24 Cheap Mulch Ideas to Save Money

Grass clippings mulch

Let’s face it — purchasing mulch at a garden store can get expensive, especially if you have a large area to cover.

Whenever possible, I like to keep my gardening activities as low-cost as possible. When there are SO many great cheap mulch sources, there’s no reason to buy it at the garden center.

Check out some of these mulch ideas, and comment below if you have one of your own that I didn’t include on the list!​

24. Lawn cuttings

Grass clippings mulch
Grass clippings

Lawn cuttings are a classic source for mulch. If you use them, be sure not to spread them too thickly, as they might heat up while they break down (creating a mini-compost pile). They help keep weeds down pretty well.

23. Neighbor’s grass clippings

Neighbor's grass clippings mulch
Neighbor’s grass clippings

If you need to mulch a particularly large area, you might want to troll around the neighborhood looking for bags of grass clippings left out by your neighbors. Better yet, ask a few neighbors to just drop them off at your place!

22. Unfinished compost

Unfinished compost mulch
Unfinished compost

While most of us compost to improve our soil, if you have extra compost that isn’t quite finished you can spread it across your beds and it will hold weeds back pretty well. I usually use some of the compost in my indoor compost bin.

21. Unsoiled pizza boxes

Unsoiled pizza boxes mulch
Unsoiled pizza boxes

While I hope you don’t make a habit of eating as many pizzas as the picture above shows, pizza boxes can be a great way to get “free” cardboard. Just make sure not to use ones that have oil stains.

20. Free wood chips

Wood chips from a tree, electric, or phone company mulch
Wood chips from a tree, electric, or phone company

Why buy wood chips at the garden center when you can get them for free from so many different places? Here are some good resources for free wood chips:

  • Local tree services​
  • Electric companies – they have to trim trees for power lines
  • Phone companies – they trim trees away from wires all of the time

19-15. Waste products from the following:

Parks department mulch
Parks departments have to keep these parks clean, meaning they take away a lot of potential mulch!

There are a bunch of different city departments that are tasked with maintaining and cleaning public spaces. On top of that, there are a few common types of companies that often have a huge amount of waste that they’d be happy to give away. Here are just a few:

  • Food processing​ companies
  • Oil press companies
  • Street maintenance departments
  • Solid waste departments
  • City parks and recreation departments

14. Christmas tree shredding

Christmas tree shredding mulch
Christmas tree shredding

Christmas season is a great time to pick up a lot of free mulch. Instead of going to individual homeowners, go to the companies that offer free tree shredding and see if they’ll give you some of their waste.

13, Shredded newspaper

Shredded newspaper mulch
Shredded newspaper

If you don’t already have a paper shredder, you’re missing out on a lot of free mulch and compost material! Every serious gardener should have one in their home, as they turn junk mail and newspapers into something useful – for once!

12. Wet old newspaper

Wet used newspaper mulch

You can also wet old newspaper without shredding it, and lay it down in your beds. Although it will decompose rather quick, it’s a good preventative mulch.

11. Straw bales

Straw bales mulch
Straw bales

Straw bales are a fantastic mulch if you can get your hands on them. During fall, a lot of local businesses will advertise using straw bales. After fall season ends, they’ll often give them to you for free if you just ask. You can also ask landscapers, or just bite the bullet and buy a couple of cheap bales.

10. Invest in a chipper shredder

Chipper shredder mulch
Chipper shredder

If you have a large enough yard, you should consider investing in a good wood chipper / shredder. These machines make short work of almost any yard debris, turning what would be pure waste into free, easy to make mulch.

9. Stable sweepings

Stable sweepings mulch
Stable sweepings

If you live near stables (or have one yourself), you can use the sweepings as a free mulch that works pretty well. Just contact a stable owner – I’m sure they’d be more than happy to have you do some free work for them.

8. Pine needles

Pine needles mulch
Pine needles

If you live in an area with pine trees, you’re in luck — pine needles are abundant and a fantastic mulch.

7. Broken paper bags

Broken paper bags mulch
Broken paper bags

Most home improvement or grocery stores have a bunch of broken bags or grocery debris that they’d be happy for you to take off of their hands. This type of mulch works much like wet newspaper, though it is a bit more durable.

6. Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves mulch
Autumn leaves

Most gardeners will toss leaves into their compost piles, but you should consider also using them as a really cheap way to quickly mulch your garden. Dedicate some of those huge piles to mulching!

5. Landscaping companies

Landscaping companies mulch
Landscaping companies

Build a relationship with a local landscaping company, preferably a truck driver. Ask them to drop off their landscaping debris at your place after a job. You’ll instantly have enough mulch to last you at least a full season.

4. Old fish bones

Fish bones mulch
Fish bones

One Epic Gardening reader reported that they use fish bones to both mulch and fertilize their soil. This tip is one of the weirder ones for sure, and makes me question just how much fish they eat!

3. Local tree services

Local tree services mulch

Much like landscaping companies, tree services are in the business of cutting and breaking down organic matter. And they’re often overjoyed to have somewhere to dump it, so contact them and build a relationship for free wood chips and tree trimmings.

2. Cardboard sheets

Cardboard sheets mulch
Cardboard sheets

If you’re an Amazon Prime junkie like me, you probably have a wealth of cardboard boxes that are being recycled. Break them down and spread them as mulch in the garden. Cardboard lasts far longer than shredded newspaper or paper bags too!

1. Make your own straw

Plant sorghum mulch
Plant sorghum

I’ve saved the most time consuming — but coolest — solution for last: making your own straw! You can do this by planting fast-growing sorghum and just letting it grow and die, then chopping it all down and voila! You have straw for mulching.

Do you have a favorite cheap mulch tip that I missed? Please let me know in the comments!

plastic mulch pros and cons


18 Pros and Cons of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden

Plastic mulch can dramatically reduce weeds and improve yields through soil warming and moisture regulation. However, it has a dark side for the environment and soil health. In this article, former organic farmer Logan Hailey explores the science, safety, and practicality of using this product in your garden.