Whether you want to improve your landscape appearance or protect the soil in your garden beds, mulch can be a great solution. It is a loose material that can be made of organic or synthetic ingredients. It is added on top of your soil to retain moisture and regulate the garden bed’s temperature. Mulch also looks attractive and improves the appearance of your yard.
Many types of materials can be used as mulch, and it can be spread in various locations. Therefore, there is a wide range of costs associated with this project. The national average cost range is $150 to $400, with most homeowners spending around $275 for 3 cubic yards of bark mulch, delivered and installed. The lowest cost for this project is around $80 for 1 cubic yard of straw mulch raked out, while the highest cost is around $700 for 5 cubic yards of cedar mulch, delivered and blown out.
|National average cost||$275|
Mulch is sold in two different ways. You can go to your local big-box store or garden center and purchase bags to bring home and spread yourself. You can also order it by the cubic yard, which is generally less expensive than the bag cost. A bag contains about 2 cubic feet, so for a full cubic yard, you will need 13 bags. The cost for 1 or 2 cubic yards is roughly the same bagged or delivered, with the biggest difference being convenience. 13 bags of mulch take up a lot of space. So unless you have a truck or SUV, you must make multiple trips to the store. You also have to move each bag. Having a cubic yard or more delivered in bulk is much more efficient and convenient. Also, the mulch is ready to spread and can be dumped right where it is needed. When you purchase bags, you haul and move one bag at a time, which increases the time for the project. Some landscapers spread bulk mulch as part of the overall cost, while bagged mulch must be spread by the homeowner or have additional installation costs. This makes bulk prices more cost-effective in the long run.
Mulch typically becomes less expensive per yard, the more you order at one time. So when mulching multiple areas, you save in the long run by purchasing all at once. In the table below you will find the total price for different number of yards and the price per yard as the amount of mulch increases.
|Amount||Average Cost for 1 Cubic Yard (Materials Only)||Total Cost (Materials Only)|
|1 - 3 Yards||$40 - $60||$40 - $180|
|4 - 6 Yards||$30 - $40||$120 - $240|
|7 - 10 Yards||$20 - $30||$140 - $300|
|10 - 20 Yards||$10 - $20||$100 - $400|
While most people are familiar with bark and chipped hardwood mulch, there is a broader range of material. It can be made of several organic materials like bark, but it can also be made of different synthetic materials, such as rubber. Both materials enhance the look of your property, but they work in different ways. Organic mulch provides your soil with more nutrients over time but may need replenishment as it breaks down. Inorganic materials, some of which are synthetic and others that are not, last longer because they do not break down, which makes it more cost-effective long term.
|Type||Cost per Cubic Yard (Materials Only)|
|Inorganic||$25 - $300|
|Organic||$50 - $150|
Inorganic mulches cost between $25 and $300 a cubic yard, depending on the type. This includes synthetic materials, which are man-made and do not break down over time, lasting longer than most organic mulches. This means it saves you money long-term, even though they are usually more expensive than organic to purchase and typically used for their appearance.
In general, organic materials cost between $50 and $150 a cubic yard. Organic simply means that it is a natural material, not man-made, and it will break down eventually. Examples of organic mulch include grass clippings, shredded leaves, bark, chipped hardwoods, etc. Each one has a distinct appearance and provides different nutrients. For example, if you only want to insulate and provide nutrients, grass is an excellent option. To increase acidity, opt for shredded leaves. If you want to add nutrients and stop pests, shredded cedar is the best option.
Inorganic mulches generally last longer than organic ones and include synthetic or man-made options. While organic break down over time and are lighter in weight and likely to migrate, synthetic and non-organic mulches do not break down. This means that while they cost more than most organic options, they do not need replenishing as soon. Depending on the type of synthetic or non-organic mulch, they have a variety of appearances.
|Type||Cost (Materials Only)|
|Plastic||$0.06 - $0.25/sq.ft.|
|Gravel||$25 - $55/cubic yard|
|Synthetic Pine Straw||$40 - $60/cubic yard|
|Crushed Seashells||$40 - $400/cubic yard|
|Glass||$50 - $70/cubic yard|
|Stone||$50 - $180/cubic yard|
|Rubber||$80 - $160/cubic yard|
Mulching plastic is a very different material that costs around $0.06 to $0.25 per square foot on average. Instead of being a loose material, it is a large roll of black plastic that is spread over the ground. It protects the soil underneath and aids in moisture retention. Its best use is to block weeds, which cannot grow beneath it. Some of these are biodegradable, meaning they break down over time into the ground and do not need removing.
Gravel is a unique mulch material ranging in cost from $25 to $55 a cubic yard. Gravel is neither organic nor synthetic but rather a non-organic material that decomposes slowly, taking hundreds of years. This means that the gravel will not break down in your lifetime and will last much longer than organic options. It will also not migrate as easily, although it requires some raking. Numerous gravel types and colors can be used.
Synthetic pine straw costs $40 to $60 per cubic yard, and this affordable cost is not the only benefit. Synthetic pine straw looks natural and is made from recycled polypropylene, so it does not absorb chemicals or water. It is also easy to recycle and does not decompose quickly like organic materials, which could attract pests. Also, there are no mold spores or weed seeds with synthetic pine straw, so you do not have to deal with herbicides or allergies nearly as much. If you want consistent quality and color in pine straw, the synthetic variety is a smart investment, especially given the longer warranty on most leading brands.
When looking for a unique, long-lasting mulch that adds nutrients like calcium to your soil, consider crushed seashells, which widely range from $40 to $400 a cubic yard, depending on the shell type. Crushed seashells can be made from many different shellfish, each providing a different appearance and cost. Crushed shells generally last longer than other options because they break down slower. They also do not migrate as much. But they can be sharp to walk on, so take care with children and pets.
When looking for a unique and decorative look, tumbled glass mulch may be a good alternative, costing around $50 to $70 per cubic yard. These are small pieces of tumbled glass in roughly the same size as organic pieces. It is used mostly in small amounts and areas as an accent, mostly due to its high cost. It does not break down or lose color over time, although it may migrate and need raking to keep it in place.
Stone mulch costs $50 to $180 per cubic yard and offers attractive aesthetic appeal, whether you opt for crushed/pumice stone or rock mulch. It varies in color and size, but all varieties are popular because they prevent erosion and help keep gardens under control. This is more permanent because it does not discolor, disintegrate, or wash away in high winds or heavy rain. If you want low-maintenance mulch that lasts for years, then this material could be the way to go.
The average cost of laying down mulch made of recycled tires, otherwise known as rubber mulch, is between $80 and $160 a cubic yard. The recycled tire mulch cost may be a little higher than other types, but it is a good alternative when you need a long-lasting material that protects the soil that is also soft underfoot. Plus, many people appreciate the chance to use recycled materials that would otherwise go to waste in a landfill. It is sometimes used in playgrounds. It is also frequently called colored mulch because it comes in a rainbow of colors. The pieces are fairly regular in size, making it look attractive as well. It does not migrate as much as some organic options, and it helps with moisture retention as well.
There are many organic mulch types to choose from for your landscaping. Some merely insulate and protect plants but do not enhance your landscaping appearance. Other types provide better appearances or benefits that may make them worth the additional cost. Each type has a price range, depending on the color and amount.
|Type||Cost per Cubic Yard (Materials Only)|
|Straw||$30 - $40|
|Bark / Wood Chips||$30 - $110|
|Shredded Hardwood||$40 - $60|
|Garden Compost||$75 - $100|
|Cocoa Hull||$90 - $100|
|Pine Needles||$125 - $150|
Pine straw costs between $30 and $40 a cubic yard. When looking for a temporary mulch to act as an insulator, pine straw is a good choice. This is an easy-to-spread material that breaks down fairly quickly. It insulates well when on top, and you can break it up and churn it as it breaks down to feed the soil. Pine straw is not very attractive, so it is not known for being a decorative or landscaping material. It is something you use for function only.
Expect to pay between $30 and $110 a cubic yard for bark mulch, one of the most common types used for landscaping. This material has much larger pieces with texture and is lighter than hardwood, so it is better for flat surfaces than slopes. The mulch has a more decorative appearance, and it comes in several colors from red and brown to black, depending on the bark used. The lighter pieces migrate more than others, so you may find yourself raking it more. Here are the average costs per cubic yard for each type.
|Type||Cost per Cubic Yard (Materials Only)|
|Pine||$30 - $40|
|Tea Tree||$40 - $60|
|Hemlock||$45 - $65|
|Redwood||$60 - $75|
|Cedar||$100 - $110|
The average pine bark wood chip mulch cost is $30 to $40 per cubic yard. Pine bark is very popular for improving the soil in flower beds. Because it comes from plentiful pine trees, it remains affordable. You can have regular pine bark that is naturally red-dark brown or pay a little more for dyed pine bark such as red. Pine bark holds its color longer than most woods that turn gray after a while. However, it can be washed away quite easily in areas with water runoff.
Tea tree mulch costs between $40 and $60 a cubic yard on average. Many tree types can be used for creating bark mulch. The one that comes specifically from the tea tree is known as tea tree mulch. This is the tree that is frequently processed to produce tea tree oil, an aromatic oil with anti-microbial properties. Trees harvested for this purpose can have their bark used as mulch. The bark has the unique scent of the tea tree, but not everyone finds this a pleasant aroma. However, it helps repel bugs.
Hemlock is an aromatic softwood that costs between $45 and $65 a cubic yard. It has a medium color and a fairly dense texture once shredded. It works well in numerous areas, including with slopes, garden beds, and just for landscaping. It does not migrate as much as other bark types, and it may repel some insects. It maintains its color for a long time, resisting fading better than other materials.
If you like the smell of cedar, you will enjoy having cedar mulch in your garden. However, it is on the higher end price-wise around $100 and $110 per cubic yard. Cedar is an extremely aromatic softwood with a rich, red-brown color that is closer to golden in some lots. This is an excellent bug repellant, making it a great choice for gardens. Cedar is a dense material that does not break down quickly or migrate much. So, it is also a fairly long-lasting choice. However, it is more expensive because of the incredible demand for the wood.
Prices range from $40 to $60 a cubic yard on average. If you are mulching an area on a slope and need a material that holds up well without migrating, shredded hardwood may be the answer. This material is made of several hardwoods that are double shredded. The result is a fairly dense material, with larger pieces mixed into a loamy surface texture. Depending on the hardwood, it can be several different colors and have larger or smaller pieces.
If you want to insulate your garden bed and add lots of nutrients to your soil, garden compost makes a great material costing between $75 and $100 a cubic yard. But compost does not act as a long-lasting mulch. It breaks down fairly quickly, so you can add it as an insulator and then plant in that soil within a few seasons or less. You can make your own compost at home by starting a compost pile with leaves, clippings, and kitchen waste, or you can purchase ready-to-use garden compost. In most cases, this compost is more of a soil additive instead of a mulch.
Cocoa hull prices range from $90 to $100 a cubic yard, but you can buy smaller quantities by the bag. Chocolate is made from beans from the cacao tree. The bean’s hull is rich in essential nutrients that benefit some soils. The hulls are faintly aromatic and make an interesting and unique material. Cocoa hull is usually used sparingly because of its higher costs. It can be poisonous to dogs and wildlife, so if you have pets who regularly access your yard and garden, you may want to choose another material.
Pine needle mulch costs around $125 to $150 a cubic yard on average. The needles are the leaves of coniferous trees, such as pine, hemlock, and cedar. Once a tree pulls some of the stored nutrients from the needles, it sheds them like other trees shed their leaves. Pine needles are difficult to get in large quantities from the ground, so it is possible to purchase larger amounts to use as mulch. Pine needles are aromatic, repel pests, and make a unique-looking material. They tend to migrate because of their lightweight, which means you may need to replenish them often.
If you’re looking for your landscape to really make a statement, consider using colored mulch, also referred to as dyed mulch. It’s a product that has been dyed to take on a new color that it doesn’t naturally have. The most common colors are red, black and brown. When dyed with iron oxide and carbon, both red and black options, respectively, are deemed safe to use in the garden. Other dyes are vegetable-based, which means they’re organic and are safe to use. However, if you’re going with colored materials, make sure you’re using organically-dyed ones (iron oxide, carbon or vegetable-based dyes). If it has been treated with unnatural dyes, it can harm your garden. There is also naturally colored mulch to consider if you prefer an untreated version, such as rich redwood and cedar bark.
Many homeowners are surprised that the cost of mulch per yard installed varies by the color, as companies charge more for materials that are dyed a certain color, compared to those in their natural shade. The below table outlines the average prices of mulch by color.
|Color||Cost per Cubic Yard (Materials Only)|
|Brown||$30 - $40|
|Red||$30 - $40|
|Tan||$30 - $45|
|Black||$40 - $60|
|Green||$40 - $60|
|Blue||$45 - $65|
Most brown mulch costs $30 to $40 per cubic yard, making it an affordable and attractive option. Brown bark is pretty common. Pine and cedar typically look red-brown, so you have plenty of options to enhance your overall landscaping. Because brown is a standard color and occurs naturally in many cases, the cost for these materials is on the lower end compared to colors that can only be achieved artificially.
Red mulch prices range from $30 to $40 per cubic yard because this color is very common, just like brown. Cedar and pine bark have a naturally rich redness mixed with brown. Of course, the bark from redwood trees also has a beautiful red look. Many mulch companies use red dye to achieve in-demand shades of red, which increases the total price slightly, although not as much as unnatural greens and blues.
If you prefer tan mulch, budget around $30 to $45 per cubic yard. Cypress bark is one example with a natural tan color, but you can also find dyed versions that add a contemporary pop of color to gardens, playgrounds, and other outdoor spaces. Tan is not quite as common as red or brown mulch, but many landscape supply companies should still have a few options when you want a nice middle ground between natural colors and bright shades.
Expect to pay $40 to $60 per cubic yard for black mulch, which typically gets its color from carbon dye. Pine bark is one of the most common options for dyed black mulch, although hardwood and cypress may be available. The black dye is similar to charcoal, and you can get black rubber chips for a soft playground surface or a family-friendly backyard. This dark color regulates soil temperature, making it worth the slightly higher price.
The typical cost of green mulch is $40 to $60 per cubic yard. Green mulch can be pine bark dyed artificially or other organic materials made from grass and leaves to give it a nice natural look. Some glass and stone mulch may be available in green, but the price is elevated for artificial dyes. Backyards, playgrounds, and courtyards are common places for this color, although you can incorporate it into any garden.
Blue is the most uncommon out of all the mulch colors. This dyed material averages $45 to $65 per cubic yard. Striking blue colors may not appear naturally, but when rubber tire mulch is dyed bright or dark blue, it creates an eye-catching appeal for playgrounds and gardens. You could also get gravel and shell mulch in blue, but you will have to look a little bit harder to find some.
Mulch installation costs depend mostly on the material selected. Some types like hay are placed down by hand using gloves for protection, or they may be broken up and raked into place. Other types like plastic must be rolled out. However, most organic mulches are spread out evenly over an area using shovels and rakes.
Landscapers are usually the professionals hired for this type of installation. They understand how to calculate the correct amount of mulch and determine the correct type for your soil and aesthetic needs.
Landscapers charge by the hour for most installations. The cost to spread mulch generally ranges from $55 to $75 per hour for a 2-person crew. For 3 cubic yards, expect the job to take around 2 hours to complete. This includes planning, application, and equipment handling. Two hours of labor costs approximately $110 to $150.
For small jobs, you may be charged less if fewer workers are required. Landscaping is a seasonal job, so you may find lower quoted mulching service costs during the fall and winter months.
Mulch blowing is a newer type of installation. Rather than shoveling and raking it by hand, the landscaper uses pressurized air to direct the mulch. This has a cost of around $35 to $60 a cubic yard, so for 3 cubic yards, expect costs of around $105 to $180, making this comparable to other installation methods.
Mulch rarely needs to be replaced because you can replenish it with a top-up layer to keep it healthy and thriving. Replacement is only needed when changing it to a different color or material. In that case, the old material must be removed first before replacement, which is done by raking it away. Mulch removal costs around $50 to $75 an hour. Add disposal fees of around $50 to $100, depending on how much is removed.
To determine how much you need, speak with your landscaper. The amount varies depending on the use, area, how flat or sloped the ground is, and the type. Some materials spread more, so you can use less. Others are denser, requiring more to cover the same area.
Mulch is sold and installed by the cubic yard. In general, 1 cubic yard covers 100 square feet with a depth of 3 inches. If you want deeper mulch, you need to purchase more. For a lighter covering, you can make 1 cubic yard cover more area.
Below are very general guidelines. If your beds are larger or smaller, you may need more or less mulch.
|Area||Cubic Yards Needed (Average)|
|Small Garden||1 - 1½|
|Playground||1½ - 2|
|Flower Bed||2 - 3|
|Landscaping||8 - 10|
Aside from the aesthetics, there are numerous benefits to mulching your landscape. One of the most beneficial things mulching does for your garden is that it retains moisture in the soil, meaning you don’t have to water your plants as frequently. Furthermore, it helps reduce weeds, protects against temperature changes, adds healthy nutrients to your soil and helps prevent erosion and injury from weed killer and lawn mowers.
Although it has a number of benefits, there are also a few drawbacks worth noting. Too much can bury and essentially suffocate your plants because water and oxygen aren’t able to reach the roots. It’s recommended to only use a layer of 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch. Inorganic much is typically more shallow, so you only need to use a 1-inch layer. Additionally, it can contribute to rolling bark if piled up around the base of a tree or shrub, so it’s recommended to keep it approximately 6 to 12 inches away from the base of a woody plant.
Light-colored, wood-base materials tend to absorb nitrogen from the soil which can affect your plants. To counter this, it’s recommended to add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to your soil such as soybean, alfalfa or cottonseed meal — all available at your local home and garden store for an average price of $15 for a 5-lb bag.
Some wood-based materials, specifically those that have been dyed or color-treated, are made of recycled materials which means there’s a chance other harmful materials have made their way into the mulch. Materials such as chromium, copper, arsenic, aluminum and lead should not be recycled into mulch because they contain contaminants and can actually harm your garden.
The contaminants are made of materials that aren’t biodegradable, so they can exist in your soil for a long time, eventually causing issues with plant growth. Additionally, if you're located near an aquatic environment, the contaminants may also seep into the groundwater or runoff into the surface water causing harm to wildlife.
To avoid purchasing mulch that contains harmful materials, look for the Mulch and Soil Council (MSC) logo, which signifies that it is safe, eco-friendly and chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-free.
If you decide to use colored mulch that is not MSC certified, there are a few safety precautions you should take. It’s recommended to wear gardening gloves whenever you’ll be touching it. And it’s also recommended to keep children and pets away from any areas covered in it as it can be harmful to them.
Inorganic materials like rocks and gravel require little maintenance. Most homeowners pull out the weeds and add in new rocks as needed. For organic mulches, you need to perform some maintenance to extend the life. This includes turning it over, breaking up clumps periodically, and maintaining the layer at 2 to 3 inches in thickness. If the mulch is next to plants, you may want to pull it aside to avoid plant damage. Weed as necessary to prevent the weeds from spreading. Some types discourage weed growth, such as plastic and landscape fabric.
In addition to purchasing mulch for landscaping, there are alternatives if your goals are insulation, moisture retention, or adding back nutrients to the soil. These materials can be gathered and laid by the homeowner, for no additional cost beyond the labor involved.
Shredded leaves make a great help for insulating plants for the winter and adding nutrients back to the soil. But not all leaves act the same way. For example, oak leaves are highly acidic when they break down, so use them only in areas where you want to raise the acidity. Leaves are easily shredded either with a leaf shredder or some lawnmowers. Rake and gather the shredded leaves, and add them to your garden.
Grass clippings are another good insulator that add nutrients to your garden as they break down. Grass clippings are the smaller parts of grass left over after mowing your lawn. If your lawnmower bags the clippings as you mow, simply empty the bag onto your garden. If you have your lawn professionally mowed, ask the landscaper to leave the clippings. If you pay a disposal fee, this can save you money.
Mulch can add nutrients to the soil, but it may take time for it to break down. If you need nutrients quickly, speak to your landscaper about having a fertilizer applied. Fertilizers add nutrients within minutes of application. The cost to fertilize averages between $150 and $550, depending on the area.
It costs less when sold in bulk amounts. Companies load it directly into a truck bed and then deliver it without needing to bag the materials.
A cubic yard covers 100 square feet at a depth of 3 inches. If you need less depth, it can spread farther. If you need it to be deeper, it will cover less.
Bark is considered the best type. Although bark has a higher average cost, it lasts longer than shredded types. It is heavy, meaning it is less likely to blow around. It improves the soil composition as it decomposes, making the area more fertile for plants. The denser material is better for allowing sunlight and water to reach the soil beneath the layer.
Home improvement and landscaping stores transport bags on pallets. On average, there are approximately 60 bags per pallet.
Mulching can be done with organic materials like hay, wood chips, and shredded lumber. You can also use non-organic materials, such as gravel, landscape cloth, and plastic wrap.
Cedar bark is considered one of the poorest choices. The wood has a reputation for harming plants and being potentially toxic. However, the beautiful appearance of cedar bark makes it a good choice for ornamental purposes.
It usually costs a flat fee of $50 to $150.
The cost of a yard of mulch installed varies, depending on the type. Bark is one of the most common and recommended types. A yard installed costs around $80 to $120, depending on the rates in your area.
Professionals recommend spreading it in mid-spring or late spring, close to the start of summer as the weather warms up. This is the perfect time because seedlings can work through thin layers, but deep mulch makes it too difficult for plants to get established. Once the plants have a good start in the summer, you can add more.