Find Inexpensive Mulch

Gardening and landscaping have become more popular and the price of supplies has drastically increased in recent years. Mulch, which is anything that covers the ground and smothers weeds, can be expensive from the garden store. Here are some inexpensive sources of mulch for your yard and garden.


  1. Ask your local landfill if you can take some flattened cardboard home for your garden. They usually will if you call ahead for permission. Or obtain large pieces of cardboard elsewhere, for example, an appliance store.
    • The cardboard will stay flat better if you use a string trimmer to clear the area first. Trim as close to the ground as possible, being sure not to damage bark of shrubs or trees with the trimmer. You could also mow the area closely.
    • If the ground is dry, water it. Put down cardboard, overlapping edges by at least 6". Weigh down the cardboard with bricks, large rocks, or best of all, a heavy (4") layer of mulch such as wood chips. This is most effective when the ground is damp and the growing season is active. Late winter is ideal in many climates. You can accomplish the same thing by putting down heavy layers of newspaper and covering with mulch. You may wish to pre-moisten the newspaper by dipping it in a bucket or wheelbarrow full of water.
    • If you're using cardboard, remove tape, staples, labels, and anything else that won't break down eventually.
  2. Place a square of used carpet on the planned garden area and leave it over the winter. By spring, all the weeds will have been smothered and it will be easier to start a garden there. Move the carpet to the next area and repeat. Cover the carpet with wood chips for improved aesthetics. In late spring, rake off the chips, remove the carpet, and rake the chips back onto the weed free area to keep new weeds from growing.
    • Carpet is not biodegradable, so plan to remove it before you plant.
  3. Get a permit from your local Forest Service to collect rocks. In Idaho it costs five dollars. Rock makes a great mulch and will extend the growing season by retaining heat into the night. This is less environmentally friendly than wood chips, and small rocks may well work themselves into the soil and make it harder to dig weeds out.
  4. Many tree services and electric companies will deliver a free load of wood chips. Some electric companies remove plants that grow near wires and shred them. The electric company will deliver a load (dump truck) of not cleaned wood chips. Look in the yellow pages. Wood chips make perhaps the best mulch, except on vegetable gardens. Coarse wood chips allow weed seeds to fall down through them, then never get enough light to germinate. When the chips rot, they will improve the soil and you can add more. Use a generous layer—at least 4".
    • Place wood chips on top of cardboard or newspaper to exclude weeds for longer (at least until the mulches break down). The wood chips will soften the look of the material underneath.
  5. Ask your local coffee shop if they throw out empty burlap coffee bean bags. (These also make a great wrap to protect shrubs through the winter.) Coffee shops may also be able to offer spent coffee grounds and filters, which can be composted or applied to soil directly.
  6. Many cities or municipalities will collect branches and leaves in the fall, which are ground or chipped into a mulch. They often are available for free to local residents at a service center or some other location. You will need to contact the appropriate office in your area to check. Be sure to bring your own rake or shovel and containers or pickup truck.
  7. Collect your own leaves. If you have a large tree that drops leaves, or your neighbors do, take a bin and collect them. You can use a lawn mower to help shred them, let the kids play in piles, or just use them whole. Whole leaves will take a lot longer to break down, but they will smother weeds better in the meantime.


This video presents a unique way of finding inexpensive mulch.


  • For organic mulches, such as wood chips and leaves, you can leave them on the soil to break down, till or turn them in when they are broken down enough, or scoop them up to compost in a bin or pile until they are ready for use. Put down fresh mulch on top of, or in place of, organic mulches each season.
  • Some weeds, such as Bermuda grass, will push right up through loose mulch, such as wood chips. Use cardboard or newspaper to exclude light completely. Cover with wood chips if you want a more attractive appearance.


  • Avoid placing mulch right up against the base of trees and shrubs. It encourages insects and diseases, and risks burying the crown. Leave a 6" ring clear of mulch.
  • Don't use colored or glossy newspaper or ads for mulch in a garden because of the chemicals they contain. Black and white newsprint is fine.

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