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What mulch is best?

Last updated : 21 November 2014

Red mulch, black mulch, brown mulch… aren’t they all the same?

No, they are not all the same.  So I will explain how they vary and where and how you should use each one.  My favorite mulch is hardwood bark mulch.  To better explain this I made a movie for you.

Pine Bark Mulch

In the movie I did not mention Pine Bark Mulch.  I Didn’t have any handy!   Pine bark mulch makes a good mulch for mulching planting beds and it’s also a great additive or can even be used as the base for a good potting mix.  Pine Bark mulch doesn’t break down as quickly nor does it contain the nutrition that hardwood bark has, but it’s still a great mulch to use for growing and potting soil.  Actually here in Ohio pine bark is hard to find unless you buy bags.  But the local nursery growers here like it so well as a potting mix they actually have it trucked in from North Carolina 90 cubic yards at a time.


Shredded Hardwood Bark Mulch

Shredded hardwood bark mulch is made from 100% tree bark, and not ground up wood.  Therefore it contains a great deal more nutrition for your plants and as it decomposes it greatly improves the soil in your gardens.  When the logs of hardwood trees are arrive at the saw mill one of the first things that happens is the logs are put through a de-barking machine and all of bark is removed from the logs before they are cut into lumber.

The bark is the shredded and often times it’s shredded two or three times.  That’s what they mean when they say double or triple ground.  But the most important thing for you to know is to confirm that you are indeed buying mulch that is made 100% from hardwood bark.  Because . . . there are a lot of mulches that pretend to be hardwood bark mulch and they are not.

The Impostors!

Red Mulch     Black Mulch     and Brown Mulch that has been dyed to obtain the brown color.

All of the impostors are dyed to get their color.

The impostors, as I call them, are mulches that are made of ground up wood, usually pallets.  These mulches contain little to no bark at all and are 100% wood.  Wood might be okay as a mulch to keep down weeds, but not only do wood mulches contain no nutrition for your plants, they actually pull nitrogen from the soil and the wood decomposes.   Once the pallets are ground up to look like mulch, the ground material is dyed so it has a deep color.  Today a lot of people like these mulches because they are red or black in color because of the dye.

Tha’ts fine, and using this kind of mulch to mulch the beds around your house is okay.  I don’t like these wood mulches for several reasons.  One, the mulch floats out of the beds too easily and is always all over the sidewalk.  Plus these mulches really don’t break down all that well.  I want a mulch that is going to improve my soil, not pull nutrients from the soil.  But as a mulch they are okay.  In potting mix they would be disastrous!

Wood Chips from the Tree Trimming Company

Tree trimming service produce tons and tons of wood chips and they are often looking for places to get rid of all of this mulch so they offer to drop a load off at your house free or charge.  Wood chips from a tree company are okay for mulching pathways in your garden, but that’s about all I would ever use them for.  They contain a great deal of ground up wood, leaves and twigs.   It takes this material a long time to break down and as it does it will pull nitrogen from your planting areas.

But more importantly, wood chips contain no nutritional value therefore really do your garden more harm than good.  If allowed to rot for a period of many years, they might be okay.  But they are not something I’d ever use in a planting area around my home or in my nursery.   They’re great to use over a muddy path.  For that they are wonderful.


Many supply yards that sell mulches also sell compost.  Compost can vary considerably from supply yard to supply yard.  For the most compost materials are great for the soil.  They really don’t make the best mulches because they are really fine textured and contain enough nutrition that weeds will grow right in the compost.

So compost materials shouldn’t be used as a mulch, but they are great for adding additional organic matter to a landscaping bed.  Most compost materials are made from leaf compost, maybe mushroom compost, and sometimes the include material from sewage plants.  It’s important to know for sure what’s in the compost that you are using.  Should the compost that you buy contain any material from a sewage plant you should not use it in your vegetable garden.

I hope this helps!  -Mike McGroarty




  1. Anonymous says

    Good information, however, hardwood bark mulch is hard to obtain. I’m in NY and buy my mulch in Home Depot, Lowe’s or garden centers.

    • Retired says

      Not for a Garden, but to Cover Grass..
      What Procedures forCovering a 10ft x 40 wide area of Grass
      I also Plan to Add 2- Crab Apple Trees at 20 ft Spacees and Nothing Else.. Not a Garden..

      I figure:
      1. Cut the Grass As Low As I can- Scalp it if Can and Dig a Edge of 6 inches Wide around the area..from the rest of the Lawn
      2. Spray Weed and Grass Killer on the Short Cut Grass.
      3. Lay a Fabric Underlayment and stake it down
      4. Add 3 Inches of Mulch at 400 Sq ft , est.35 bags..x $4 each = $140 HomeDepot will deliver for $50 = $200 with tax
      5. Expect to Spray Weed and Grass Killer on it Every Spring and Fall
      6. and a Top Dressing of 1 Inch of New Mulch every couple of yrs..

      Will this Plan Be Good Enough?

      Landscapers want over $800 to do this Job..
      Being Retired and have the time ( even if takes a Month Part Time at it) I save at least $600

      I called my Local HS to ask if any HS Kids Wanted to do it and Give them $100 each, but No Takers ..

      • Mike says

        I like it all except the fabric underlayment. In my “very experienced opinion with the stuff” all it will do is lighten your wallet and aggravate you until the end of your days. Use newspaper or brown paper bags. They’ll rot and won’t haunt you forever. But truthfully, if you are going to spray the grass first, all you need is mulch.

        When you spray, but the grass short, then water it and give it a few days to start to green up. Then let dry, spray really well. The grass killer works best when the grass is actively growing. That’s what makes the herbicide translocate through the plants to the roots.

    • says

      Thanks for the information on mulch,Mike. I have a huge oak tree that blew down during Ike and has lain on the ground for several years. It has rotted and the bark pulling away and has a black mulch under it that is moist and just like dirt. Someone told me that if you used too much,it would not let the water get to the plant roots,so thought I would get your opinion before I use it. The tree is very rotten beneath the bark. I filled a 5 gallon bucket full in just a few minutes. What is the best way to use it?

  2. Bianca Botto says

    thank you very much for the lesson about mulch, it was very interesting, now I know what kind of mulch to use on my yard.

  3. Janice says

    Mike – here in Pittsburgh, we have hardwood shredded mulch which I have used for years. But – it doesn’t say hardwood bark. Is this the same thing? Thanks!

    • PAUL says

      I to live in the Pittsburgh area in Beaver county can you share where you get the hardwood bark mulch.

      • Mike says

        I would think hardwood bark mulch would be pretty easy to find around Pittsburgh. The mulch that we use here in Ohio comes from Pennsylvania. Most of it anyway, some from southern Ohio.

  4. Richard Heghinian says

    What about cow manure either raw or processed? I have used the processed stuff, sold in Home Depo, Lowes etc.

    As long as I mix it with sand (all we have in Florida) my plants have done quite well. Right out of the bag, I think it’s too strong.

  5. Kimberly says

    What about using rubber mulch? It’s great to “go green” by recycling, but I am not sure if using recycled tires as mulch is a good thing or not. I have thought of using it, but is rubber mulch good for plants since it does not break down? If not, would using this method actually be considered “going green”? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • PAUL says

      Rubber mulch is very bad tire companies from what I read would get rid of tires in third world countries and that got to costly so they thought of selling it as mulch and making money off. I am all for making money and as much as I can, but not at any cost, it has a bad smell when in the hot sun and it poisons the soil it is just the opposite of going green. Just remember you have the internet do your own research.

  6. carrie says

    You forgot to mention cypress mulch and cypress mulch blend. Also preen mulch which contains weed preventer. And then there is rubber mulch.

    • PAUL says

      I believe Mike was talking about adding nutrients to the soil, when you talk about rubber mulch you are talking about polluting the soil.

  7. Linda Berth says

    Thanks for all the great info you provide. My husband and I are looking forward to spring and the info on mulches was great. We always used the dyed or free tree trimming mulch and now we will have to look for a mulch that contains bark. Keep the info coming!

  8. patsy says

    Thank you so much for explaining the different kinds of mulch. I always bought the red mulch because it looked good. No more. Also this past fall you talked about dead spots in your grass and what you did about it. Please send that info again. I have dead spots already this year. Thanks again. Keep up the good work I look forward to your e-mails. I live in WV.

  9. Debra says

    Another reason to be wary of the free wood chips from tree services is that often the wood comes from trees that are being cut down because they are dead or dieing as a result of disease or infestation. You run the risk of possibly spreading this in your landscape. You could inquire first, but then you have to trust the tree professional at their word.

  10. Michie says

    Hi, Mike:
    Thanks for the mulch article. What do you know about the free mulch offered by a county? We have this service here is Fairfax, Virginia. Is this mulch usable, you think, for adding nutrients to the soil?

  11. Farm Boy says

    Some observations relating to brown mulch on moderately well drained loamy soils in NE OH. Over a year Spring – Spring; 3″ of brown mulch is pretty well broken down. I do distribute (by hand) some regular garden fertilizer over the mulched beds – to partially compensate for the nutrient demand.
    After application, I spray the mulch with my garden hose to enable the pieces of mulch to “knit together” to greatly prevent wind/water loss. If needed, I will break up any area of mulch that sheds too much rainfall. Thank-you Mike for all you do!

  12. says

    Mike this was really very helpful. I always use the Red beacuse the color eally stands ot but if it has no value I will not use it anymore.No one really explains the different knids so now I’ll try to find Hardwood mulch.
    Thanks for the Great tip. I’m sure alot of people appreciate this information.
    Thanks Mike.

  13. Donna says

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for continuing to do a great job. I always learn a thing of two with every email from you.
    One more mulch you might want to address is cocoa shell mulch. Looks beautiful, smells heavenly for a while, decomposes well, BUT it should forever be outlawed. It also smells good to dogs. Unfortunately, it can severely debilitate or even kill your best buddy if he eats it, and boy, do they love to eat it. I haven’t seen it around for a while. If anyone knows of it being available, please spread the word about its toxicity to dogs. Thanks again Mike.

  14. says

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for the tips. I use the ground up trees mulch for paths, like you said, it’s great for that and lasts a long time. Here in the Pacific Northwest – muddy paths are a big issue. I’ve also used the paper from documents that I’ve shredded for paths and around plants to keep the weeds down. Makes sure the information is safe. :) Can’t wait for gardening season to start in a few more weeks!

  15. Anonymous says

    i’ve been very discouraged with mulch as of lately for the ants and insects ( mostly ants), how does the shredded hardwood bark mulch do with the ants?

  16. says

    Where in Ohio do you live? I find everything you post so interesting. I live south west of Shreve, Ohio, which is SW of Wooster. Thanks for all the tips, and very interesting emails, and videos.

    • Kitty West says

      hi sandy

      i havefamily who live at shreve. i also wonder where mike lives i am in southern ohio.

      happy growing in 2012

    • Gordon Waddington says

      I truely believe Hemlock is the best Mulch of natural wood heratige. It breaks down nicely each year to fine black organic soil. The hardwoods seem to layer, rot, and do not break down fast at all. It may be good in very dry open areas but for nice groomed house gardens, Hemlock is my prefered mulch-looks great and smells wonderful for a long time.

  17. Ray Piechocki says

    Hey Mike,
    Great video on mulch. I learned a loy. I live in Savannah, Georgia, and the mulch of choice here is pine needles. It is cheap and is available anywhere.I have lived about three years and I have heard that pine needles do not make great mulch. What is your read on this?

  18. Art Pudark says

    Hi Mike,
    Re “compost that you buy contain material from a sewage plant” “you should not use it in vegetable garden”;
    It used(?) to contain heavy metals, etc, but aren’t these ingredients limited, or not part of sludge now?
    What of shredded newsprint, or color-magazine shreddings?
    Thanks, Art

  19. Lola says

    Where do you weigh in on hazelnut shells? I live in the Pacific NW (you know… extremely wet here, also have dense clay soil.) I put some hazelnut shells as a cover around my blueberry bushes last year and am SOLD. Not only is the drainage much improved, but pulling the weeds is so easy. I like only having to add them every 5 years (not looking for them to break down so much as drain well.) I’ll be adding them everywhere this year! My only concern, do they pull nitro too???

  20. Johnny Cruz says

    Hi Mike,

    That was a good clip, the one where you have the different types of mulch…. I learned a few things…


  21. Harold Whitaker says

    Sense I’m from nc just wandering how fine pine bark should be ground too? I live in in a rural area and use all leaves for compose.

  22. Anis Bootwala says

    Hi, Mike; i get a lot of pine bark mulch here in atlanta, but my purpose of using mulch is to prevent weeds. I will spread a layer of around 3 to 4 inches thick around a tree and about 3 feet in dia to control weeds.I hope it is o.k.

  23. Linda says

    Well, I’m 63, and I have been gardening since I was three. I never knew this! I can’t believe, that this was not in the 100 books I have on gardening. Thanks a lot.

    This past year, I asked my favorite nursery where they got their dirt — I got some. I also planted $500.00 of tulips and daffys. I am eagerly waiting for my garden to start blooming this spring! I do enjoy your posts.

  24. Kathy Dawson says

    Hi Mike! I’ve been following your sites for about a year now and I just love all the information you give out. You are such a down-to-earth guy (no pun intended) and give such simple, sensible information.
    Regarding the mulch – great video and very accurate. A note on the colored mulch – people need to be careful when using this. If they have a load dumped on their driveway, they need to make sure they get it used up before it rains or they will have a nice big stain to look at! Also, I hate the died mulches because if some of it wanders out into the grass, it is so ugly. Also, the died stuff fades too fast and looks pitiful. If they use the hardwood bark, it just kind of disappears into the dirt under the grass.
    I too use it in a soil mix. It’s great! Everything you said about it breaking down and improving the soil is so true. Here in Fort Wayne, Indiana we have that wonderful clay, which I’m guessing you also have. I use anything I can to break it down. I also have a little trick for my compost. I just make big old piles in my boxes (4×8 foot, 12 inches deep) in the fall and mix a little dirt between the layers. In the spring, I just plant my stuff on top of them. They love it, and are fed all summer.
    Anyways, thanks for being you! I really look forward to all of your information. It confirms most of what I’ve picked up over the years (I’m your age) just by messing around. I garden full time for other people, and it’s the blessing of my life. I’m not happy unless I have my hands in dirt.
    God bless you! Kathy

  25. Malcolm Brown says

    What to think of using grass clippings as mulch? Seems like they would have lots of nutrients. Normally I let the cuttings stay on the lawn, but when the grass is growing fast (or I miss a week) I have to rake or blow off the excess. I have used this as mulch around the ornamental trees and shrubs beds.It mats and keeps the weeds down.

  26. Jann Keith says

    Mike, I really enjoy your widsom and wit about gardening. I live in Springboro, which is between Dayton and Cincinnati. I have a year old rose bush, planted in a pot that needs to be trimmed. I feared doing it in the fall thinking the winter was going to be ‘normal.’ The bushes have tiny leaves growing and wonder if it is too late to trim it. By trimming I mean shaping it. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Keep up the good work. I am anxious to get my ‘bibs’ on and get down and dirty. Best wishes.

  27. George says

    I see Ceder bark mulch in my garden center, but it is not as fine as the bark mulch you show. This stuff is quite chunky. Is that any good? I want it to put around mature Rhododendron bushes because the people that came to blow the leaves last fall also blew away all the ground cover, so I have bare exposed soil around everything now.

  28. Chris says

    Very informative video, I like it. Didn’t know ground hardwood bark mulch is good for plants. It seems this would be a good addition to a compost pile to help aerate it and thus speed up composition. Pretty hard to find hardwood bark mulch around here. Do you think pine bark chips run through a shredder would be comparable?

  29. JoAnn Forrest says

    Have so appreciated your inspiration and so value your opingion from years of successful experience. This was most helpful to read about pros & cons of both mulch & compost. Just wanted you to know that you have opened up my world to better understanding home gardening and you also bring a spark of motivation and ingenuity.. Thanks again, and so grateful to be among the many who receive your Emails and benefit from your expert experience.. May we all have a great year of gardening this next year, Take care, JoAnn

  30. Jennifer says

    Hey Mike! I definately learned alot from this, thank you! Living in NE Mississippi in a loggng town, I’ve got easy access to pine mulch & hardwood mulch. Especially since an f5 tornado cleared 90% of the timber here last April. Ive got many piles of ground up pine & oak stumps everywhere. I cannot wait to get started gardening this year!

  31. Shawn says

    I have a lot of long needle pines on my lot. I use that to keep my weeds under control, buy I am hesitant to plant a food crop in the beds because I am not sure what it the vegetables would absorb from the soil having been mulched with pine needles for many decades.

  32. Subramaniam Krishnan says

    Your article is well written and very good. The importance of mulch in not yet understood by many farmers. Good to have your guidance.

  33. Susan says

    What do you think about pine needles as mulch? Also, I’ve had such bad problems with termites, I’m thinking of using stone in my beds next to the house.

  34. Marilea says

    Thank you for clarifying the differences among the various mulches. We have access to Mint crop residue. It is available after the mint oil is steamed out. Farmers here use it abundantly on summer fallow. I need to know what is it’s value to crops and does it harm earth worms?? I would greatly appreciate any and all information you may have.

  35. Michelle McKim says

    One thing you neglected to mention that I learned. The free mulch from tree services can contain disease. I made the mistake of mulching my trees with some of this. I lost a 30 ft tall willow and a 5 yr old lovely red birch because of it.

  36. Alexander Diamond says

    Hi, Mike,
    I have a crabapple tree and a lilac, both planted as seedlings a few years ago, now about 7 feet tall. I need to move them. Is now a good time? I live in zone 5, in midcoast Maine. Thanks for your help…

  37. says

    Living in the Colorado River area of central Texas requires garden soil development because of the sugar sand. My question is: May I use the fallen bark from an oak tree (died of natural causes) to make fertile soil?

  38. carol says

    Mike, You didn’t mention cypress mulch. We use it on our path through the wooded area because it doesn’t become scattered by the wind and rain. I’ve heard that it deters insects but don’t know if that’s true. What do you think?

  39. Polly Boone says

    Hey there Mike, Spring has sprung down here in NC and unfortunately so has the wild onions, right in the middle of almost every plant I have. Any suggestions?

  40. ellen weber says

    Thanks for all your wonderful information.I was wondering about the rubberized mulch. I use it only for decorative purpose in my beds, is this okay?

    • Janet Neal says

      Hello Mike! Have to ask you your own feelings about useing rubber mulch. I helped a friend put down black gardening paper, then brown rubber mulch. We are in Florida and we knew enough not to but the mulch up to the shrubs as it would get hot.What do you think! Can’t wait for an answer.
      Janet & Peggy

  41. Moni says

    Mike, You are a cornucopia of information. It just fills and overflows. I find myself taking notes when you post a new video. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us all. You are a gem! I have made a notebook of my notes for George, my husband, and he loves sitting with me listening to your posts. This mulching question is one we’ve had for a couple of years now. We will never use anything but hardwood mulch from now on. It makes the most sense. Thanks again for taking the time to teach us all.

  42. Ron Naida says

    For my shrub and flower beds, would I be better off without mulch? I am located in the NW Chicago burbs.
    Like Anis, I lay 3-4″ to curb weed growth, however, it doesn’t work well and find myself constantly pulling or spot spraying weeds. Last yr I used 3x ground whole trees- bark, stumps, logs. The company get it from their tree service (roadside, yards etc).
    After watching your video, I will probably go back to hardwood bark. Problem is it cost 2x more and lasts 2 yrs tops. I use flower and shrub granules and recently installed a fertigation tank w/a sprinkler system so nutrient depletion is not much a concern.
    Also, assuming I forgo the mulch, to control weeds how do you feel about propane burning? Weather & fire conditions permitting of course.

  43. Chuck says

    Mike, Thank you for all the great videos and information that you publish. I have learned a lot from them and appreciate all the time and effort that you put forth to do this.

  44. Rick says

    Just wondering if mushroom “compost” is really beneficial in the garden. I usually till in about 2″ of it every spring and it does seem to loosen up the soil but is there any nutritional value?

  45. Roger Middleton says

    Mike, the information is great, but I have three items to add. Pine bark mulch in the South tends to harbor roaches and since mulch is often used close to the house it encourages roaches to enter the house. Also, some ‘compost’ is not really composted well and will pull nitrogen from your plants. And I have seen some colored mulches who’s dye washes off and colors the sidewalks and driveways after the first few waterings. All are good for their purpose – just need to know all the drawbacks.

  46. Dale Willie says

    I like all the information Mike provides. It’s informative enough for a Newbie to learn how to use his/her land to make a living growing things that will help their local communities and economies. What more could a person ask for?

  47. Jessica says

    Hi, Mike, love your site and e-mail messages. Add to your tips about mulches, I used a ‘brown mulch’ got cheap from Home Depot – and wound up with the most disgusting mushrooms you ever saw (look them up) called ‘stinkhorn mushrooms’ that cropped up everywhere. Had to pull them out along with a bunch of my herbs and plants. Never again. Will be more careful about buying mulch in the future. You advice is perfect!! Thank you.

  48. Don says

    Very informative video. Thank you.

    What about Cypress mulch? How’s its nutritional value? Home Depot runs a special on it several times per spring and summer, and it’s CHEAP. (I read that it’s so cheap because it’s coming from the tropical rain forests.)

  49. Jackie says

    Hi Mike. I found your film explaining the difference of all the mulches was very informative. Not knowing better about 5 years ago my neighbor had some trees cut and everything chipped up. I thought I was in heaven as I took some of it to put around my high bush blueberries…big mistake. I don’t spray the blueberries and that first year I had so many different bugs on the bushes it was difficult to harvest. I purchased some dark twice shredded mulch for the flower gardens and big patches of yellow fungus grew on it. Is the fungus a common problem?

  50. Mitzi says

    I use the free stuff from the county dept, I can take my trailor there and they will even load it for me. It seems to do great for my area, breaks down, blocks weeds and my plants grow great, I couldn’t ask for more.

  51. Freddie LeDoux says

    Hi Mike
    I really like your tips. I live in south Louisiana, do you have any tips on pruning fruit trees, grape vines, berry bushes, etc.
    Thanks, keep up the good work.

  52. Linda Kirk says

    I have recently moved to Ky. someone told me wood ash is good for a flower bed. Do you have any comments? thanks.

  53. Todd says

    Just remember, when mulching young plants, do not mulch to deep. If mulch is to deep, it causes the mulch to heat up and it can ‘burn’ and even kill your young and small plants. When mulching young/small plants, I have found it helpful to first cover the area around the plant with a few layers of newspaper and then put 1-2 inches of mulch on top. The newspaper prevents weeds from growing and the mulch is thin enough that it will not over heat the plants.

  54. Jane says

    It’s a good information Mike. 3 yrs ago we have 9 trees cutdown in out backyard. We had them chips and spread along our fences to smother weeds, last year there were lots of mushroom growing on them. They look edible its very tempting to harvest them.

  55. Gary says

    Hi Mike,
    What do you think of stump grindings? I know a tree man that has offered them to me. I seen them and they look good.

  56. Jerry says

    Mike, you didn’t mention rubber mulch, made from recycled tires. As a consulting arborist here in central Florida, I get many clients asking about this stuff, which is popular down here. I tell them not to use rubber mulch because it adds no nutritional value and keeps the soil underneath way too hot during the summer. Good for controlling nematodes in the soil, but really stressful for plant roots.

  57. Brenda says

    Hi Mike, I use the double ground bark mulch and like you did say that it decomposes alot faster. I did use some cyprus mulch a few years ago for my mom and I was wondering if that was a good choice or not.
    Thank for all the great advice.

  58. Ed says

    Hi Mike. I have a 6 or 7 pine trees in my yard. I use the pine needles that fall from the trees for mulch. What is your opinion of using that.

  59. Cynthia says

    Hi Mike, I appreciate all the information, and I looked to see that you live in zone 6. I wondered, if I live in zone 5 and planted a fruit tree that was grown in zone 6 and the fruit tree tolerates temps from say 6 through 4 zones will the tree be as hardy as one grown in my zone 5 ?

  60. says

    I live in South Carolina & pine bark mulch is plentiful so we use it a lot. Since it was not included in the video, what do you think of its use? Hardwood mulch is available at Lowe’s & Home Depot so I have used it but pine bark is the most plentiful. I even use sifted pine bark mulch to get pieces around 1/8″ to 1/4″ to mix into bonsai soil with small river rock & turface. Makes a great bonsai soil mixed in the proper proportions depending on the plant or tree being bonsaied.
    Your website is great. I’m trying some Japanese Maple cuttings in the sand container method recently demonstrated. Thanks for your information.

  61. Linda Halcomb says

    I put down mulch last year and had lots of mushrooms come in my beds and I hated it what kind of mulch and what causes them? It was supposed to be hardwood

  62. Patricia says

    Mike, before I read your article about the quality and types of mulch…I bought the brown mulch. I covered most of the mulch with window screen to keep the leaves off and it turned out great now that I have uncovered it. I ran out of window screen and used lawn material, well those places hidden by the lawn material have mold. What can I use to get rid of the mold, hopefully with a natural product that won’t hurt my plants? I have turned the mulch. I would like to buy hardwood mulch and mix it with the brown…would this work?

  63. Gloria says

    Nuts. I use mulch from Home Depot or Lowe’s when it is on sale. I used the mulch on my rose bed. What should I use on this area?
    Thank you.

  64. Jennifer says


    Thanks for the great information on mulch. Could you teach us about compost?? I’m really confused about how to do this. :(

      • gill says

        mike, we have fer bark out here and it decays pretty fast and it can be used as potting soil mixed or straight . Does fer bark have the same stuff in it as the hard wood bark?
        Thanks Gill

  65. Dare Luck says

    Help…our NC mulch yards mulch have ants that kill my flowers and scrubs every year. I just figured out the ants are the problem. How can I kill the ants before I put the mulch around my plants?

    • Mike says

      Dare, not to be controversial, but I’ve yet to find a living thing in a load of mulch. The mulch in mulch pile can easily heat up to temps exceeding 150 degrees F. and not much will live through that. And ants should not kill your plants. Ants are just part of the natural ecosystem. I’d look into this more before you are convinced that this is really what’s happening.

  66. rose macaskie says

    Did you read about hugelkultur? The Germans and Austrians use wood piled up in a mound or hugel and covered with soil, which mound makes a bed in which plants grow really well and that from day one. I imagine the wood gets full of funguses that break it down for the plants without needing to secuestra so much nitrogen as bacteria breaking down woood might need. The mound of wood seems to feed plants and to hold a lot of water and so help them through the summer, so it is a system that contradicts the idea that wood will hog all the nitrogen making it a bad neighbor for plants.
    Has your book come out yet? It is past September or did you mean next September. I want to buy it. rose macaskie

  67. anna marie says

    I have lots of cedar trees here in the appalachian foothills which I have to trim yearly. I chip the snaller branches and end up with a pile of chipped wood and green. is there anything wrong with using this material in the compost pile? thanks

  68. Sharon says

    I live in Central Texas and have always used hardwood mulch in my flower gardens… is the very best. Thanks for a very informative video.

  69. Michele says

    We have a sawmill in Wisconsin and I am constantly telling people about how great bark mulch is. I was trying to find out all I could about pine mulch. I know pine needles kill plants and usually I recommend those who have needles to rake them to the center of the path first that they will be covering for a walk area in the woods. Then I recommend to buy wood chips for those areas. Flower beds we like to recommend bark mulch. Our bark mulch is mixed depending on what we are cutting that day. Our wood chips are sent into a separate pile. I know that black walnut kills plants but wondered about pine due to the needle issue but all my research says no. I found your site most helpful. Thank you.

    • Mike says


      In many parts of the country pine needles are raked, bundled and sold for mulching. I don’t think they harm plants at all, and since it really takes them a long time to break down they make a pretty good mulch.

      Pine bark is extremely popular as a growing mix. Most of the nurseries here in northern Ohio pay crazy amounts of money to have pine bark shipped here from North Carolina to use in their potting mix. Many of them use it in a fairly fresh state.

      • Michele says

        I used it the week I wrote my entry and am happy I did to try to cover flowers peeking out of ground. It has been too cold here and didn’t want them to freeze. Am so glad I did because we have had snow 4 more times since. The last was 2 days ago. Looking for spring here in Wisconsin.

      • Rose says

        I understand pine needles have a lot of acid in it, so should you use in your flower beds as a ground cover?

  70. Feodor says

    For the lady who wants to eat mushrooms she knows nothing about.Answer: can you please add me to your will. Mulch I live near the gulf [SEAWEED]it works great. What about good old peat moss.I here they are using canfer mulch” new to me.Florida vegetable gardening is a whole new game from other states.

  71. Jason says

    Awesome info. Thank you for helping to educate us.
    I did not know that the wood chips etc can pull nitrogen etc. At Home Depot, they sadly had almost more rubber mulch stuff than natural wood in general and most was dyed anyway.
    I found this very scary and disappointing. I hope that others too will understand the ramifications of this. Why would I put a bunch of rubber in an organic veggie garden? But some may not know why not too, maybe they will find Mike. I know better and Mike’s info here sure helps provide some great guidelines. Thank you Mike! Happy gardening

  72. Kitty says

    Hi Mike –

    Super interesting. I was going to buy shredded cypress. I an guessing that falls into the nitrogen-hogging wood mulch?

    • Mike says

      I think shredded cypress is okay because it breaks down much more slowly, pulling just a little nitrogen at one time.

  73. bob graves says

    you need to watch the back to eden movie and tell me what you think about the wood chips. his answer is totally oppisite of yours on using wood chips from the back of a chipper truck from a tree service co

    • Mike says


      Wood chips eventually become a good source of organic material, but it takes years before they can be considered something to be added to a potting mix. On beds they’re fine.

  74. says

    i just potted up some roses and small trees and I put wood bark and chips in the bottom for drainage is that ok? Plus i use shredded cedar mulch on the top of most of my plants. Whattya think Mike? Thank you for your time, Margie Miller.

  75. Jaevick says

    While cleaning up a rough winter’s mess here in Northwest Ohio, I discovered my mulch isn’t as colorful and there are lots of pieces that have a shiny stain/varnish side. Thanks Menard’s for selling me 70 big bags of someone’s dining room table!

  76. Debbie Miller says

    My husband wants to discontinue the use of mulch and replace with a tiny gravel! Your thoughts?

    de b

    • Mike says


      Gravel itself is pretty harmless. But if you put black plastic or weed barrier cloth under the gravel that can create a mess that you have to deal with later on. Laying down cardboard before the gravel would help and it wouldn’t be there to haunt you ten years from now.

  77. says

    Can I mix black mulch with my potting soil mix in my vegetable garden? I wanted to make a layer of black mulch underneath three inches of potting soil mix. Will that harm or help my garden plant roots? I have very good soil under the black mulch. I am thinking the mulch will hold more water and not dry out as fast keeping the plants and roots well fed.

  78. Kathy Driskell says

    I live in Texas, and around here, they sell a lot of “no float” cypress mulch, and it is very economical. Have you seen any of that, and what do you think of it?

  79. shun says

    Hello Mike,

    Can I mix black mulch with my potting soil mix in my vegetable garden? I wanted to make a layer of black mulch underneath three inches of potting soil mix. Will that harm or help my garden plant roots? I have very good soil under the black mulch. I am thinking the mulch will hold more water and not dry out as fast keeping the plants and roots well fed.

    • Mike says


      I wouldn’t put any mulch at all in a vegetable garden, or if I did I’d put it over the soil. Black mulch is more than likely dyed wood chips from ground up pallets.

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