Mulch may consist of grass clippings, straw, leaves, shredded bark, and/or other organic residues. ATTRIBUTION: Photo by Pedros~commonswiki (Wikimedia Commons)

Most of us love our gardens but don’t have the funds to purchase bag after bag of commercial mulch. Making your own mulch is not only a money-saving endeavor but is also better for the environment and your plants. Mulch can be made inexpensively by using yard debris, such as grass clippings, leaves, and even kitchen waste. While creating homemade mulch takes time, the final outcome is moist, nutrient-rich organic material that will help your plants thrive.

1. Estimate the Amount of Mulch You’ll Need

A mulch pile is a gathering of organic materials that are collected, mixed together, and allowed to decompose over a period of time. Choose a site on your property to build this pile that is level, well-drained, and easily accessible. Next, determine how much mulch you’ll need to fill in areas around trees and flower beds and along garden walkways. Mulch should be spread evenly and needs to be at least two inches deep.

2. Collect and Shred Leaves

Leaves should make up the bulk of your mulch pile. Rake up leaves on your property into a large pile. Opt for a warm day when the leaves are dry, as shredding wet leaves is difficult. Next, shred the dry leaves with a leaf shredder or lawn mower. If you wish to use leaves for mulch in the spring, you must shred them because whole leaves will not break down enough over the winter.

3. Add Other Organic Materials to Your Pile

In addition to leaves, other organic materials can be added to your mulch pile for extra nutrients. Grass clippings, shredded pine needles, hay, straw, sawdust, wood chips, wool, and shredded newspaper can also be used as mulch. Fallen limbs and large sticks can also be added to your mulch pile but must be first sent through a wood chipper.

4. Allow the Mulch to Set

Once you’ve created your mulch pile, it’s time for it to set. Cover your mulch pile with a plastic tarp and allow it to sit over the winter. Every few weeks, turn the pile so that the mulch decomposes evenly. In approximately two to three months, you’ll notice a white layer of mold growing on the mulch. This is known as leaf fungus and adds significant nutrient value.

5. Spread the Mulch Throughout Your Garden

Come spring, your mulch will be ready to be used. Using a rake, evenly distribute the mulch throughout your garden in a two-inch layer. Mulching around shrubs and trees is an excellent way to prevent injury from trimmers and mowers. However, you do not want to pile mulch against the trunk of a tree, as this can attract pests and disease.

6. Continue Adding Materials

Over the spring, summer, and fall, continue adding organic materials to your mulch pile. By starting the building of your new mulch pile in the spring, it will be ready to use in the fall to protect your garden further.

7. Protect Your Garden With Extra Mulch

Before winter, add an additional layer of mulch to your garden to protect it from the harsh winter elements. Dormant plants are the most susceptible to freezing injury during the winter, which can cause the plant to not bloom well in the spring. Protect your garden by adding another layer of mulch in the fall before the ground freezes.