11 Mulch Alternatives for Landscaping & Flower Beds

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mulch alternatives

Did you decide to landscape your garden but ran out of mulch? And the store near you doesn’t have any in stock either? Time to consider one of the mulch alternatives.

Or is your traditional mulch not doing the job that it’s supposed to and you want some variety?

You don’t need to worry because we have compiled a list of the best alternatives to mulch that you can use according to your specific needs.

11 Mulch Alternatives

Let's take a look at the options in no particular order. You'll find that we've listed the pros and cons for each alternative to mulch to help you keep it straight in your mind.

Pumice Rock

pumice rock can be considered as one of the best alternative to mulch


  • Adds a visual appeal
  • Highly effective in protecting the soil
  • Resistant to different weather conditions


  • Is on the expensive side
  • Since rocks tend to heat up under prolonged sunlight, they can damage weak or sensitive plants

Commonly known as lava rock or volcanic rock, pumice rocks are some of the best alternatives to mulch. Along with retaining moisture from the soil, it also prevents the formation of fungi and mold.

Furthermore, pumice rocks also provide added aeration to the soil, thereby preventing it from getting infected with insects and other creatures.

Most pumice rocks are bright and rusty, which adds to the beauty of the flowerbeds and plants.

Pea Gravel

if you find yourself questioning "what to use instead of mulch for landscaping", pea gravel is the answer!


  • Quite pleasing to look at
  • Doesn’t decompose like traditional mulch
  • Available in a variety of shades


These are not like the regular gravel stones that we see. Instead, pea gravel stones are small stones that are round in shape and very smooth in texture.

Pea gravel stones are also quite aesthetically pleasing and are commonly found near lakes and other bodies of water.

From gardens and front yards to patios, driveways, driveway alternatives, and even playgrounds, pea gravels are some of the most commonly used mulch alternatives. This is also because they prevent weeds and other crawlers from growing on plants.

Rubber Mulch

rubber mulch is one of the most common mulch alternatives for landscaping


  • Quite durable and long lasting
  • Helps to keep the soil insulated and moist
  • Prevents insects from infecting the soil


  • Difficult to find
  • Costlier than other alternatives
  • Secretes chemicals that can be harmful to the plants in the long run

Made out of ground-up or recycled tires, rubber mulch is commonly used in sports fields, playgrounds or other open landscapes. It comes in a wide range of qualities which affect its costs, including various pros and cons.

However, it lasts for a long time. Furthermore, rubber mulch is great if you wish to repel all types of termites and other insects from infesting your garden.


leaves are the cheapest alternatives to mulch around the house


  • The cheapest alternative out there
  • Very environmentally friendly
  • Promotes the health of plants and soil


  • May require a separate leaf mulcher to shred the leaves that can be used as mulch
  • May infect plants if they have been eaten by insects

Leaves are probably the most easily found and eco-friendly alternatives to traditional mulches.

In addition to saving you hundreds of dollars leaves also help to keep the plants and soil healthy owing to their nutrient content.

Newspaper & Cardboard

newspaper & cardboard is one of the most eco-friendly alternative to mulch in flower beds


  • Saves a lot of money
  • Easily available
  • Quite eco-friendly


  • May contain harmful chemicals
  • Cardboards often contain toxic chemicals that can affect the plants

Some of the most easily available materials that we can use as alternatives to mulch around the house are newspapers and cardboard.

You can find these things in almost every household which makes it cost effective as well. Newspapers and cardboard can serve as great mulch alternatives since they insulate the soil quite nicely.

Grass Clippings

grass clippings


  • Quite easy on the pocket
  • Readily available
  • Can be mixed with compost
  • Helps in the growth of plants due to the presence of nitrogen


  • Requires a lawn mower to shred the grass
  • Requires a bit of time to dry the grass or turn it into compost
  • May cause seeding in the ground or unwanted plant growth

Another way to beautify and add nutrients to your garden is by using the grass clippings that you would otherwise throw away from your types of lawn mowers with a bagger attachment.

You can dry or compost the freshly cut grass and thereafter use it in place of traditional mulch to insulate the soil and protect the plants. You no longer need to worry about how to dispose of grass clippings if you re-use it in this way.

Straw or Hay

straw or hay is another popular answer when you ask yourself what to use instead of mulch


  • Quite easy to use
  • Very cheap and affordable
  • Helps in the healthy growth of plants and vegetables


  • May attract animals that like straw
  • Can serve as hiding grounds for insects and snakes
  • Needs regular replacement since they can decompose over time

Commonly used in large plots of land or gardens, straw or hay are quite popular alternatives to mulch. In addition to being quite convenient to use, they also provide the gardens with a rustic look.

Moreover, straw or hay can also be used to retain the soil moisture, suppress the growth of weed and add nutrients to the soil.

Pine Needles

pine needles


  • Quite visually pleasing
  • Can retain water, nutrients and oxygen really well
  • Works well with a variety of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables


  • Might not work in soils with high acidity levels

Commonly known as pine straw, pine needles can also be used in place of mulch. You can use them while they are fresh or dried out too. They are one of the most common answers to the question of what to use instead of mulch.

Moreover, pine needles also provide a more pleasant look to the garden. They can be used just by themselves or along with fresh plants and flowers to add a brighter appeal to your front porch, gardens and yards.

Cocoa Bean Hulls

cocoa bean hulls


  • Organic in nature
  • Works well to retain moisture in the soil
  • Looks great


  • Can be expensive
  • May be difficult to find
  • Are lethal to animals when eaten or ingested

Cocoa beans have hulls (outer shells) that need to be removed before they are eaten or used in foods and drinks.

These cocoa bean hulls are some of the best alternatives to the traditional wood chip mulches. They can retain water, look vibrant and have a pleasant sweet smell. They work well as mulch for urban landscapes such as on balconies and in pots.


the most environmentally friendly mulch alternatives is compost


  • Rich in minerals and nutrients
  • Readily available
  • Quite inexpensive
  • Helps the flowers and plants to grow faster


  • If used fresh, animal compost can burn the roots of plants
  • Can smell bad
  • May react with soils that have high acidity levels

We all know about compost. From being one of the most environmentally friendly options to being readily available, compost is also quite easy to make in your own garden.

It boasts of a lot of nutrients that are rich for plants and the soil. You can also find animal compost along with plant compost, which is more enriched with minerals.

Landscape Fabric

landscape fabric


  • Helps to repel insects and earthworms
  • Can be used in conjunction with other traditional mulches or alternatives
  • Prevents the growth of weeds


  • Not visually appealing
  • Takes a lot of time to install
  • Can’t withstand extreme weather conditions
  • Requires replacement every year

Often known as a weed barrier, landscape fabric is one of the lesser-used alternatives of mulch. Some people place it under mulch or spread out types of landscaping rocks. The problem is the weeds will grow in the mulch on top of this weed barrier in time.

While it helps to retain the moisture and water in the soil and provides good aeration, it lacks nutrients and minerals and requires annual replacement.

What Is Mulch & How Is It Helpful?

A vital product in every garden shed, mulch is a material that is spread over a plant or around it to enrich the soil. Some common types of mulch include compost, decaying leaves, and tree bark.

Gardeners use mulch to help the plant retain moisture, reduce the growth of weeds as well as to insulate the roots of the plants.

Furthermore, this garden material also enhances the beauty and appeal of the flowerbeds. Mulch also helps to reduce soil erosion and can double up as a nutrient for plants after decomposing.

The Need for Alternatives to Mulch

In addition to beautifying and protecting the soil and other landscaping features, mulch alternatives also have the same moisture retention properties as traditional mulch.

However, they add a different touch to your types of gardens. Also, while mulch is quite effective, it can get difficult to maintain and may need regular replacement.

This is where mulch alternatives for landscaping can be of immense help to home gardeners and landscapers.

Cover your garden with one of the following alternatives and save your time, money as well as effort when it comes to enhancing the aesthetics of your garden.

Mulch Alternatives for Every Garden & Flowerbed

And there you have it—the best alternatives that you can get your hands on. However, before choosing an alternative to traditional much, ensure that you know what purpose you need the mulch alternative to serve.

Also, decide the kind of aesthetics you want your garden to have, along with what time of the year you are using the mulch.

Our advice? Choose an alternative that is good to look at, but also provides nutrients and minerals to the soil and plants and lasts a long time.

So what are you waiting for? Put on your gardening gloves and get ready to decorate and revamp your garden, front yards, or porches with these useful mulch alternatives.

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