Mulch Alternatives: What to Use Instead Of Mulch (2022)

The purpose of mulch is to protect seeds from the erosion effect of water, retain moisture, suppress weeds, and is used in winter to protect plants against frost heaving, but not everyone is a fan, and it might be time to avoid affordable alternatives.

Mulch can be quite expensive especially if you need to lay it thick year after year.

Mulching can make your garden look more attractive, but lots of gardeners claim it’s tiresome, although it can improve your garden structure and while many find the hassle worth it, some do not. Not everyone can deal with the practical reasons why mulch is essential which is why finding substitute comes in handy.

Another reason many look forward to replacing mulch is that it is also a breeding ground for pests. However, mulch is still considered essential for keeping weeds at bay, hence it does have its advantage and disadvantage.

While mulch has been part of gardening for centuries, some alternatives can pamper and care for your plants just the way you want. There are a lot of things to worry about when using mulch but not to worry, check the list below for an alternative that works for you.

Mulch Alternatives: What to Use Instead Of Mulch

Mulch works pretty well in summer depending on the type of mulch you are going for but relying on shredded wood or ark mulch might not be what you need in spring. When mulch is done close to the house or too much of it can simply lead to termite infestation.

But not to worry, below are what you can use instead of mulch and their pros and cons;

1. Pebbles, Rock, And Pea Gravel

Rock, pebbles, and gravel are often the first alternatives that come to mind and gardeners claim this is just as effective or more than mulch. This method can be used for landscaping such as flower beds to retain moisture and minimize weed growth.

Using this as an alternative is economical and rock especially won’t need replacement.

If you have a large garden and do need to spend less than rock and pebbles would be a great idea and this complements minimal landscaping too. Pea gravel can be gray, rust, shades of white, and translucent. This option is low maintenance.


  • Rocks and pebbles are economical in cooler climates as it extends the growing season by retaining heat
  • It doesn’t decompose like organic mulch
  • Minimizes weed growth and retains soil moisture
  • Resists wind and keeps weed from coming through uncovered space


  • Rock doesn’t decompose and will be difficult to remove if you decide to switch to a different yard or mulch
  • This won’t provide your plants with nutrients, so you will have to regularly fertilizer to give your plants more nutrients

2. Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is another hassle-free alternative. Rubber mulch has been proven to be safe for plants and since it is made of 100% recycled rubber, it acts as a barrier to weed growth, and it does have some advantages over organic mulch. This type of mulch will make its way directly into the soil since it’s non-porous.

Rubber mulch insulates the soil from heat and cold which makes it an all-season alternative mulch. While rubber mulch can be great it sure has its advantage and disadvantages too. It can help repel insects and termites too.


  • Lasts for a very long time
  • Repels insects such as carpenter ant and termites
  • Keeps the soil insulated and moist
  • Resistant to wind and won’t fade away
  • Cuts down the use of tree or organic mulch
  • Reduces unwanted plant growth.


  • It can be expensive
  • Doesn’t provide nutrients to the soil and can rather excrete chemicals into the soil
  • It’s flammable

3. Pine Needles

Pine mulch is derived from fallen pine needles. This mulch alternative works effectively just like organic mulch, and it’s ideal for flower beds.

Pine cones can be found anywhere on the farm, so it’s an inexpensive way to bark in the garden. It is extremely easy to spread, you can simply process them with a wood chipper by running them over with a lawnmower.

Pine mulch can be highly nutritious, although they tend to decompose slowly. They are considered more visually pleasing than leaves and since they are acidic enriched mulch, they work extremely well, especially for fresh plants like garlic, tomatoes, onions, chrysanthemums, gardenias, and holly.


  • Inexpensive
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Visually pleasing, use as border mulching to create a design
  • Retains water, nutrients, and oxygen


  • Slow to decay which can provide your annual plants with a few benefits
  • Must be cautious with the acidic level

4. Compost

What to Use Instead Of Mulch
Image: @adhgraphicdesign via Twenty20

To add nutrient to your soil and also protect it, organic compost might be the ideal mulch alternative to choose. Compost tends to enrich the soil and since you can make your compost as well, it doesn’t cost much and your yard gets an endless supply of rich organic matter as well.

Compost is used to add essential nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen to the plant. The compost you can make yourself includes coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, water, and dead leaves.


  • Enrich plants and trees with essential nutrients
  • Compost holds moisture in the soil
  • Cheapest mulch alternative
  • Helps plants grow faster and healthier


  • Too much can burn your plants and make the soil too acidic
  • Can smell pretty bad.

5. Leaves

The cheapest and most common alternative to organic mulch is leaves. Leaves make quite a great mulch in vegetable and flower gardens. This can save you quite a lot of money since you can find leaves lying around, and it contains nutrients derived from trees, so it keeps your plants healthy.

Mulched or shredded leaves from trees can be great for both your lawn and garden bed. It is important to select your trees carefully and avoid leaves that have scabs or a random bight spot.


  • Environmentally friendly
  • Adds essential nutrients to the soil
  • Inexpensive
  • Promotes plant health.


  • Mulched leaves can create layers that are too thick and cover the lawn thereby preventing light and air from reaching the soil and grass
  • Might infect the plants
  • Needs to shred or mulched before leaving them on your lawn.

6. Cocoa Bean Hulls

Cocoa bean hull mulch is another common mulch alternative. This type of mulch includes using shells of the cocoa beans, and it does just the same function as your regular mulch. This is a great alternative to wood chip mulch since it retains water better, and it’s a great way for you to increase soil vitality.

You will be doing your plants lots of good with cocoa bean hulls, this is best for a keen gardener as it also makes an attractive top cover for your vegetable patch and flower bed.


  • As it breaks down slowly, it adds beneficial nutrients to the soil
  • It’s natural and suppresses weed growth
  • Insulate plants and retain water well
  • Smells and looks great
  • Colorful and aesthetically pleasing
  • Encourages earthworms to stay under your garden which acts as little fertilizer.


  • Can be expensive
  • Lethal to animals when consumed

7. Landscape Fabric

This is a popular option for minimizing weed growth on your lawn. This is an inorganic type of mulch but just as effective as any mulch. You can use landscape fabric or plastic material to control weeds which is a better alternative to rocks, but it won’t provide any nutrients either.

Landscape fabric type of mulch is often best for just keeping weed at bay, and it doesn’t have any nutrients to offer either.


  • Repels certain insects
  • Suppresses weed growths
  • Works well with other mulch


  • Takes time to install
  • Unsightly and may not hold well in bad weather.

8. Grass Clippings

What to Use Instead Of Mulch
Image: @MargJohnsonVA via Twenty20

Another mulch alternative that is often overlooked is grass clippings. You need to have these grass clippings dried out before using them, but it’s a cheap alternative worth trying. After mowing your lawn, the composted grass can be used as organic mulch which saves you quite a lot of money.

Grass clippings provide the soil with lots of nutrients and although it can take time to decompose, it’s a natural way to add nutrients to your garden.


  • Contains nitrogen that can help your plants grow
  • Cost-efficient
  • Can be mixed with compost


  • Can cause unwanted plants growth
  • Needs extra time to dry and compost to prevent the potentially damaging heat from affecting plants.

9. Newspaper And Cardboard

Newspaper and/or cardboard is another mulch alternative that can help suppress weeds and regulate soil temperatures as well. This is a cheap alternative depending on how much paper you are using, and it can be used similarly to landscape fabric.

Newspaper or cardboard are not visually appealing options, but they get the job done. Using shredded newspaper and cardboard is versatile and eco-friendly too. Newspaper is biodegradable and cardboard decomposes, so your garden gets some nutrients.


  • Inexpensive and eco-friendly
  • Returns nutrients to the soil
  • Regulates soil temperature


  • Some cardboard and newspapers are treated with ink that can harm plants.

Wrapping Up

Mulch is an essential part of gardening and every gardener tends to have a preference. Traditional mulch has been around for years, and it’s the most common type of mulch but having alternatives help you decide which is best for your lawns and gardens.

So, if you have asked what can I use instead of mulch? Above are alternatives that work in any garden.