Action 258: Mulch your garden thoughtfully

plastic bags of mulchDate: 15 September
Action: 258
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ NIL


An action for gardeners, based on an article by The Royal Horticultural Society and an Instagram post by @cleanyourstoop 

Mulching is generally used to save water, suppress weeds and improve the soil around plants. It can make gardening much easier and less time consuming. However, choosing the right mulch can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and your plastic footprint.


Mulches are loose coverings of material placed on the surface of soil. Depending on the type of mulch used, there are many benefits of mulching including:

  • soils retain moisture, reduce watering
  • suppress weeds
  • improve soil organics and provide nutrients
  • deter pests
  • protect roots from extreme temperatures
  • encourage beneficial soil organisms
  • a neat or decorative finish

Mulches can be biodegradable and non-biodegradable. Biodegradable types break down gradually to release nutrients into the soil and help improve its structure and will need replacing from time to time. Use garden compost, wood chippings, bark, leaf mould, manure, or straw (amongst others) for example.

Non-biodegradable mulches do not boost soil, but they do suppress weeds, conserve moisture and can be decorative. Use slate, shingle, pebbles, sea shells, and so on, but not materials made from plastic. Remember that dark coloured material will warm the soil and light coloured mulch such as white gravel will reflect sunlight and keep roots cooler.

Sheet mulches or woven landscape fabric can be used too, slits can be made in the fabric allowing direct planting through it. To allow water to reach the roots use a permeable sheet – a waterproof layer will cause surface runoff and drainage problems elsewhere too.

Read more about mulching at The Royal Horticultural Society website.

Organic mulches

Organic mulches are easy to maintain as they can be replaced by adding another layer when it has completely rotted away. Organic mulch breaks down into the soil into materials that help with water retention. @cleanyourstoop writes …

Mulch is beneficial, especially as a landscape matures; it smothers weeds, conserves soil moisture and regulates soil temperature and erosion until the plants cover more ground and begin providing their own natural layer. Mulch decomposes, along with other natural material, to create duff, a layer of beneficial nutrients, bacteria and organic particles that improves the soil. Unfortunately, many gardeners remove the natural stuff and replace it with endless single use plastic bags full of chip mulch found at garden centres the world over, much of it scrap lumber that has been dyed with unnatural colours.

The carbon footprint to process, package and ship this material is unnecessary.

The vast volume of (single use) plastic used is obscene.

Recently I visited a large mulch pile in my neighbourhood, made up of fallen leaves and natural detritus. I gathered a truckload and used it to cover bare ground until I can relandscape it. (You might be able to secure this material from) tree trimming operations, which diverts it from landfills and incinerators.

Besides its natural benefits, I love the texture of fallen leaves, twigs, acorns and pollen in various stages of decomposition.

Take action

Pledge to make a permanent change that will help the gardening world break free from plastic! Create your own mulch and compost from healthy garden trimmings and fallen leaves and ditch the plastic bags, the drive and the expense.

  • reduce the use of plastic packaging
  • lower your carbon footprint
  • remove material from landfill and incineration
  • enjoy a more natural look and feel to your garden