25 April 2013

The Key to Easier Gardening - and how to get it cheaper! (Spoiler Alert - it's Mulch)

by Robin

You can take any flower bed from ho hum to fabulous with mulch.  Until I learned this simple step I was wasting a lot of time and water to make my flowers happy (i.e. still alive) and the beds attractive (i.e. not completely full of weeds).  

But, ordering a truckload of mulch can be a tough on a frugal family.  We have a large yard and I have a penchant for planning and adding new flower beds.  That calls for a lot of mulch.  When we last did the beds, two years ago, we used 10 yards of mulch.  10 yards!  (We were blessed with the truckload as a generous surprise thanks-you gift from my dad.  I wonder if the truck driver had ever seen anyone cry tears of joy for a delivery before?  I seriously wept.  He looked at me like I was completely cracked.)

This year we are trying something new.  We've found an inexpensive source for mulch.

This year we ordered wood chips from our City.   We were able to have 4 yards delivered for about $90.  Could this be a potential source for you?

Here's some comparison shots:
Our Cheap City Mulch

Typical Garden Centre Cedar Mulch

  • The City mulch is not quite as pretty as a finer grade cedar mulch.  There are small sticks among the chips.  
  • It is also not likely cedar.  There won't be that beautiful smell and this mulch will probably decompose faster.
  • The City mulch is natural in colour.  If you are partial to the other colours of dyed mulches, you would be disappointed.

I am ok with all of these drawbacks, especially given the significant savings.  Four yards of mulch from a garden centre, with delivery, would cost at least three or four times that.

Some years I am tempted to skip the mulch, but then my smart side talks some sense into my cheap side.  I remind myself of the many...

Benefits of Mulch 

1.  Deters weed growth. 
There is less chance of weed seeds germinating and any weeds that do invade, can be pulled out more easily.  This means less work all summer long.

2.  Mulch holds water.
That water can trickle down into the roots of the plants, instead of evaporating back to the air.  If you've found yourself watering your flower beds often, mulch may save you money on your water bill.

3.  Better soil.  
Nutrients from decomposing organic mulches help build the soil and feed plants. 

4.  Controls erosion.
A layer of mulch absorbs the impact of rain and watering, keeping your soil where you want it. 

5.  Looks better.
Mulch can unify a landscape and give the area around your plants a weed free, just watered look. 

6.  Protects plants in winter.
Roots will stay warmer in winter under a thick blanket of mulch. With a thick coat of mulch in winter, plants have a better chance of survival. 

7.  Prevents soil from forming a crust.
A hard top layer of soil prevents nutrients from reaching your plants. 

8.  Protects young trees.
A 3' to 5' circle of much around a tree trunk is recommended for the first few years after a tree is planted. This will protect the young tree from mowers and trimmers and will also eliminate other plants from competing with the new tree for water and nutrients.

The pile is patiently waiting on our driveway. 

Just once, I hope we remember to pump up the wheelbarrow tire BEFORE filling it this year.  Much easier to push when the tires not flatter than a flapjack.

Do you make the investment each year in mulch?  How do you save money in your garden?


This post was originally published in April 2011.  
We are expecting our next shipment of our City's inexpensive mulch - so it felt worth reposting it.



  1. I've never heard of this as an option. Good to know that it is one! We just bought a few bags of mulch for our front yard--but we really should do a lot more than that. Appreciate seeing all the benefits of mulch. We're definitely newbie gardeners and have lots to learn.

    1. Once you start mulching you never go back, Rita! I read your recent post on gardening - you and cane do a great job - you have an eye for choosing plants. My other cheap gardening tip - a nice sharp edger - any bed looks prettier with a clean edge. I always love reading your comments, Rita. Thanks!

  2. timely post- I have mulching on the brain this week. The csa where we volunteer had several loads of municipal mulch delivered. I could use some myself.
    But can I clarify since truck load units don't usually make sense to me? Sometimes aggregate is priced in tonnes and sometimes cubic metres.
    4 yards must mean 4 cubic yards, right? But if that's the case, I just looked at the prices for mulch from our municipality and they list 1.5 cubic metres for $8. (that doesn't seem correct). 4 cubic yards is roughly 3 cubic metres and that would only be $16.
    Seems like I must not be comparing the units correctly.

    1. Hey, cred! I think you are comparing correctly. What makes things costly is the delivery - a yard (i.e. a cubic yard) would fit in the back of a pick up - if you're lucky enough to have one. Much more than that and you're looking at multiple trips, or paying for delivery. If your price includes delivery - that's an incredible deal! :)

    2. Oh, of course! I thought it meant delivered, I wondered why it seemed to be such a small load. But looking at it again, it can't be the delivered cost- it doesn't say but must mean pick-up.
      I am in a small community and this price I'm quoting is from the nearest city landfill (about 20 km from us)- their non-resident fee is $15/tonne (again with the mixing of unit price). I understand that mulch density varies but read about 4 cubic yards/ton (from a government document).
      But our small municipal landfill is pick-up only and their price is $1/yard or tonne- what??. A cubic yard and a tonne aren't even close to equal volume but whatever, still reeeally cheap even at $1/yard.
      We have a pick-up truck so bringing it home ourselves is easy, even if I need 2 loads- it is a great deal. I've googled and found that landscapers typically can fit 3-4 cu yds in a full size pick-up.
      Even though the prices of muncipal/city mulch will vary widely, for those readers with access to a pick-up
      truck or even a box trailer, picking it up themselves can be even more frugal.
      It would be nice if there were a standard unit used, either volume or weight, and then correctly specified.
      ie. if they would refer to cubic yards as cubic yards rather than calling it just yards (it seems they do that for everything they haul in a dump truck) I guess they assume that everyone knows but it further confuses things when they use volume and weight interchangeably. If you're not in the business, it's difficult to convert on the fly given the density of different materials (gravel, topsoil, mulch- all very different).
      Thanks for clarifying the volume issue.


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