Maybe There’s No Free Lunch, But There Is Free Mulch

Applying mulch around your trees, shrubs, garden, and landscape beds is one of the easiest and most effective ways of not only keeping plants healthy, but also reducing water usage, preventing weeds, minimizing mowing, and just plain making your yard look better.

According to a North Carolina State University study, a proper layer of mulch will result in a 10 to 25 percent decrease in soil moisture loss due to evaporation, help keep the soil aerated by reducing soil compaction from rain hitting directly on the soil, and reduce water runoff and soil erosion. The insulating qualities of mulch help keep the soil at a more uniform temperature by keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Types of Mulch
Mulch falls into one of two main categories, organic mulch and inorganic mulch. Organic mulch would be material such as pine straw, bark nuggets, wood chips, compost, grass clippings, or even layers of newspaper. Organic mulch will usually decompose over time and will need to be replenished regularly. Examples of inorganic mulch are gravel, rocks, pebbles, recycled glass, recycled tire mulch, and landscape fabric. This type of mulch typically does not decompose over time so need only be placed once.

How Much
Mulch should be applied to a depth of about 2 to 4” and extend out to cover as much of the root zone as possible. For trees, mulch at least 3 to 6’ out from the tree. Be sure to pull mulch back 1 to 2” from the base of plants and trees to prevent rot.

Mulch Use Calculator
Check out The How Do Gardener Mulch Use Calculator to calculate how much mulch you will need to cover an area based on its length, width, and the depth of mulch desired.

Use a Border
Rather than just having a mulched bed go right up against your lawn, use a border of stones, metal or plastic edging material. This will make for a distinct outline for your mulched area, keep weeds and grass from growing into your beds, and make trimming the grass along the bed edges much easier.

Free Mulch?
Well, mulching sounds like a good idea, but what about this whole “free mulch” thing? Did you ever wonder what happens to the tree limbs and branches that the power company trims back from power lines, or the empty glass bottles that are picked up from all of those recycling bins you see curbside on garbage day? Here in Austin, and in many cities across the country, they are processed into various forms of mulch and made available to the public for little or no cost, usually at the city dump or recycling center.

Tree waste is shredded into traditional wood mulch, and the collected glass waste is crushed into small pieces and tumbled with course sand until the edges are smooth and there are no more sharp points. Some facilities sort the glass by color, and others mix glass of all colors together to produce an attractive multi-colored glass mulch.

Here in Austin, you can get as much wood mulch as you can load into your vehicle for no charge. If you load glass mulch yourself, it is also free, or for $9.67 you can have a worker in a Bobcat load a ton of glass mulch in one quick dump. Not a bad deal, a ton of mulch for the same price as a few bags of mulch purchased from the store.

Get Creative
Try putting different types of mulch in different beds and pathways in your landscape to add interest. Glass mulch makes an interesting and attractive addition to your home landscape, but its unique properties afford an opportunity to get creative. Try replacing that narrow strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk with glass mulch. I decided to form up my own custom concrete stepping stones, in sizes ranging from 1’ by 1’, to 1’ by 2’, and embed a layer of glass mulch into the top of the wet concrete to provide a one of a kind look for a pathway.

Mulch can be applied any time of the year. It can consist of a wide variety of materials with many different textures, colors, and looks. Other than a little elbow grease, it can often be applied for little or no cost. Check with your local municipal waste management facility or recycling center for free mulch in your area. Mulch is a great way to spruce up your landscape and protect your plants. Choose mulch with the look and the price that suits your needs and put some down this season. You’ll be pleased with the way your landscape looks and the way your plants and trees thrive.

6 thoughts on “Maybe There’s No Free Lunch, But There Is Free Mulch”

  1. Do you know why the Resource Recovery Center stopped carrying the recycled glass mulch and do you know if the City of Austin plans to bring it back?

    1. I’m not sure why they stopped carrying the recycled glass mulch Anne. I’ll try to get more information on whether they will begin carrying it again and let you know…Rick

      1. It appears they have outsourced it. An organic nursery, Garden Ville now sells what the city gets for about $25/truck load. No more free glass mulch for COA residents. 🙁

  2. I was looking to see if Austin still carried the glass mulch. No luck in getting the recycling center on the phone. However, I did come across a website from a place called Garden-Ville. On their site, they indicated they get all of the City of Austin’s glass and recycle it themselves. They sell it to the public…higher price, of course, than the city was providing. Their site stated “You can get a cubic yard (about the size of a pickup bed) of it for $24.99, or a 40-lb bag for just $3.99. Don’t want to get your hands dirty? They also deliver.”

    1. Thanks for the update on where to find glass mulch in the Austin area Scott. Even though it’s not free anymore, that’s still a great price. I’ll update my post with this new information you’ve provided…Rick

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