Free Mulch vs. Premium Mulch: What’s the Difference?

April 1, 2021
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We often get questions from homeowners about free mulch. Totally understandable – you are planning to redo or upgrade your landscaping in your front or back lawn, and you’re wondering how to bring the cost down a little bit. There are over 400,000 U.S.-based landscaping companies, and with their mass production of wood chips for landscaping, they create a lot of extra mulch. This extra mulch they often give out for free, in an effort to reduce inventory. It makes sense why a homeowner would want to snatch up that free mulch, maybe paying a small delivery fee to have that mulch delivered home. Mulch costs can add up, so it is understandable why this situation would feel tempting.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether to go with free mulch or premium mulch.


Because free mulch tends to be leftover wood chips, free mulch is normally a really boring wood color. There are not a variety of color options to choose from that can augment the color aesthetic that is already present in your landscaping. Imagine if you have these gorgeous hydrangeas in your front year, with a cute little tree in the middle. Under all of that beautiful foliage, there is drab, boring mulch. That mulch does not add any aesthetic value to your curb appeal landscaping. In fact, it detracts from the aesthetic. If you have already spent a lot of money on your landscaping, you want to find mulch that will add beautiful accents. Mulch is essentially taking up the most surface area in your front yard landscaping, so it would make sense to make sure that it is accenting whatever you have in your front yard. 

For that reason, going with premium mulch adds a lot of value. Though it may be an investment, you will be satisfied knowing that the landscaping that you worked so hard to cultivate is looking gorgeous.

Health of Your Landscaping

Like any living organism or plant, mulch breaks down into nutrient components and chemicals. That’s a very natural process, and one that we expect. However, the danger with free mulch is that, depending on its composition, free mulch can absorb nitrogen from the ground and soil, essentially sucking nitrogen from nearby plants. Plants need nitrogen to survive, so when the nitrogen is sucked out of the ground, it can be detrimental to the plants. If you have already spent so much time on your landscaping, you want to make sure that it lasts for at least that season. 

While initially you may not see any effect, once the mulch starts breaking down, you may notice that your surrounding plants are not doing too well either. Respect the investment in time and energy that you made to make sure your landscaping looks fabulous, and invest in premium mulch that will support your plants’ growth and development.

Free of Debris

Due to the nature of how free mulch is produced, as leftover wood chips, there is often a lot of debris in the mulch. This could take the forms of leaves, twigs, and other insects. If you bring home a bag of mulch to mulch your yard, you want to make sure that what you are getting is only mulch. You do not want your gorgeous front lawn to be marred with leaves and twigs. You want to see a solid patch of just…mulch.

Premium mulch is made up of only mulch. Because it is manufactured to be mulch, it is clean and ready to use, without you having to potentially pick out large twigs or leaves that made their way into the batch of mulch.

Do Yourself the Favor

As we mentioned earlier, because free mulch is essentially leftover wood chips, you are doing the company a favor by taking away their poor quality mulch. Realistically, they could probably find a use for the free mulch, but even they recognized that the standards are much lower compared to premium mulch. Instead of doing them a favor, do yourself a favor. Respect the time and energy you have put into curating a gorgeous front or back lawn, and invest in high-quality, clean premium mulch that will elevate the look of your curb appeal landscaping.

Premium Mulch

Now that we have established that premium mulch is the way to go, we have to consider what options are available to us. There are four overall popular premium mulch types:

  • Hardwood Mulch: made up of shredded tree bark, premium hardwood mulch retains moisture for your plants and stops weed growth. Premium hardwood mulch normally comes in a brown color and can be found in either double or triple shredded types.
  • Colored Mulch: similar to premium hardwood mulch, colored mulch also comes in red and black, in addition to brown, all of which enhance the colors of your foliage in the Spring. Colored mulch retains moisture for your plants, stops weed growth, and can regulate soil temperature in the Summer.
  • Playground Carpet Mulch: this type of mulch is ideal for parents with small children, as playground carpet mulch is made up of finely shredded wood chips that is softer and cleaner as a ground for children to play. 
  • Pine Products: Pine offers a wide range of product options, from mini nuggets that don’t decompose quickly or fine-textured mulch or very-finely-screened mulch called pine fines that adds nutrients to any soil.

Overall, it may seem like finding and using free mulch is more cost-efficient, but in reality, you may be doing more damage to your landscaping. The poor aesthetic, damage to plant health, and debris are only some of the negative side effects of using free mulch. It makes sense to invest a little in premium mulch that comes with significant added benefits, such as adding nutrients when decomposing, being a soft landing ground for children, and adding to the beautiful aesthetic of your landscaping.