As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
You can read my full disclosure statement here.
In this article, I will share garden mulch ideas, such as how to start new garden beds with mulch, and explain the secret to easy gardening, no weeding using mulch and more!
Gardening and weeding tend to go hand in hand. Mulching a garden can help prevent weeds and therefore make for easy gardening.
Today we will go over garden mulch ideas, how to lay down mulch, mulching tips and tricks and exactly how to lay down mulch to help make for less work in the garden.
What if I were to tell you a simple gardening secret? Using mulch for no weeding, it is the secret to easy gardening! Read on for more garden mulch benefits and ideas!
Get the Beginner's Guide to Back to Eden Gardening Guide TODAY!!!
Other articles you may be interested in:
Using Straw and Hay in the Garden
East Simple No Work DIY Composting
How to Make a Straw Bale Cold Frame
How to Use Eggshells in the Garden
Our favorite Homesteading and Gardening tools in our Amazon Shop!
Our Garden Harvest Tally Spreadsheet is now available!
Why Mulching Helps Manage Weeds
What is mulch? Mulch is simply covering the bare earth with organic matter. If you leave bare earth exposed, weed seeds will germinate. It is that simple really. Cover the earth, and they won't!
This is what I mean when I say mulch. A simple covering, that prevents light from reaching the dirt. If sunlight cannot be seen by the seeds, they will not germinate. Or only very few will.
It is so much easier to remove a few weeds, than a jungle or forest of weeds, when there are too many to even count! Mulching creates easy gardening, no weeds! Here is photographic proof!
Garden Mulch Ideas
There are many ways to use mulch in the garden. Some mulch ideas include straw, hay, leaves, wood chips, bark chips or even a few layers of newspaper or cardboard!
Your goal is to prevent sunlight from reaching the bare earth. In larger garden applications, even using silage tarps or black plastic sheeting can be used to prevent the weed seeds from germinating.
Reasons Why You Should Not Rototill
Another thing that creates a great many weeds, is rototilling. Yes, it breaks up the lovely dirt, but you know what else it does? Brings up a thousand million trillion little weed seeds! Exposes them all to the sunlight! Eeeek! Many millions of baby weeds have just been born!
So to get rid of the baby weeds, smother them with a layer of newspaper or cardboard first. Then lay the mulch on there thick! Don't let the sunlight in!
Rototilling also disturbs all of the lovely little micro-organisms in the soil. It dehydrates the soil, making the soil uninhabitable by these micro-organisms who prefer damp dark soil.
Lasagna Gardening, No-Till Gardening and the Back to Eden Gardening Methods
These garden mulch ideas of using layers, mulch and not rototilling, are also known as lasagna gardening, no till gardening and Back to Eden gardening. Layering on layers of mulch is a key factor in all of them. Layering the mulch, helps lesson the weeds, keeps the water in so less watering, and even more importantly, feeds the soil.
Ruth Stout and Lee Reich both have books on this subject of no till gardening. But Paul Gautschi, is the man himself, famed for his Back to Eden documentary on this subject. See video down below.
Cutting Weeds vs Pulling
You may have wondered what the differences are between cutting and pulling weeds, as cutting is definitely an easier option!
The problem is, if you just cut the weeds, say with a weed wacker, they will just grow back. So pulling them, including the entire root ball of each weed, is the best way of the two to prevent them from coming back.
However, if you cut those weeds right down to the ground, and then smother them with card board and mulch, that is truly the best way to kill them.
Smothering Weeds and Grass with Cardboard
If you are planning to start a new garden bed in an area covered with grass or weeds, cover them with cardboard, wet newspaper, contractor brown paper or something similar. Be sure to cover fully, by overlaying the layers of cardboard or paper, so that no light reaches below.
This is a new large vegetable garden bed we put into a grassy area of the lawn. First we put down cardboard, then some white wood shavings we got at the feed store, and then on top of that we laid down straw several inches thick.
Then wet down that layer of cardboard or paper well, and layer a good 6" of mulch on top of it. This layering process will smother the weeds and grass below, killing them. And then they will break down, and feed the soil below.
This method does take some time to work. So it is best if done in the fall, and then is left to sit over winter. By spring, you will have a lovely new bed ready for planting, and a new layer of mulch on top!
If you are in need of large quantities of cardboard, be sure to search on your community Facebook group, or buy/sell groups or you local buy nothing group.
Types of Mulch to Use
One you have your garden beds ready, you can really use almost anything as mulch, but ideally, it should be some form of organic matter that will decompose naturally. Not organic as in "certified organic" like fruits and veggies, but organic as in natural.
Some garden mulch ideas to use are straw, leaves, grass clippings, saw dust, wood shavings, bark, but most ideally, wood chips with green leafy bits chopped up with the wood chips. All of these natural things will decompose just as they are meant too.
Straw is easy to come by and fairly cheap, which is why I use it when I don't have wood chips on hand. Straw is better than other types of hay, as it has less weed seeds, as it is what remains after they harvest the wheat (which is the seeds!).
One place to source these arborist wood chips are on www.chipdrop.com. Sign up and offer them $20 for a truck load. I have found when I don't offer anything, I have gone as long as a year with no chips. As soon as I bump it up to $20, I usually get a load within a week or two.
Benefits of Mulch
As the mulch decomposes, this draw worms and other little micro-organisms into the soil, breaking it up and leaving compost behind. Yes compost. Your mulch turns into compost!
That's why the leafy green bits shredded in with the wood chips make it the ideal mulch. Brown and green together for quick and successful composting.
If your using a mainly all brown mulch, sprinkling with composted chicken manure is all you need to do to supplement it. But anything natural will eventually decompose and break down and then feed your plant!
Ok, we already touched on how mulch smothers weeds, and feeds your plants over time as it breaks down. But mulch also keeps the water in the soil!
Less watering! Less work. See what I mean? It really truly is the secret to less work in the garden.
By providing a layer of insulation if you will, between the soil and the air, less water evaporates. Are you not sold on this concept yet?
There is one downside. Slugs and snail love to hide under the mulch. Stay on top of them with these Natural Slug and Snail Control Methods.
Planting in a No Till, Back to Eden Garden
Many people get this far, are convinced that it all make sense, but then are not sure how to plant their garden. They are so used to rototilling every spring, what do they do now? Again, it is very simple.
Brush away the mulch a little bit, until you get to the soil. Dig a hole in the soil, plant your seedlings, put the mulch back. Or, brush the mulch away to get to the soil, plant the seed. Once the seed germinates, push the mulch back.
Above, you can see a garden row with thick straw mulch that was laid down early last fall, now at the end of winter. No weeds! This is the same row, with the straw removed. Only a few weeds! I can count only 5 in that photo!
Get the Beginner's Guide to Back to Eden Gardening Guide TODAY!!!
Maintaining the Mulch
The mulch will break down over time as it decomposes. It is important to continue to add layers of new mulch. I am still in the process of converting my entire garden to the Back to Eden method of gardening.
Until I get enough wood chips on hand to complete that, I have been using straw as mulch. In the fall, I put a thick layer of straw down.
I touch up where it is thin in the spring and I may even touch up again mid summer. If you are using wood chips, put 6-10" at the beginning. Than add an inch or two each year.
Fertilizing the Mulched Garden
When starting the process of using mulch in the garden, you should begin with a layer of compost or aged manure as the base layer, than cover that with straw or wood chips or whatever else you are using. After that, a sprinkle of composted chicken manure at the start of the growing season should suffice.
This is also called No Till gardening, or Lasagna Gardening
Do NOT mix the mulch into the soil. Mixing the mulch into the soil, or tilling it in, is not good at all. As the mulch breaks down, it will steal all the nitrogen from the soil. Using mulch and layering on compost and more mulch without tilling, is called No Till gardening.
For some more neat ideas or hacks on No-Till Gardening, check out my blogging buddy Joy's article No-Till Garden Hacks: 7 Easy Ways To Create Magnificent Garden Beds
So just continue to layer on top. Again and again. The first year is the trickiest, as the whole system is in the infancy of being developed, so you may need to add extra supplements. Ideally, you would want to start this gardening method in the fall, and let it sit and stew all winter long to get going.
Before adding new mulch on for the season, layer any good organic matter you have lying around on first. Such as compost, grass clippings, aged chicken manure, fresh goat or rabbit poop or bedding.
Adding these layers up over and over is called lasagna gardening. My friend Susan over at Learning and Yearning has this excellent article on Lasagna Gardening.
Back to Eden Gardening Film
Are you convinced yet? Does it make sense? Or seem too simple? This is what finally convinced me. This film, which is free to watch online, Back to Eden Gardening with Paul Gautschi:
The Back to Eden documentary (link to film)
Please watch it if you have any doubts about it. I believe it is the key to the future of small scale farming. Now, a little disclosure here. Paul Gautschi is a religious man. It will come up throughout this film. However, if you are a gardener, please please watch it anyway if that turns you off.
This film is so full of information that really is just good common sense. You will see, if you haven't already come to understand, how mulch, no till and Back to Eden Gardening or Lasagna Gardening are the secrets to easy gardening, no weeds!
Get the Beginner's Guide to Back to Eden Gardening Guide TODAY!!!
More Paul Gautschi Video's on YouTube
If the film wasn't enough, and you need more of Paul's wisdom, or are curious how he does things in his garden, please check out L2Survive's Video Channel on YouTube. He has filmed Paul numerous times. He has many video's of Paul giving tours of his property, pruning lessons, talking about his chickens and how he uses them for fertilizer, how he grafts fruit trees, etc, etc etc.
Please check out his channel and give him some love. I am so glad that someone is able to document all of Paul's knowledge so it can be shared with the world!
Easy Gardening with Mulch
I hope these garden mulch ideas have led you to understand the benefits of using mulch in your garden. Gardening and weeding do not have to go hand in hand! Easy gardening is where it's at!
Please comment and let me know if you use this method of gardening and how it has worked for you. Or, let me know if you have been inspired to give this method a go! Happy Gardening! With Mulch!!!! HA!
Want to Remember This?
Please share this "Garden Mulch Ideas" article to your favorite gardening board on Pinterest!
This will be SO HELPFUL with spring just around the corner. We spend sooo much time weeding, so I can't wait to try this out!
Hi Emily! Please let me know how it goes! Happy Gardening!
I will have to try this when we garden this summer. I hate weeding! 🙂
Hi Christine! Thanks for stopping by! I hope you give it a try, it really does work! Happy Gardening!
Jessie @ This Country Home
We're finally getting with the program & will be mulching with sawdust this spring (tried leaves in the past but they blow away-like to the next county!). Mostly to retain moisture in our raised beds-it gets pretty windy here! I did the lasagna layering a few years ago & this year we're having to move our beds. Let me tell ya, the soil coming out of those beds in phenomenal! Thanks for a great article!
Hi Jessie, you should compost the leaves instead! I would be curious to hear how the sawdust works for you. Anything is better than nothing!!! Good luck with moving your beds and thanks for stopping by!
I just watched Paul's video. I have been moved! I have been a gardener for many years. Some good and some bad gardens have plagued my mind. I believe now this can work. I'm going to set up this all natural system in my yard. And of course, start small. I can always add to it, easily, with this method. Thank you for providing me this enlightening video. And thank you to Paul for bringing me back to earth and grounding me.
Isn't it an amazing film? I am so glad his knowledge has been documented! Good luck with your garden transformation!
Hi there ! Was planning on garden beds and have chosen otherwise on our new land. This sounds like a no brainer ! But I am wondering how long it typically takes for the garden bed to be ready for planting from the very beginning ? Already being late February...
Hi Tamara, thank you for sharing this gardening method-and your obvious enthusiasm for it! I inherited my home from my grandparents, who both grew up on farms when the "wonders" of pesticides were thought to be a gift from the gardening gods. While the grounds of their estate reflect their love of gardening and hard-work, I have run into some unfortunate side-effects from the years of harsh chemicals use.
I have decided to cover the contaminated earth (after watching my last harvest wither) with newspaper>compost>garden soil> mulch, and plant my garden in this top layer.
In your opinion, Is it necessary to wait another year for the first layers of mulch to break down, or will my plan suffice in giving a few hearty ground covers a fresh place to thrive?
Thank you again for your insight,
I think in time, this should work for you. But when starting out a garden of this type, Paul suggests laying down the layers in the fall, letting it sit all winter, and then planting in the spring. When planting, you still need to get down into the earth below the woodchips (or whatever mulch you are using) to plant your seeds or transplants. You cannot only plant in the compost and mulch layer. The roots do need to get down into the soil below. However, you mention adding garden soil into the mix as well. I guess it would depend on how much you are adding? But yes, I think it will work for you if you plant in the soil, not the mulch. It may take some time for the system to break down enough and for the micro-organisms to do their good work and begin fixing the bad soil below. I know that I would be too impatient to wait another season....I say give it a go, it can only be better than your last season and I think it will continue to improve over time. Good luck!
I've been a fan of no-till gardening for several years, and have a thick layer of straw all over my veggie beds. I do use cedar mulch in my flower beds just because it's prettier, but it's not nearly as efficient as the straw for keeping the weeds at bay. The only problem I ran into last year was that the straw I got had not been properly prepared (or something!) and it grew. Really, really grew! I ended up pulling it up and putting down different straw (and yes, it was straw, not hay, at least the feed store told me it was). Anyway, other than that, I use straw because it's much easier to find around here than wood chips.
Hi Dawn, yes, sometimes the hay does sprout, but I find that when it does, it is super easy to pull up. Unlike chick weed, dock, clover, buttercup, etc. I would rather pull up hay sprouts any day than those! One tip, if you do see a bunch of it sprouting, grab a metal rake when you see the baby sprouts, and just give them a good raking, pulling the roots out as you go. The baby seedlings will soon die with their roots not in the ground. Also, if you pile enough straw up (I usually put a few inches down in both fall and spring), not many seeds reach the ground beneath and less will germinate. Keep that ground covered! Thanks for sharing your mulching methods with us!
Bloomington Tree Services
Wow, thanks for introducing the Lasagna Gardening technique. Thanks for explaining it so clearly. We can't wait to try it out.
Jan in AR
I have been planting a back to eden garden for many years but I have a problem that I don't know how to tackle. We have been blessed with a strawberry patch that has gotten out of hand. My husband started it a few years back as a single row it is now about 6' x 50' and produced more strawberries than I could handle last year. Late last summer, I was super busy with a wedding and other projects that kept me from tending the garden. So, the strawberry patch is consumed with bermuda and other weeds. I did not mulch it last year so the mulch from summer of 2019 is now compost I assume. Should I hand cultivate this patch or could I run a plow through it and sacrifice the strawberries to get a fresh start?
Hi Jan, you could definitely till the patch over for a fresh start. Or, my preferred method, would be to lay cardboard over the patch and lay on top of the cardboard 6" or more of an organic mulch of some kind. The mulch and the cardboard together would smother any weeds below, and by not tilling, you preserve the healthy ecosystem within the soil and add back to it as the cardboard and mulch break down. Then next spring, dig down to the soil below to plant your new strawberries. Hope this helps!