Which Mulch Is Good For Pollinators?

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By Ashley Hanson

Updated: May 30, 2024

8 min read

Best Mulch for Pollinator Garden
Photo: @rosadolandscaping_design

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    Mulch contributes to maintaining beautiful gardens and green spaces, whereas pollinators are essential for reproducing beloved flowers and vital crops. Mulching can assist in retaining moisture, but considering that certain types of bees nest in dry soil, it is essential to create mulched and non-mulched areas in your garden to maintain ecological balance.

    When selecting mulch for a garden that attracts pollinators, factors to consider include how quickly it decomposes, the origin of the trees used for the mulch, the possibility of using ground cover plants instead of traditional mulch, and the impact on weed growth, as landscape fabric can hinder weed removal.

    Cultivating Native Plants for Biodiversity and Life Support

    In these concrete environments, elements of natural areas like streams, plants, and animals bring balance to your home and comfort. The landscapes offer various benefits such as shade, temperature regulation, improved air and water quality, rainwater absorption, and carbon cycling.

    By integrating diverse native plants, we can restore landscapes to support wild pollinators and beneficial insects, which are crucial for thriving food. The movement of insects and wildlife is obstructed due to urbanization.

    To address this, each individual's effort in cultivating native plants in yards, schools, businesses, and public spaces contributes to creating connected habitats, nurturing biodiversity, and supporting life.

    Essential Practices for Plant Health and Growth

    Essential Practices for Plant Health and Growth
    Photo: @foodtopower

    Ensuring Plants Thrive

    Regularly mulch and water plants to minimize weed growth and promote strong establishment to give plants a good start. This is especially crucial when mixing perennial flowers with annual vegetables.

    Proper Mulch

    Excessive moisture in large piles of wood mulch or damp bagged mulch can lead to decomposition in low-oxygen environments, resulting in what is known as wood alcohol syndrome, which is detrimental to plants. Referred to as sour mulch, this emits ethanol and methanol fumes capable of damaging plant foliage upon application.

    While these gasses disperse quickly outdoors, they can cause wilting or death in delicate flowers. To address mulch with an alcohol aroma rather than an earthy one, aerate or spread out the stored or wet mulch to allow the gasses to dissipate before use. Continue airing it until the alcohol scent dissipates entirely.

    Minimize Pesticide Use

    Pesticides can harm insects at all life stages, with even slight drifts being lethal. Begin with less toxic options if dealing with pests, such as insecticidal soaps or oils, and consider employing natural predators like ladybugs.

    Prune Old Blooms

    Regularly removing old blossoms, known as dead-heading, from nectar plants promotes continuous flowering and extends the blooming period, enhancing overall plant appearance and productivity with minimal effort.

    Different Mulching Materials

    Shredded Bark

    Shredded bark, a common and cost-effective mulch sourced from various materials like cedar trees, is ideal for sloped areas due to its slow breakdown. Some types are eco-friendly byproducts from other industries.


    Similarly, straw mulch, with its golden hue, is favored in utilitarian gardens for its slow decomposition and its ability to prevent mud from accumulating around edibles.


    Compost, resembling dark soil, enriches soil quickly and inexpensively. It is often obtainable for free from grass clippings and leaves, but be mindful of weed seeds.

    Bark Nuggets

    Bark nuggets, though slower to degrade than shredded bark, are less stable on slopes, while durable and low-maintenance rocks can become hot in the sun and require caution in placement to avoid weed growth.

    Applying Mulch for Root Development and Moisture Retention

    While establishing new flowers and seedlings, it's beneficial to apply a small amount of mulch to aid in developing their root systems during their vulnerable stage.


    A ring of mulch around each plant, approximately 2 inches high, can help prevent the drying out of new, delicate roots and ensure that water is effectively retained when hand-watering. Maintaining a gap between the mulch and the plant base is essential to prevent stem rot.


    When selecting mulch, opt for varieties that break down naturally within a year or so. The composted pine mulch, in particular, boasts qualities such as a rich, dark brown color, natural texture, and longevity without fading or dying.

    Exploring Living Mulch Alternatives

    Incorporating living mulch involves utilizing low-growing ground-cover plants that spread among taller plants. These ground covers play a crucial role in soil protection, weed suppression, and erosion control while still accommodating bees for nesting. Adopt for practice of layering plants within the garden, each contributing distinct heights, root systems and functions.

    Avoiding Landscape Fabric

    Avoid Landscape Fabric
    Photo: @bulldoginchatsworth

    Despite its initial effectiveness, landscape fabric poses long-term challenges and drawbacks. Weeds gradually infiltrate the fabric, complicating both weed removal and fabric extraction. Thin, inexpensive landscape fabric requires painstaking removal, while thicker variants resemble a tangled mess of weeds fused to the fabric upon removal.

    The Pros and Cons of Mulching

    Pros of Mulching

    • Shields bare soil, diminishing erosion and compaction.
    • Safeguards plants from harsh winter conditions such as freezes, thaws, and winds.
    • Additionally, in winter, mulch-insulated soil remains warmer, safeguarding plants from freezing and thawing cycles.
    • Elevates plants to deter diseases, particularly tomatoes and melons.
    • Reduces damage to tree trunks compared to grass.
    • Overall, it promotes plant health and growth, providing a neat and consistent garden aesthetic.

    Cons of Mulching

    • Over-application (more than 2-3 inches) can suffocate plants by hindering water and oxygen flow to the roots.
    • Avoid mulching deeply over perennial plants.
    • Light-colored wood-based mulches may deplete soil nitrogen; counteract this by adding nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

    Using the Right Mulch

    Inorganic mulches, such as crusher fines, can aid in seeding grass gardens. Inorganic mulches are recommended for water-wise gardens, while organic mulches are favored for tree or shrub borders and perennial beds.

    Pea gravel's popularity stems from its low maintenance and benefits like soil insulation and weed control. Despite regional preferences, finding the right mulch fit may require experimentation.

    Creating a Pollinator Garden

    Creating a Pollinator Garden
    Photo: @maryajamieson

    Encourage butterflies to stay in your garden and increase their populations by planting adult nectar sources near larval host plants.

    Opt for Indigenous Flora

    Opt for indigenous flora whenever feasible. They are better suited to local conditions, require less maintenance, and offer a glimpse into the natural ecosystem, which attracts and sustains wildlife.

    Vertical and Horizontal Landscaping

    Think both vertically and horizontally when landscaping. Diversify plant heights and growth patterns to create varied microclimates, attracting bees and butterflies without overshadowing vegetables. For instance, pair hummingbird vine and passion flower vine with pole beans.

    Continuous Nectar Supply

    Ensure a continuous nectar supply by selecting plants with staggered bloom times, supporting garden activity year-round, and aiding bees during natural scarcity.

    Similar Plantation

    Plant similar plant species in groups of at least three to enhance aesthetics, minimize growth disparities, camouflage leaf damage, and provide abundant nectar and host resources.

    The Ideal Location

    Match plants to their ideal locations based on light, water, soil, and nutrient needs, especially when integrating them with vegetables, considering factors like soil neutrality and full sun exposure.

    Also Read: Mulch Glue Homemade: Solutions for Tidy Gardens


    Mulching helps increase soil fertility as it protects the top layer of the soil. It is the process in which a loose layer of shredded plant material is added to the top layer of the soil. It enhances the quality of the soil and prevents soil erosion. Many of our pollinator species will make their cocoons in the mulch.

    Other invertebrates that will also live inside the mulch will help to keep the trees, plants, and earth balanced. The mulch helps protect the roots of the tree from sun, wind, and frost. The decomposing mulch helps feed the plants and encourages other creatures, both big and small, to visit, and the cycle of life continues.

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