Mulching is a great way to make your garden look neat and weed-free. The great news is, you don’t have to buy mulch from the store if you don’t want to. We’ve rounded up several ways to get free mulch quickly and easily. 

What Is Mulch?

Before continuing, we need to answer this question: what is the difference between mulch and compost? Mulch and compost are not the same things, although, if left on its own for a long time, some of the free mulch on this list could become compost. 

Mulch is what you put on top of soil to keep it moist after watering and discourage weeds from growing. It gives a garden a finished look and should also allow water to pass through easily. It’s also the action of putting mulch on your garden (to mulch).

Mulch is great for your garden
Mulch is great for your garden

Compost is decomposed organic material. It’s black in color and has an earthy smell. It’s usually worked into the soil to keep it fertile and nutritious for plants. 

If you are a laid back gardener and don’t care what your garden looks like, you can put any organic material right on top of your soil to act as mulch. The material will eventually decompose and become compost, but it’s not as effective as intentional composting (this is more of a science and goes beyond the reach of this article. Find out more about composting here).

Free Mulch Sources


You don’t have to haul off the inevitable leaves that appear on your lawn every fall. Some people take them to the local yard waste drop-off, others burn their leaves, and still others use them as mulch. Leaves are an excellent type of mulch because they are organic and completely free. 

When you rake up the leaves, you can put them into a yard waste bag, drag them out to your garden, and lay them out on top of the soil evenly. To keep the leaves there, you can put cardboard or weed barrier down on top of them. Secure the cardboard or weed barrier with either rocks or stakes.

Pine needles

Only have evergreen trees in your yard? No problem. Pine needles can be used as free mulch, too. They are especially good at allowing water to drain through to the soil, and they smell nice! Follow the same instructions for how to mulch your garden with leaves.

Grass clippings

One of the most hassle-free ways to mulch the lawn is to buy a lawn mower that does not collect grass clippings, it just shoots it back on to the grass. Even if your lawn mower does have a bag, you can adjust it to mulch the yard instead.

If you would rather keep the cut grass off your lawn and you have the space, you could put all the grass clippings in one pile on your property. Over time, the grass will decompose in the middle of the pile and create some nice compost you can mix in with garden dirt.

Alternatively, you can simply mulch your dirt with the grass clippings and cover them with cardboard or weed barrier. Be sure your grass clippings are herbicide-free before doing this.

Tree removal/electric companies

If you are looking for more decorative mulch, try wood chips. You can buy a big bag of it at the store, but you could also get free wood chips from a local source. 

When a tree removal company or electric company has to take down a tree or tree branches, they put the trees through a mulcher that breaks everything up into wood chips. Usually, they have an abundance of chips that are of no use to them.

Call your local tree removal or electrical company to see if they have free wood chips to give away. In some cases, they will even deliver the wood chips to you.

Web search “free mulch [city]”

You never know what kinds of free mulch services are in your area until you look! 

While you could call tree removal companies directly, an easy web search of “free mulch [your city name]” will also pull up all the information you need. You can also try searching for “free mulch delivery”, “free mulch delivery near me”, and “free mulch near me.” 

Other recyclables

Things that you can put in your recycle bin can also go in your garden as free mulch. Newspaper, corks, cardboard, clothes, fruit and vegetable peel, and coffee grounds are just a few things that can be put on top of or mixed into your soil as mulch.

Make sure to appropriately shred or cut up the recyclables before placing them in your dirt, so they can decompose properly.

Cardboard in particular can act as a weed barrier. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of tilling dirt for your garden, you can lay cardboard down on top of all the dead plants, pour new dirt on top and start fresh.

Check out this list for more items that can be composted or used as mulch.


Home improving on a budget can be a difficult task. Fortunately, with little shortcuts like adding free mulch to your landscaping, you can save some money for the bigger improvements you’re wanting to make.

Have a different source for free mulch? Please share in the comments!

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