Homeowners with gardens have many natural, organic and sustainable options for mulching, which enriches soils with nutrients, helps retain moisture and controls weeds. In most regions, many types of trees can provide ingredients. In northern areas, ridding the yard of fall leaves yields a natural mulch.
Apply ground-up leaves, especially from mineral- rich oak and hickory trees, so they biodegrade by growing season. OrganicLandCare.net suggests choosing from double-ground and composted brush and yard trimmings; hemlock, pine, fir and Canadian cedar; and ground recycled wood.
Using a lawnmower with a high blade height or switching to a serrated-edged mulching blade can chop leaves into tiny fragments caught in an attached bag. The National Turfgrass Federation notes, “A regular mower may not shred and recirculate leaves as well as a mulching blade.” Shredded leaves also can filter through grass and stifle springtime dandelions and crabgrass, according to Michigan State University research studies.
John Sibley, former chapter president of the Florida Native Plant Society (fnps.org) and owner of All Native Garden Center, Nursery and Landscapes, in Fort Myers, Florida, says that mulching during the summer and fall is particularly beneficial in southern areas. “It’ll decompose more due to heavy rains and intense humidity and provide more composition to help acidic sandy or clay soils retain nutrients,” he advises. “Applying it in winter will retain more moisture, which is helpful during the dry season.”
Sibley suggests avoiding cypress-based mulch. “It’s endangered, a critical component of U.S. native habitat and can act like a sponge, keeping moisture from plants.” He recommends eucalyptus mulch because the tree is more prevalent, and melaleuca, an invasive exotic that can kill termites and won’t float in heavy rains. Also consider pine straw, which is plentiful in the South.
Ground-up parts of many other plants can also provide natural mulch in their native regions. AudubonMagazine.org cites cottonseed hulls and peanut shells in the Deep South, cranberry vines on Cape Cod and in Wisconsin bogs, Midwest corncobs, and pecan shells in South Carolina.