Is Cedar Mulch Better Than Regular Mulch? (3 Benefits)


Are you looking to add some mulch to your landscape to make the yard and garden look more attractive?  If so, you are probably considering cedar mulch as one option.

So, is cedar mulch better than regular mulch?  Cedar mulch has several advantages over regular mulch.  Cedar mulch repels some types of bugs, including moths, ants, termites, and cockroaches.  Cedar mulch also lasts longer because it takes more time to break down than pine and other types of wood.

Of course, repelling insects and lasting a long time are great benefits, but cedar mulch has much more to offer.

In this article, we’ll look at cedar mulch, its benefits, and also some alternatives.

Let’s get going.

Is Cedar Mulch Better Than Regular Mulch?

Cedar mulch is better than regular mulch, since it does have some advantages over regular mulch, such as:

  • Cedar mulch lasts longer than other mulches, making landscaping less labor-intensive
  • Cedar repels some insects
red cedar mulch
Cedar mulch repels some insects and lasts longer than other types of wood mulch.

Often, when we hear “mulch”, we think of pine, oak, or other types of wood.  However, cedar is an attractive alternative when mulching in your yard.

According to Wikipedia, cedar is a coniferous tree with evergreen needles (leaves).  Cedars are native to the Himalayas and Mediterranean.

Using cedar mulch in your landscaping makes for easier maintenance, since it does not need to be replaced as often as other types of mulch.

This is because cedar decays slower than these other types of wood.  This is due to the fact that cedar contains natural oils that preserve the wood and help it to resist the elements.

Cedar mulch has a pleasant aroma, also due to the natural oils found in the wood.  These same natural oils repel certain insects, including:

  • Moths
  • Cockroaches
  • Termites
  • Carpet beetles
  • Ants
fire ants
Cedar mulch repels ants, moths, and other insects.

In fact, cedar’s moth-repelling property is the reason that this wood is often used to make closets, chests, and hangers for clothing.

With all of these benefits comes one drawback: cedar mulch is more expensive than other types of mulch.

Does Cedar Mulch Keep Bugs Away?

Cedar mulch can help to keep bugs away from your yard, garden, or house if you create a perimeter around the area you want to protect.

According to Washington State University:

“…species produce thujone, which repels clothes moths, cockroaches, termites, carpet beetles, Argentine ants, and odorous house ants. In general, termites prefer higher nutrient woody materials such as cardboard, rather than wood chips.”

https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2

So, if you have termite problems in or around your home, use cedar wood chips to landscape near your house.

In your garden, avoid using cardboard or keeping it outside near the house.  Cardboard is softer and much easier for termites to eat than wood, and as a result, it is a much more tempting food for them.

cardboard boxes
Cedar mulch may repel bugs, but cardboard may attract them by giving them food and a place to hide.

In general, mulch will not attract bugs, but cedar mulch actively discourages many insect pests.

Does Cedar Mulch Break Down?

Cedar will break down eventually, just like any other wood.  However, the decomposition process will take much longer than it does for other types of wood.

The same natural oils that repel insects also work to preserve cedar and protect it from decay due to the elements.

As with most materials, cedar mulch will break down faster if it is in smaller pieces.  Thin shavings will break down the fastest, chips will decompose slower than shavings, and large chunks will last the longest of all.

coarse wood mulch
Coarse mulch that comes in large pieces will last the longest of all.

According to Clemson University:

“Wood chips are usually completely decomposed within 2 years.”

https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/mulch/

However, cedar will probably last longer than this.

If you want your cedar wood chips to last longer, keep them above the surface of the soil that they cover.   If you mix cedar wood chips into the soil, they will break down faster.

According to the Michigan State University Extension:

“Chipped mixed woods will break down faster, especially if leaves are mixed in. These mulches should be applied to a depth of 2 to 3 inches on the perennial vegetables.”

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/select_the_right_vegetable_garden_mulch

In addition, using mulch made from bark nuggets instead of wood chips will usually make your mulch last longer.  According to the Oregon State University Extension:

“Wood chips (Figure 8) are made from the heartwood of a tree, as opposed to its bark … Wood chips generally break down faster than bark nuggets of similar size.”

https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1629/html

Unfortunately, time will eventually take its toll, and cedar will fade from its natural red to gray, even if it is painted or dyed before you buy it.  According to the Oregon State University Extension:

“Wood chips have a very light color but turn gray as they age.”

https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1629/html

However, wood chips may not always age and turn color at the same rate.

Does Cedar Mulch Change Color?

Cedar is naturally red, and fresh cedar mulch will have the same color.  However, cedar and other wood chips are sometimes dyed or painted to give them brighter or more striking colors, such as:

  • Bright red
  • Orange
  • Crimson
  • Brown
  • Black

These dyes and paints add colors that make for a more appealing landscape.  They also let the mulch keep its color for a longer time before fading.

Over time, the color from these dyes will eventually fade due to the effects of UV radiation from sunlight.

mulch
The colors in mulch naturally fade over time, whether the mulch is dyed or not.

Some of these dyes and paints are environmentally safe, but perhaps not all of them.  It is best to get mulch without dye unless you know that it is safe.

According to the Michigan State University Extension:

“Some of the wood mulches are painted for appearance. If you are growing vegetables organically avoid these products.”

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/select_the_right_vegetable_garden_mulch

Does Cedar Mulch Change Soil pH?

Cedar mulch will not change soil pH, as long as you do not mix it into the soil.  The mulch itself may change in pH as it decomposes, but this pH change will not occur in the soil below.

According to Washington State University:

“In field situations it is difficult to significantly alter soil pH without the addition of chemicals. Temporary changes in pH may be found in the decomposing mulch layer itself, but these have little effect on underlying soils. Significant changes in soil pH can only occur after decades or centuries of mulch use.”

https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2

The bottom line is this: don’t worry about changing soil pH when using mulch.

Just keep in mind that mixing wood chips or sawdust into your soil can tie up nitrogen (due to the high carbon content).  Leave mulches on the top of the soil where they belong!

sawdust
Sawdust mixed into your soil will tie up nitrogen.

If you need to add organic material to your soil, use compost and aged manure instead.

Does Cedar Mulch Get Mold or Fungus?

It is possible that cedar mulch (and other mulches) will get mold or fungus.  After all, mulch contains organic material for mold to feed on, and mold multiplies faster in moist soil and humid air.

Of course, fungus in mulch is not necessarily a bad thing.  Fungus plays a part in decomposing wood chips and other organic materials, which adds nutrients to the soil.

yellow slime mold
Slime mold and other types of fungus are unsightly, but some mold is normal in mulch.

According to the Washington State University:

“Fungal communities found in wood chip mulches are generally decomposers, not pathogens. Under healthy soil conditions, beneficial and harmless fungi (Figure 4) can outcompete pathogens for space on plant roots that grow into mulch layers.”

https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2

Does Cedar Mulch Hurt Plants?

Cedar mulch cannot hurt established plants.  However, cedar mulch may prevent seed germination or injure young seedlings.

According to Washington State University:

“Many living, growing woody plants contain allelopathic chemicals, which can prevent seeds from germinating or kill young seedlings. Most compounds have no effect upon established plants. Cedars (Thuja spp.) have not been found to have this ability. Even Juglans nigra (black walnut), the best known allelopathic species, has not been shown to have negative effects when wood chips are used as a mulch.”

https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2

So, as long as you are using cedar mulch on large, established plants, you do not need to worry about hurting them (as long as you don’t bury them too deep!)

In addition, there is very little chance of diseases from mulch moving into trees if you around them.  According to Washington State University:

“Most studies indicate that diseased mulch cannot transmit pathogens to the roots of healthy trees.”

https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2

Keep mulch 12 to 18 inches from the base of the tree, and avoid “volcano” mulching (piling up soil at the base of a tree).

Is Cedar Mulch Organic?

Cedar mulch is considered organic, as long as either:

  • The cedar mulch is not painted or dyed, or
  • The dye or paint used to color the mulch is organic (derived from natural compounds).

If in doubt, use mulch that is not dyed or painted!

Does Cedar Mulch Prevent Weeds?

Cedar and other wood mulches can help to prevent weeds by keeping seeds from germinating.  A deeper layer of mulch provides more protection against weeds, but is more expensive.

Washington State University suggests using a layer of mulch that is 4 to 6 inches deep for landscaping and decorative purposes.  On the other hand, a layer 8 to 12 inches deep might be necessary in an area with severe and recurring weeds.

You can also put down a layer of mulch to smother existing weeds.  However, you should pull out large weeds before laying down mulch.

Otherwise, you risk leaving seeds under the mulch, where they will wait for years until the time is right to sprout!

weeds
A thick layer of mulch will prevent weeds from growing.

Alternatives to Cedar Mulch

Maybe you don’t think the extra cost of cedar mulch is worth the benefits it brings.  In that case, here are some alternatives to cedar mulch that you can consider:

  • Pine bark – breaks down quickly, so needs to be replaced often.  Good if you need to add lots of organic material to soil while also preventing weeds.
  • Gravel – small rocks or pebbles offer an attractive landscape feature and will prevent weeds from gaining a foothold in your yard.
  • Rubber – this will not biodegrade, so you won’t need to replace it often (if ever).  However, the fact that it does not decompose means that no nutrients are added to the soil.
  • Cardboard – this is a cheap and easy way to prevent weeds.  Just crush cardboard boxes flat and lay them over any part of your garden where you want to prevent weeds.
  • Leaves, pine needles, or grass – these organic materials will prevent weed growth and will decompose to provide nutrients for the soil.
compost bin
You can use leaves as mulch in your garden, and let them decompose to provide nutrients and organic material in later years.

Conclusion

Now you know what advantages cedar has over regular mulch.  You also have some alternatives to cedar if you are not impressed by these advantages.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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