How to Choose the Right Mulch for Your Garden Beds

The right mulch can lead to prettier and healthier plants that are well-nourished and water-tolerant; a win-win for plants and their caretakers.

Here are a few tips for choosing the right mulch for your garden beds this spring:

Shredded Hardwood

The most widely available, this mulch can last for one to three years depending on the depth of mulch and quality. This offers a natural look and offers protection from drought, water runoff, and weeds.

Fresh woodchips are a nice alternative; if you’re having trees cut down make a request to have them shredded on-site and left there. Most tree companies are more than happy to oblige this request.

Cocoa Mulch

Chopped cocoa bean hulls add a dark color to beds and, not surprisingly, a chocolatey aroma for several weeks. The aroma makes it a nice choice for areas that offer seating like benches or patio chairs. This type of mulch is more expensive but can be spread in a much thinner layer. Note that this is not a safe choice for homes with dogs, as the mulch can be toxic if eaten.

Grass and Leaf Clippings

It’s a good idea to chop up grass and leaves and let the clippings decompose naturally, but most homeowners choose to bag them up and add to compost. A thin layer of grass clippings or shredded leaves make a good mulch for vegetable plants. This mulch also adds a nice layer of protection over the harsh winter months.


This is another favorite among vegetable gardeners. When purchasing, ask for clean, weed-free straw, such as at a local nursery. Note that hay always contains weed seeds, so it is not an ideal choice for garden beds.


Compost is a win-win because it provides nutrition and it can dress up garden beds. Compost is often available for free from local municipalities, but keep in mind that if it’s not properly turned, you might inherit some weed seeds and diseases. Bagged compost from a store is a safer bet but doesn’t offer nutrition for more than a few months. Do some research and consider creating your own compost at home.

Spent mushroom compost is the material used to grow edible mushrooms. It is inexpensive in areas where mushrooms are grown but otherwise it can be pricey. It has a nice, dark color that complements any landscape design. Some gardeners find the odor offensive and use it only in backyard areas.

We hope this helps you choose the right mulch for your yard and application.