Mulch Alternatives

What is Mulch?

Mulch is a material that is used to retain moisture in the soil. It is also used to curb the growth of weeds and lowering down the temperature of soil and plant roots. It also prevents frosts in winter. You just need to spread the material on the soil. Some mulches have the ability of adding nutrients to the soil.

Mulches are of two types which include organic and inorganic. Organic mulch is natural and no synthetic material is used in its formation. It can suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil. Inorganic mulch is a synthetic one which is made by using natural materials. Which can retain water and remove weeds permanently.

Why Mulch Alternatives?

Mulch is a useful material but has some disadvantages listed below −

  • A thick layer of mulch can suffocate the plants

  • Mulch can rot the bark of a tree if it is piled up around it

  • Mulch attracts snails, rodents, and other pests if it is available near the stems

  • Mulch can steal nitrogen from the soil so a nitrogen-rich fertilizer should be used

How to choose a Mulch Alternative?

Mulch has many advantages which you need to consider while choosing an alternative. Some of these advantages are as follows −

  • Soil is warmer in the winter season

  • Crusting of the soil surface is prevented

  • Organic mulch is a good source of nutrients

  • Soil fertility is increased

  • The health of plants is improved through mulch

Top 10 Mulch Alternatives

If you are not satisfied with the functions of mulch, you can use many alternatives available in the market. Some of these alternatives have been discussed here in detail.

Alternative 1 – Stones

Stone mulch is beneficial for those people who do not want the application of mulch each year. The life of stone mulch is longer than the regular one. Stone mulch prevents the growth of weeds. They are available in different designs and can help in beautifying your home and garden. It is better to use large stones as they can neither be moved by weather nor by animals. Small stones can be installed easily but can also leave their location due to various factors.

Alternative 2 – Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is more beneficial in comparison to its organic counterpart. This mulch is made of recycled rubber. Decomposition does not occur in rubber so it can help in reducing fungal infection. Weed growth can also be controlled through this mulch. There is no need to reapply this mulch every year. It will not be blown away easily by winds and storms.

Alternative 3 – Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are formed when a lawn or garden is mowed. These clippings should not be thrown as they can be used as mulch. Grass clippings can be a good mulch but they have to be dried before use. If they will be left wet, they will start rotting. If shredded leaves are spread over the clippings, the drying process becomes fast.

Alternative 4 – Pine Needles

Pine needles are organic mulch and can be availed from pine trees. Pine needles are also known as pine straw which can create a permeable layer so that nutrients and water can reach the soil easily. Fresh pine needles are not good for flower beds because of their acidic nature. It looks beautiful and has the property of retaining water and essential nutrients.

Alternative 5 – Pea Gravel

Pea gravel stones are almost round in shape and give a pleasing look to the place where they are spread. Pea gravel is available in different colors. It is available at a high price. It helps in preventing the growth of weeds as water can pass through them easily due to gaps between them. They do not decompose so there is no need to reapply this mulch every year.

Alternative 6 – Bark and Wood Chips

Bark and wood chips are natural materials which are made from the bark of a tree. Bark mulch is a great alternative as it curbs the growth of weeds, adds essential nutrients to the soil, and retains moisture.

Wood chips help in controlling soil erosion and providing insulation from frost. Wood chips also help in adding nutrients to the soil.

Alternative 7 – Compost

Compost is one of the popular mulches which is also friendly to the environment. This mulch can be easily made at home by recycling kitchen waste. The material used for making compost should be free from weeds and should have been broken down. The layer of this mulch should be thin when it is spread. Compost should be dampened with leaves as roots below dry compost may not get enough water for their growth.

Alternative 8 – Cardboard and Newspaper

Cardboard and newspapers can also be used as a mulch alternative. These materials prevent the growth of weeds after shredding. These materials can be used with other types of mulches to bring nutrients to the soil and prevent the growth of weeds. They are decomposed easily so frequent replacement is not necessary.

Alternative 9 – Sawdust

Sawdust is an organic mulch with a nice smell. Sawdust is available at a cheap price and you can easily get it from sawmills for free. Sawdust is best for flower gardens but not for vegetable ones as they are treated with chemicals and finished with stains. Sawdust takes a long time to deteriorate. Sawdust mulch has to be replaced every year with a fresh one. Replacement is done to check whether the growth of weeds is prevented or not.

Alternative 10 – Pumice Stone

Pumice stone is an alternative to mulch and helps in preventing insects and pests from entering the soil. Water and air can easily pass through this stone so there is no chance for the development of molds and fungus. The color of the pumice stone is pale and gives a good contrast to the bright colors of the garden.


Mulch is beneficial for lawns and gardens as they prevent the growth of weeds. They also add nutrients to the soil. Only thin layers should be spread as thick layers can lead to suffocation of plants. They can also attract rodents and snails that may damage plants. There are many alternatives available which can be used to replace mulch. Some of them last long while others have to replaced each year.

Updated on: 16-May-2023


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