The Ultimate Guide to Finding and Using Free Mulch

 Mulch is a necessary component of any organic garden. This ultimate guide to finding and using free mulch will also tell you want to be careful about as you look for free sources of mulch for your veggies.
Grass clippings as a source of free mulch

Welcome to Tuesdays in the Garden! I love these posts where a group of amazing gardening buddies collaborate together to bring you some of the best gardening information on the blogosphere! Today’s another great example of the wonderful information you can learn from these posts. Read to the end for tips for growing cane berries and strawberries, tips for dealing with aphids organically, and also a tutorial for a gorgeous leaf embossed concrete bird bath! My contribution to this week’s Tuesdays in the Garden is all about saving money by using free mulch. Happy Tuesday, Friends!

The Ultimate Guide to Finding and Using Free Mulch

You can save a lot of money by using free mulch in your garden and there are some great sources too! There are a few things you need to be consider, though, when you’re looking for free mulch. You are using mulch in your garden, right? If not, you need to!

benefits of using mulch in your organic garden

Why You Need to Use Mulch in Your Veggie Garden

Two things I wish I had known when I was a brand new gardener were the benefits of mulching and companion plants. Mulch and companion planting are two things your organic gardens really cannot live without.

My favorite reason to use mulch is that it helps keep down the weeds. Anything that results in less weeding is a win-win in my book. But mulch does more that just keep down the weeds. It also helps keep moisture in the ground and reduces the amount of water you need to use on your garden. Another great benefit of mulch is that it can help keep down pests too. That said, mulch can get expensive, especially if you have a big garden. Luckily, there are quite a few places you can find it for free if you think outside the box.

free mulch

Different Types of Mulch

There are two main types of mulch, organic and non organic. Organic mulch decomposes and adds nutrients to your garden as it does so, and you have to keep add new organic mulch every year. Inorganic mulch does not add nutrients because it doesn’t decompose. You can use a lot of different materials for mulch in your garden. Some of the work better than others, and some of them are better than others for different purposes.

Organic mulch:

  1. Straw is a favorite mulch for many plants in the garden including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. It helps keep disease from splattering on plants during rain and also provides hiding spots for beneficial insects like spiders.
  2. Bark mulch is my favorite for mulching around trees and for using on paths. It decomposes more slowly than other types of organic mulch  and I love it for making walkways in my garden.
  3. Shredded leaves added in the fall will decompose over the winter and add valuable nutrients to your soil. They also help attract earthworms!
  4. Newspaper and cardboard are great for smothering existing garden areas if you want to establish new beds. They’re also helpful to control weeds and they help your garden retain moisture too.
  5. Grass clippings are kind of a mixed bag. I use them to mulch potatoes primarily when I have no other choice, but they blow away easily and decompose really quickly. They can also get pretty matted down and create a barrier than can keep rainwater from reaching your plants.

Inorganic mulch

Inorganic mulches do a nice job of blocking weeds and retaining moisture and they don’t decompose so hypothetically they don’t need to be replaced each year. They also don’t add any nutrients to the soil.

  1. Black plastic – Black plastic can be put on the garden in the winter to kill the weeds and bugs, but it’s not great for using in the summer as it gets very hot and keeps out all moisture.
  2. Rocks – another type of mulch that’s great for garden paths or for areas that require a lot of drainage. We used a lot of rocks in our desert landscape in Arizona.
  3. Landscape fabric. I actually used landscape fabric between my potato rows this year because I bought a roll last year that I never used and it was the right width.

    Where to Find Free Mulch

    1. Freecycle.org / Craigslist – When I originally wrote this post in 2013, Freecycle was a thing. Is it still? I don’t really know, but I did used to get a lot of fun things from Freecycle, so it’s worth checking out.

    2. From your own lawn – If you collect your own grass clippings as you mow your lawn, you can certianly use them in your garden. The same goes for the leaves. We actually don’t collect ours because we prefer to leave them on the lawn, but they’re there, free for the taking.

    3. Landscapers or lawnmowers – We have had neighbors drop off grass clippings before. People with large yards who bag their grass are often only too happy to dump it near my garden.

    4. Transfer Stations – Our local city collects branches and downed trees all year and has a huge pile of wood chip mulch, free for the taking! I’m using the wood chips on my garden paths and it’s just perfect. I love all the free mulch we’ve collected so far this year.

    5. Farmers – This might be something only rural peeps like me have access to, but I have had really good luck cleaning straw out of old sheds. I got a whole wagon full this year from my father-in-law, and last year I got a bunch of old hay before another barn was burned to the ground in our area.

What You Need to be Aware of About Free Mulch

While free mulch can save you a lot of money, there are a few things you need to be aware of as you look for sources.

  • Straw and hay can be full of weed seeds that make your garden hard to weed. I have used both on my garden in the past and haven’t noticed too many weeds where I put the mulch, but I do have a lot of weeds elsewhere.
  •  A lot of people spray chemicals on their lawns and you don’t want them in your garden. If you’re getting free grass clippings, do ask about chemicals.
  • You also don’t want to put mulch on your garden that is full of bad bugs.

How’s your garden growing? Have you found any creative sources of free mulch? I’d love to hear!

Tuesdays in the Garden 2017

Tuesdays in the Garden

Hearth & Vine

From Patti at Hearth & Vine – Leaf Embossed Concrete Bird Bath

frugal family home

From Shelly at Frugal Family Home – How to Care for Roses

an oregon cottage

From Jami at An Oregon Cottage – The Ultimate Cane Berry Guide

angie the freckled rose

From Angie at The Freckled Rose – A Simple Guide to Growing Strawberries

homemade food junkie

From Diane at Homemade Food Junkie – Organic Controls for Aphids

bren haas

From Bren Hass – Planting Kid Friendly Blooms

You can save a lot of money on your garden by using free mulch. Here are a few things to think about and places to help you find free mulch for your garden!

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Comments

    • Hi Daisy! We use plain ole straw and grass clippings to mulch the plant seedlings. We got it for free too by cleaning it out of a farmer's shed. I forgot about it! I use the wood chips to cover the paths and make a berm around my garden. Happy Gardening!
  1. I would so love to have a garden that big. The picture of the kids is great. Like my sister use to say" God made dirt. Dirt can't hurt." That saying came from her getting in trouble for eating mud pies. Thanks for the fond memory.
  2. You are WAY ahead of me!! I think we may talk about getting the tiller out & hitting the little strip of garden we have after the holiday weekend. Our farmer's market opens on Tuesday, so I will get some transplants there to make myself get started!!
  3. I would love to have a garden the size of yours. Looks like you have a great start with all of the plants in. I saw the picture of your kids with all the mud on them, looks like they had a lot of fun. My son won't even touch the dirt to plant the seeds he needs to use a pencil to make the whole in the dirt. He just doesn't like to get dirty. But will wipe his face on his shirt, go figure. :)
  4. The pretty purple plant is Hesperis, common name is Dame's Rocket. It is considered invasive in some areas. I hope it isn't on the bad plant list for your area. It has a lovely scent & reseeds easily.
    • You're right! I just googled Dame's Rocket and that's definitely what it is. It may very well be invasive in our area. It's better than the thistles, though, so I'll take it! :-) It's confined (for now) to a small area of our property and I like it there. I'll keep an eye on it. Thanks so much for your comment!
  5. We were incredibly stubborn about mulching due to the cost. We went WAY too long before finally trying it. This is such a helpful article. FREE mulch is the best but it does have to do the job and NOT create problems. I started with free hay in the garden and the seeds were live. Oh boy that was a weedy mess. We used straw and black plastic this year in our flower beds with bark on top. We have mulched with gravel and landscape fabric too around ornamentals. Works great! We also rented a chipper one year and pruned back a bunch of cedar branches. That made EXCELLENT pathway mulch. We may buy a chipper and use it every year. We have cardboard layered in the veggie garden with straw and plastic. Just cut through it to plant. Great stuff!
  6. We've used newspaper before and it worked great. But you are right you have to be careful about weed seeds. We got some free mulch one year, I added it to the garden and we had this weird grass popping up all over it took me two years to get rid of it.
  7. I'm so jealous that your transfer stations offer the pile of free wood chips! Around here everyone wants them and neighbors run after trucks to get them to leave them at their house - they never make it to the transfer stations. :( They are pretty precious, ha! Oh, yeah, I did buy cheap bales of straw from some old farmer when we first moved from the city - turns out he was just trying to get rid of old hay and my paths grew better grass than our lawn, lol. It's a beautiful thing when it does work out, though - love the weed suppression and even moisture from mulch!
  8. Hi Michelle, We mulch our beds every year. Since they are all ornamental it helps with weeds and makes them look neat and tidy. Usually we purchase wood mulch from a local landscape company. They bring it to our house by the truckload. One of the more arduous tasks in the spring, but well worth it. It can get pricey. I need to check our local municipality for the possibility of any freebies. Thanks for the great suggestion.
  9. Great post, Michelle! I use both organic and inorganic mulch in my garden. Your free resource will help me saving a lot of money. I intend to write some posts about applying mulch in the garden.

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