Cheap (Or Free) Mulch Options For The Garden

by Texas Homesteader ~ 

Mulch is a valuable asset in your garden. It preserves moisture & moderates soil temperatures too. But don’t assume your only option is to buy mulch! Check with your city, utility company or local extension agent & you could get it FREE! 

Don't assume your only option is to buy mulch! Check with your city, utility company or local extension agent & you could get it FREE! #TexasHomesteader

Mulch in Garden Walkway and Pathways 

I’ve fought (and lost the battle) against Bermuda grass in my garden every year. It would simply grow into the garden from outside the garden fence. From there it would grow under the raised bed boards and into my veggie plantings, where it was almost impossible to remove.

So we ripped up the short raised beds we’d built and decided to just plant in rows. But how will we keep that Bermuda from coming in through the perimeter of the fence?

I decided to make a walkway around the entire perimeter of the garden wide enough to keep Bermuda grass at bay. I’d line the area first with paper feed sacks RancherMan has saved for me so that nothing will try to grow there. Then I’ll top it with bark mulch to make it look nice as well as give me a walking surface. But I needed a cheap (or even FREE) source for wood chips.

Wood Mulch From Utility Companies

Many people have said they contacted their utility companies who were all too happy to drop off chipped wood from trees they had to trim from around their power lines.

But when I reached out to our utility company they said they contract that work out.

I requested that they give me the names of the companies they used and I’d contact them all, to which they replied with a list of four very generic company names.

I googled them for contact info and contacted all four. Not a single one even replied.  (Sigh…)

Wood Mulch Options From County Services

So in desperation I contacted our county extension agent (she’s great by the way!).

I told her when we lived in a Dallas suburb, the city had a location where residents could come pick up mulch and wood chips for free.

It was beneficial to the city not to have to haul that botanical matter to the landfill. And it was also obviously beneficial to the residents to be able to use that material.

Plus it also made an impact in water reduction since compost conserves moisture so well for gardens. But even with all these benefits I was not aware of any such service in our county.

I was in luck! The extension agent said there was indeed such a service in our county located at a nearby city park.

The place in the park where they stored the wood mulch was unmanned. Residents simply pulled in next to the wood-chip pile and filled up their buckets or the beds of their trucks and it was all FREE.

So RancherMan & I loaded about seven large empty 30-gallon cattle protein buckets into our truck and headed to the park.

Free Wood Mulch, No Plastic Bags!

Now I already knew this park was here, we’d passed it many times before. But we had never actually stopped in. It was a lovely place!

And the beautiful sunshiny day meant there were families with their kids all enjoying the park. They were having picnics, playing Frisbee or feeding the ducks at the pond. Lovely!

We’re going to have to bring our grandbabies here soon!

Don't assume your only option is to buy mulch! Check with your city, utility company or local extension agent & you could get it FREE! #TexasHomesteader

In no time RancherMan & I had all our buckets filled and headed back home.

In all, it took a total of 14 buckets of bark mulch to thickly line my garden in an 18-inch wide strip. It took another 7 buckets of bark for the 18-inch rows between my planting areas. We’ll probably go one more time and fill the 7 buckets so I can thicken the mulch on the walkways.

But I love that I used items that would otherwise go to waste: The paper sacks I lined the garden pathways with were just a waste byproduct of our cattle feed. And the bark mulch is a natural material that will degrade over time and be mixed back into the garden soil in subsequent years.

I’ve used plastic (almost against my will) to line the garden walkways in previous years. But the plastic didn’t allow rain to percolate into the round and the ground ended up soured over time.

The paper should allow slow percolation of rainwater. It also will slowly degrade over time and be mixed back into the garden soil.

In the meantime, the earthworms will love it, which also will improve my garden soil. SCORE!

Don't assume your only option is to buy mulch! Check with your city, utility company or local extension agent & you could get it FREE! #TexasHomesteader

Purchased Bark Mulch Is Expensive, And WASTEFUL!

While at a local big-box home improvement store recently I saw bags of wood mulch being sold for $3.30 per 2-cubic ft bag. I figured I’d do the math…

Each of our buckets would hold over 2 bags worth of mulch, so for just what I’ve used so far my wood mulch would have cost us at least $130 to buy!

Then we’d have to figure out what to do with all the dang plastic bags they are sold in. (have I ever mentioned how much I.  Hate.  Plastic??)

Don't assume your only option is to buy mulch! Check with your city, utility company or local extension agent & you could get it FREE! #TexasHomesteader

As it was, all it cost us was a couple of pleasant trips to a nearby park and our time – no disposable plastic trash! 

As I said before, it was a good thing for us financially, a good thing for the environment and a good thing for the city to not haul this precious material to the landfill.

The moral of the story is this: Check with your city (or county) and don’t assume your only option is to buy this stuff!

Many cities have similar services so check with your city, utility companies or even call your local extension agent like we did. As it was in our case, it can be a trifecta win for you as well!


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13 thoughts on “Cheap (Or Free) Mulch Options For The Garden

  1. Greg Hill

    Great Share Tammy,

    I knew this but never occurred to me to share it. Your rocking girl….
    Good Job …Great savings for all who need this medium.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Many folks have had success contacting tree trimmers, Ruth – I was not so lucky. I couldn’t get anyone to even acknowledge my request! But our county having a come-get-what-you-want program works super for us! We’ve used it for two years so far and plant to visit the location every year from now on. ~TxH~

  2. Christine Becken

    Tammy, is that in Hunt County?

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Many counties offer this service Christine, it’s best to check with your county extension agent for information. I know in the Dallas area it was located in a section next to the landfill. Tree trimmers and landscapers (and homeowners) could drop off their tree trimmings & brush and the county would throw it through big chippers to make it into mulch. Then all you needed was a driver’s license showing you were a resident and you were welcome to all you could haul off! ~TxH~

  3. Dana

    Hi. I live in Washington State and I found a free mulch source as well. Thank you for encouraging your readers to do this. I enjoyed reading your post!

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      So glad you’ve found a free source as well Dana. I’d have bought it if I needed to I guess, but how perfect did it turn out – they needed to get rid of it and I needed to obtain it. Win/win! ~TxH~

  4. Katy SkipTheBag

    Awesome job! Fortunately we took a class about gardening from a local couple who pointed us to a local garden store that had bulk mushroom compost and told us about some tree cutting services that allowed you to pick up wood chips from them for free. We also lucked out and happened across a tree cutting company that would deliver for free! All those bags of mulch add up to a lot of waste!

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      YES, Katy, exactly! I love the idea of bark mulch, HATE the idea of them being entombed in plastic. You’re so lucky to find other free sources too, I was totally unsuccessful even getting the tree companies to reply to my emails! ~TxH~

  5. Ginger Dawn Harman

    What a great post. My local recycle center offers free mulch! I am really grateful and so is my garden. I really enjoyed your post! Thank you!

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      That’s awesome Ginger. When I lived in the city I had those options available to me as well but it took me a long time to find out about it. Hopefully others will check with their own cities or the county extension agent and take advantage of this great, natural, (oftentimes FREE) resource. So good for the garden too. ~TxH~

  6. Mel

    It is wonderful that you were able to find mulch for free. I’ve never found it free (though I’ve honestly not looked very hard) but we are able to purchase it from a semi-local landfill, and they load it into our dump trailer for us, for something like $40 per trailer load. I love how tidy it looks, and how it is adding biomass to my garden.

    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      We used to get that kind of material for free when we lived in the city, Mel – it was good in so many ways for the city and also good for the citizen AND the environment. I’d just assumed we had no such mulch-material options living out here. I’m so glad I checked with our extension agent! ~TxH~


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