Organic vs. Inorganic Mulch – What’s the Difference?

Is Organic Mulch Better for My Trees & Plants?

Mulching your landscape offers a number of benefits, such as weed reduction, moisture retention, erosion control, soil insulation, and beautification. But different mulches can have different benefits and figuring out which works best for your yard or garden will help you reach your landscaping goals.

When you go to a garden center or your regular mulch supplier, you may notice two options: organic and inorganic. But is there really a difference between the two? And which one works better?

Organic Mulch vs. Inorganic Mulch – What’s the Difference?

Organic mulches are usually by-products of other industries, while inorganic mulches are made from non-natural or human-made materials. While the two types are on the opposite ends of the spectrum, each have been used for aesthetic reasons and have their own sets of advantages.

There are several benefits to using organic mulch in our landscape, including:

  • Conserves soil moisture by reducing evaporation
  • Minimizes soil erosion
  • Moderates soil temperatures
  • Inhibits weed growth
  • Encourages growth of beneficial soil microorganisms
  • Reduces the spread of soil-borne pathogens

Inorganic mulches are mostly used to create barriers to weeds. While inorganic mulch doesn’t provide any nutritional benefits to soil like organic mulch does, there are still other benefits that come with using it. They include:

  • Retains moisture
  • Minimal need for replacement
  • Low maintenance
  • Functionally versatile
  • Higher availability in most commercial garden centers

What is Organic Mulch?

Organic mulch is mainly made of plant or animal materials that were once living. It decomposes over time, which improves soil structure and quality by returning nutrients to the soil. There are a few different organic mulch types, such as:

  • Hard- and softwood bark
  • Municipal yard waste, including trees, leaves, and grass clippings
  • Composted animal manure
  • Newspaper

Organic mulch needs to be replaced frequently as it decomposes and is prone to becoming displaced. The materials in organic mulch also may create a habitat for pests if placed too close to tree trunks.

What is Inorganic Mulch?

Inorganic mulches are made from hardier materials that do not decompose quickly or at all, including some human-made materials. There are a few different types of inorganic mulch that are used for different purposes. They include:

  • Plastic film
  • Landscape fabric
  • Stone
  • Rubber from shredded tires

Inorganic mulches are more costly than organic mulch and may not be appropriate for all sites. Inorganic mulch also may be difficult to install. While rocks absorb heat, they can also reflect heat and cause damaging hot spots within your garden.

When Should I Use Organic Mulch in My Landscape?

Apply organic mulch at the start of growing season, but be aware that as the season goes on, the mulch will settle and gradually rot at the bottom. Adding more layers throughout the season ensures continuous weed control, provides a clean resting place for your garden, and creates a pleasing appearance.

Wood chips and shredded leaves work best as mulch for flower gardens and shrub borders, while grass clippings and straw or hay help vegetable gardens thrive. Compost is a nutrient-rich mulch but works best as a thin layer around plants that can be topped with a different mulch.

So, Is Organic Mulch Better For Trees & Plants?

When trying to decide which mulch to use, it’s best to see what type of mulch aligns with your landscaping goals. Organic mulch creates nutrient-rich soil that helps plants thrive, while inorganic mulch can last longer. Do you prefer low maintenance mulching or does frequently mulching fit into your schedule?

Overall, organic mulch provides more benefits to your plants, but inorganic mulch doesn’t necessarily harm your plants either. Think about your aesthetic, health, and maintenance goals and define which mulch works best for you.

Still undecided? See the pros and cons of rocks and mulch for more insight.

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