Publications Plus online catalog
This Land
57 Ways To Protect Your Home Environment (and Yourself)
50 ways 57 ways 60 ways

32. Use Yard Waste As Mulch

benefits of mulch

Green waste, such as tree limbs, leaves, and grass, are not a problem in the forest. Dead organic material is all just part of a larger nutrient cycle. Homeowners might do well to take the same long view as Mother Nature by putting yard waste to good use as mulch around trees, shrubs, and other plantings.

Mulch benefits your landscape by conserving soil moisture; maintaining uniform soil temperature; minimizing soil erosion and compaction; reducing weed problems; giving a neater, more finished appearance to the flowerbed, garden or other planting; and altering the soil structure to increase root growth.

mulching tips

Apply mulch about 4 inches deep (no deeper than 6 inches), and keep it at least 6 inches away from tree trunks. With established plants in the garden, apply mulch in mid-spring, when the soil has warmed up sufficiently for active root growth. This will keep the ground cool and delay root development.
mulching plants

With newly planted material, apply mulch after the plants are set in place and watered well. If you plant in the late summer or early fall, apply the mulch immediately after watering the plants so that soil will be kept warm during the cool nights. Keep organic mulches wet when applying them to the soil.
straw mulch

Organic mulches have little effect on the nutrient level in the soil and should not be considered a substitute for fertilizer. In fact, quickly decaying mulches—fresh leaves, wood chips, and straw—can remove a considerable amount of nitrogen from the soil.
organic mulch

If organic mulches are kept too wet, then fungi, bacteria, and molds can develop. Also, insects and rodents can overwinter in some organic mulches. And although sphagnum peat usually lowers the pH, most other organic mulches are slightly alkaline (pH above 7.0).
compost mulch

Several types of yard waste can make good mulch, with compost rating as one of the best. Leaves make a better mulch if they are composted, and grass clippings are best when used dry. If you apply fresh clippings, spread them loosely; otherwise, they will mat down, produce heat during composition, and give off an offensive odor.
wood chips

If you need to dispose of branches and other woody material, one option is to rent a wood chipper. Wood chips are very durable and make an excellent material for covering paths and walkways. If used on landscape beds, periodically apply fertilizer to prevent nitrogen deficiencies.

University of Illinois Logo