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
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
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
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
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
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:
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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
I’m the founder of Epic Gardening, a website dedicated to teaching 10,000,000 people how to grow plants. I enjoy skateboarding, piano, guitar, business, and experimenting with all kinds of gardening techniques!