What Is the Best, Free Mulch for My Gardens for Weed Control?

| 9/9/2008 12:00:00 AM

Tags: mulch, weed control, garden, soil,

Resized grass clipping mulchI would like to find an effective and inexpensive (or free) mulch for my gardens for weed control. I tried some "free" compost from the town and it's now loaded with baby plants of some sort (probably weeds). I tried my own leaf mulch and had to pick out scores of maple seedlings. I've heard about spent hops but I guess it's pretty stinky. Any other ideas?

Your very best bet for free mulch is grass clippings from a yard that has not been treated with herbicides. Not only will the clippings smother the weeds, they will enrich the soil, providing nutrients for the annuals, perennials and bushes they are protecting. Check out Build Better Soil with Free Organic Fertilizer! on more ways to build better soil while discouraging weeds.

If you have a sawmill close to your home, you may be able to get sawdust to use as a mulch. While not as nutrient rich as grass clippings, it will smother weeds. Cotton seed hulls are another good mulch, especially if you live in cotton country. The trick is to find a local product to use as mulch so you are not ramping up your carbon footprint while depressing the weeds.

— Heidi Hunt, assistant editor

6/18/2015 2:51:51 PM

We put in a small pond a few years ago. After we finished we had probably about 100 square feet of pond liner left over. We tried using it to cover up weed and sterilize the soil. Well it was to large and cumbersome to move around. This year I had a thought. Cut it up. We now we have a bunch of small various size " rugs" that we lay on the weeds. After a week under that hot black rubber nothing lives.

sarah zentz
10/18/2010 12:14:00 AM

Without question, wood chips are you best answer. You can find free sources by calling your local tree service companies and have them deliver wood chips when they are working in your geographical area. I am currently directing a documentary film titled "Back to Eden." The website goes into further details of using wood chips as your year round mulching method. www.backtoedenfilm.com

brenda seay
10/10/2010 9:36:04 PM

I'm trying to find out is it's alright to use shredded paper for mulch in the veggie garden. Including colored ink and shinny magazine paper. Someone out there help me. Brenda PS My husband and I subscribe to Mother Earth News, but I've missed any articles on the subject.

8/24/2010 7:25:59 PM

I used to shred newspapers with my riding lawn mower that had a mulching attachment. I would wait for a really still day with no wind. I spread the newspapers, maybe about 3 deep, or maybe more, on the ground where my garden would be in the spring. I then ran over the newspapers two or three times with the mower deck down..They would look almost like confetti when i was done..I then threw manure, either cow or chicken, on top and then watered until the whole area was really wet..By spring the chopped up papers were decomposed.

8/24/2010 1:16:47 PM

I've tried using shredded paper. The problem was, even if I wetted it, it blew around. The neighbor asked who confettied our yard. For Some areas, we us the pull and drop method. It uproots the weed and the weed provides a little mulch. In the fall, we put new litter in the chicken house and use the old litter as mulch over the winter. I've heard that if you break the weed's growing cycle for a full year, it won't come back. We started with a small garden and we did our best to be diligent about the weeds. Each year, we get a little bigger. That seems to keep things in check.

8/20/2010 10:50:36 AM

We use a combination of black and white newspaper, grass clippings and free mulch. I've been told the colored ads in newspapers is toxic. I'm not sure if that's still true or a wife's tale but I'd rather not take the chance. The grass clippings...they work great but you have to keep them pulled back from the plant itself a couple inches (especially in the winter). It can promote fungus and a home of mice and rats around the plant base if you don't. About every 5 years the county pays a contractor to come through and cut back the trees/weeds along the roadside. He mulches it is always looking for a place to dump it. He generally brings us a few truck loads and we use it for a few years. We always let it set for about 6 months to allow it dry out. We've never had a weed problem using this as he generally does the cutting before seed heads are up. We did have morels come up at random a few years ago but no reason to complain about that! Hopefully that helps someone :)

8/19/2010 7:56:27 PM

This last year I didn't rake on the dark side of my house. I left the leaves over the winter, raked them in spring and used them for mulch in my vegetable garden around tomatoes. They were already starting to decompose and were plenty wet so when I put them down they stayed in place. My dad said I shouldn't use them so I stopped, but a few weeks later I found that the rows I used the leaves on turned out to be "miracle grow" babies! The plants were about 6 inches taller, and all more robust than the ones around them without the mulch or with other mulch. I do have weeds and a lot of tree seedlings but leaves worked great in my garden this year!

8/19/2010 7:50:05 PM

Saw dust is great, just beware of any source using pressure treated wood, I think Mother had an article a few months back on the issues regarding arsenic in some treated materials. For years I had a mower with a blower attachment for the grass catcher, and I produced quite a bit of grass clippings from two acres in south Louisiana. It really built up the soil in my garden, which began from a section of pasture with clay a couple of inches below the topsoil. I regret no longer having that equipment. Beware also of grass clippings from commercial areas. I once picked up 4 huge bags from a theater and had many gum wrappers, snickers wrappers, plastic straws and cup lids showing up in the garden for weeks afterwards.

8/19/2010 7:09:15 PM

The grass is good but weeds still poke up but not as bad as with nothing, besides, where else am I going to dump those clippings? We have the fence line where the neighbors dogs pee runs under the fence and kills our grass, areas where the mower will not go, and the bare earth between the plants in the garden.

aileen _1
8/19/2010 6:57:45 PM

Is it true that you can introduce some sort of fungus (?) to your garden by using grass clippings for mulch? I have had friends tell me "We will never ask for grass clippings again!"

john m_3
8/18/2010 6:43:37 PM

i live in central texas between san antonio and austin. lime stone is our environment. so, i have found that one of the best mulches is autumn leaves. i have a shreader and place them on the beds. at times when i have a surplus, that goes into a compost pile. during the spring and summer, i pick up grass clippings that my neighbors have put into nice new plastic bags and layer the compost pile or put them directly in the garden. i can get cedar sawdust from a nearby place where they mill all kinds of cedar.it smells great and repels insects. i usually line the pathways in the garden with the cedar sawdust. the next year the stuff in the pathways goes on the beds. then we get more cedar sawdust to fills the pathways. i think for the homeowner, the investiment in a shreader chipper is the best investment.

8/18/2010 6:39:22 PM

I use shredded newspaper. i buy it by the ton ($30) and it gives me about 70 large garbage bags. Sometimes I soak it first. It stays in place that way. The paper uses soy ink so that doesn't pose a problem.

8/18/2010 4:26:34 PM

It is worth mentioning, that besides free of cost, mulches need to be free of toxic substances. For example, hay and straw may have been grown with nasty pesticides, burlap may have been treated. Know your sources.

8/18/2010 4:22:52 PM

In our community garden, we use a variety of mulches including newspapers and cardboard covered with leaf compost, grass clippings, straw, leaves, and wood chips, depending on the area to be covered. Cardboard and woodchips together work best for paths because they break down slowly. Think about what might be available from your local industries. We get large sheets of corrugated cardboard from a local brewery. Locally grown hazelnut shells are a popular mulch. We get bunny litter (which is mostly hay or straw) from a local rabbit adoption organization. It has the added benefit of a little fertilizer. Here's a new one (to me at least): One of our gardeners recently started collecting burlap bags from a local coffee roasting company to use as a long lasting mulch for his garden paths. The coffee people are glad to get rid of them.

james cox_4
8/18/2010 12:29:27 PM

I have found that that a combination of newspaper and grass clippings do best... but remember that if the grass clippings are from a lawn with lots of weeds you will find your garden with lots of weeds too... If you put down several layers of newspapers first... then the grass clippings on top of the paper.. then you will be able to pull the weeds that may sprout up from the clippings much easier as they will not penetrate the paper too quickly... another tip is to use old t shirts like landscape fabric.. cut along the sides and make small holes for planting.. water easily passes through the cotton shirts... you can place rocks boards or landscape pins to hold them down to the ground.. various color shirts for different plants too.. Red under the tomatoes make them ripen faster.. You can go to many goodwill stores and buy t shirts for pennies.. or sort through your old t's at home.. they work wonders and they do break down.. given a couple of years... You can even sew the bottoms, neck and arms together and make a planting "Bag" it is easier to sew the neck and arms first then fill the t shirt from the bottom.. then "sew" the bottom.. you can use wire anything to "stitch the bottom together you don't have to spend much time with it and it dosent have to be perfect... Same goes for old Blue Jeans they make wonderful second use planting bags..

8/18/2010 12:21:24 PM

In response to Troy Martz, is this white ledger paper that's been shredded? You could probably get away with mulching it. Free mulch can be sourced from local tree-trimmers who chip their own wood, too. You're doing them a favor because they don't need to pay to dump the stuff at a transfer station. They're doing you a favor because they deliver it free of charge :) For extra credit, you can sheet mulch with corrugated cardboard sheets (remove all tape or staples), and layer the wood mulch over that. This will choke out pernicious things like crabgrass and bermuda grass, and if you're less than patient you can punch a hole in it for planting, in the spring.

troy martz
8/18/2010 10:37:02 AM

I've heard of using shredded paper for mulch - what are the pros/cons of this? I have access to large amounts of shredded paper that would otherwise go to waste.

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