apply mulch to my garden?

Mulch should be applied to your garden once a year, ideally in the spring or fall.

5. How thick should I apply mulch to my garden?

A layer of 2-3 inches of mulch is generally recommended to suppress weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

The Take-Away

As you can see, making mulch at home is extremely easy and it’s also a great way of clearing up your garden. By using it regularly, you’ll be able to have a beautiful garden, full of healthy plants and soil.

If you’d like to buy mulch instead of making it, here are some of the best options you can go for.