What are the Different Types of Wood Mulch and the Benefits of Each?

  • date
  • February 26, 2021

These are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Popular Types of Wood Mulch

The time has come to lay down some new wood mulch. Awesome! Your landscape plots and flower beds are going to look glorious clothed in that new layer of weed-suppressing, soil-enriching goodness!

But wait, have you decided what type of wood mulch you will use yet? That’s a crucial decision because the kind of mulch you choose will make a huge difference.

There are many different types of wood mulch to choose from. But don’t sweat it! We’re here to help with an overview of popular mulches and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Keep reading, and you will be ready to get to work with your ideal type of mulch in no time!

Hardwood Bark Mulch

Hardwood bark mulch is the most popular type of organic mulch on the market. It consists of pieces of aged bark from hardwood trees, such as oak, hickory, ash or maple trees.

Advantages of Hardwood Bark Mulch

An undeniable benefit of hardwood bark mulch is how great it looks. The irregularly sized pieces can give landscape beds a very natural and pleasing appearance. And unlike some mulches, that attractive appearance won’t fade quickly over time.

Hardwood bark mulch also works wonders for the soil. It is excellent at conserving water as it protects the soil against evaporation. The mulch also helps aerate the soil by allowing air to flow through it easily.

Another great thing about hardwood bark mulch is how easy it is to find. It is one of the most common mulches on the market today, and it is also relatively inexpensive compared to other groundcover options.

Disadvantages of Hardwood Bark Mulch

While hardwood bark mulch is a great all-purpose mulch, it can have its drawbacks. For example, if you have plants that thrive in acidic soil, then hardwood bark mulch can be a problem since it turns the soil alkaline as it decomposes.

Hardwood bark mulch can also attract termites and other pests since it forms a barrier over the moist soil. Termites can congregate in that environment and, if the mulch is near the foundation of a house, can make their way into the home. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take precautions when laying the mulch to avoid termite problems.

We should also note that hardwood bark mulch and many other types of wood mulch on this list can be a fire hazard. Of course, the severity of this risk depends on where you live. For example, if you live in an area prone to wildfires like California, the fire risk is much more of a factor than for a homeowner in the Midwest.

Image of freshly-laid hardwood bark mulch in a garden plot

Shredded Hardwood

While hardwood bark mulch consists of large nuggets of bark, shredded hardwood is made up of thinner and smaller strands.

Advantages of Shredded Hardwood

Shredded hardwood is even better at trapping moisture than hardwood bark mulch. It also decays faster and adds more nutrients to the soil as it does.

The shredded pieces also hold together better than the large pieces of bark. As a result, they are better for laying in sloped areas because they won’t roll away. Plus, they are less likely to float off in a rainstorm.

Disadvantages of Shredded Hardwood

One of the drawbacks of how well pieces of shredded hardwood hold together is they can tend to compact over time. This compaction can make it harder for necessary nutrients to get to the soil through the mulch layer.

Like hardwood bark mulch, shredded hardwood is also harmful to acidic plants, can attract pests and can be a fire risk in drier climates.

Pine Bark Mulch

Pine bark mulch is a lightweight mulch most often derived from pine trees. However, it can also consist of pieces from softwood trees like firs and spruces. It comes in a variety of sizes and textures, including shredded pieces or nuggets.

Advantages of Pine Bark Mulch

Pine bark mulch costs less than many other organic options. It’s also very easy to apply because of its low weight.

While it does tend to decompose quicker than hardwood, pine bark mulch is still long-lasting. And it adds a lot of valuable nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. The mulch is especially nutritious for plants that thrive in acidic environments.

Disadvantages of Pine Bark Mulch

When compared to the other organic options, pine bark mulch isn’t quite as aesthetically appealing. Its dark brown color looks fine, but it’s certainly not as striking as the appearance of cedar or red-colored mulches.

Pine bark mulch also trails hardwood bark mulch when it comes to moisture retention in the soil. The lightweight wood can’t quite hold in the moisture as well as the heavier hardwood.

Another effect of its low weight is that pine bark mulch is prone to floating away in rainstorms. The mulch also has a hard time staying in place on steeper inclines.

Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch consists of reddish-brown pieces of wood from cedar trees.

Advantages of Cedar Mulch

The two biggest benefits of cedar mulch are its aesthetic appeal and its knack for repelling pests.

There’s no denying cedar mulch both looks and smells great. Its reddish-brown appearance is the perfect accent for any backyard. And its woodsy smell makes for a delightful outdoor experience.

The mulch also does a great job of repelling harmful pests, such as termites. The insects cannot stand the aroma of cedar mulch, so they flee from it.

Disadvantages of Cedar Mulch

Because of its premium aesthetic qualities, cedar mulch tends to be on the pricier side. However, its great appearance and smell wear off quickly. In fact, the wood loses its attractiveness long before it decomposes. Plus, cedar mulch doesn’t add many nutrients to the soil during decomposition. So, it’s much more valuable in the short term than in the long term.

And even in the short term, cedar mulch has its drawbacks. While its insect-repelling is good for pests like termites, the mulch can also drive away insects that help the soil, like ladybugs.

Red-Colored Mulch

Red-colored mulch typically consists of hardwood that has been dyed red to give it a striking appearance. However, some red mulch also includes other types of wood, including chipped-up wood furniture or pallets.

Advantages of Red-Colored Mulch

Of course, the biggest benefit of red-colored mulch is its attractive color. The red provides a great contrast with the natural green of a backyard. And the color tends to stay vibrant longer than the color of undyed mulches.

One common concern with red-colored mulch is that it can harm the environment as it decomposes and sheds the red dye used to make it. The good news is the dye is environmentally friendly. Furthermore, the mulch is treated with iron oxide, which feeds the soil as the mulch decomposes.

Disadvantages of Red-Colored Mulch

The biggest problem with red-colored mulch is the inconsistent quality of the mulch itself. For the most part, the mulch is made from natural hardwood. However, some mulch companies can slip in pieces of demolished decks and old pallets. These unnatural pieces can add harmful things like arsenic to the soil. So, when buying red-colored mulch, make sure you’re purchasing 100% hardwood mulch from a reputable seller.

Because it is dyed, red-colored mulch also costs more than other types of organic mulch.

Image of a person in gardener’s gloves laying red-colored mulch

Whole Tree Chips

Whole tree chips are large chunks of wood made from the entire tree, not just the bark.

Advantages of Whole Tree Chips

Because the pieces of wood are large, whole tree chips have a longer lifespan than other organic mulches. Whole tree chips are also less expensive.

Disadvantages of Whole Tree Chips

If you’re looking for more uniform pieces of mulch, then this isn’t the mulch for you. Since whole tree chips are made from the entire tree, they come in various shapes and sizes. It’s still a great look, to be sure, but not as homogenous as the other types of mulch.

Certified Playground Mulch

This type of mulch is unique from the others because it’s specifically designed to be safe for children’s play areas. It consists of hardwood pieces that have been shredded to meet specific size and consistency requirements.

Advantages of Certified Playground Mulch

Wood mulch is a better option for playgrounds than inorganic options like rubber because it is natural. Organic wood is better for the environment than rubber and doesn’t contaminate the soil.

Hardwood playground mulch is also less expensive and easier to install than inorganic alternatives.

Disadvantages of Certified Playground Mulch

The drawbacks of wood playground mulch include that it needs to be replaced more often than inorganic options. It can also cause splinters and doesn’t absorb falls quite as well as rubber mulch.

Certified playground mulch is also lightweight and can float away in the rain.

Found Your Ideal Mulch?

We hope this guide has helped you identify the type of wood mulch you’d like to use. If you’re looking for somewhere to buy that mulch, may we humbly suggest our own establishment?

At Lumberjacks, we offer premium wood mulch for pickup or delivery. You can either stop by one of our locations in Woodstock, IL, or Lake in the Hills, IL, to load up curbside or call us to place a delivery order. We deliver throughout the Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin regions.

Please give us a call at 815-337-1451 to place your order! Or, if you would like to learn more about our premium mulch, you can read our comprehensive guide on the subject here.