Using Cedar Mulch in Your Garden – Complete Guide

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Mulch is any material spread over the surface of the soil to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and prevent frosting in the winter. Frequently used to make your garden look more attractive, it is found in many varieties like wood chips, straw, grass clippings, newspaper, etc. As a matter of fact, cedar mulch is the most widely used mulch for gardens. 

Cedar mulch is made from chipped or shredded wood extracted through cedar trees. What makes this mulch different from others is its capacity to resist decay and its reddish hue. Moreover, it is an insect repellent making it a favorable option for many farmers. This mulch does not require much maintenance, and by following our guide, you can reap the full benefits of cedar mulch in your garden. 

Cedar Mulch
Image: trees.com

Reasons to Use Cedar Mulch 

Other than adding some natural charm to your garden, mulch from cedar wood is indispensable when it comes to maintaining soil quality. A few qualities that make it a preferred option for many farmers are:

1. Helps Retain Soil Moisture

Soils often lose moisture through evaporation, leading to unfavorable conditions for the plants to grow in. Even though temperatures cannot be controlled, evaporation can be reduced by forming a barrier between the soil and air. Fortunately, that is exactly what cedar mulch does. By acting as a barrier, and controlling soil temperatures, it helps protect the soil from light winds. Thus, maintaining soil moisture. 

To add to why this is beneficial, it prevents plants from wilting in-between watering. Additionally, lesser irrigation is required since the soil’s water retention capacity is improved. 

2. Improves the Aesthetic of Flower Beds

The red and orange hue of cedarwood contrasts beautifully against green plants, making them stand contrasted in your garden. Not only does it add vibrance to your garden, but also gives a neat and uniform look to it. Also, since cedar mulch is not too expensive, it is a good option for landscaping at lower prices

Improves the Aesthetic of Flower Beds
Image: alpinematerials.com

3. Insect Repellent 

Cedar mulch is effective at naturally repelling insects, thus reducing the need for insecticides. Owing to the natural oils and chemicals it contains, it makes eliminating or reducing insects extensively an easy and affordable task. 

This is of great use around the plant base, especially if you have an insect issue in your garden. However, since it drives away insects, it might not be the best choice if you want your plant to bear fruits. 

4. Slow Decomposition 

When compared with other organic mulches like straw, grass clippings, and pine needles, cedar decomposes slowly. Consequently, this allows you to have the same mulch without needing to replace it for many years.

Slow Decomposition
Image: growfoodguide.com

Also, when cedar decomposes, it releases nutrients into the soil, thus benefitting it. The only requirement is to lay down some landscaping fabric over the areas where you want to spread the mulch. 

5. Improves Soil Temperature Through the Seasons

Cedar mulch offers a layer of insulation to the soil, keeping it warm in winters and cool in the summer. When applied in winters, after the soil is frozen, mulch helps keep the ground frozen so that plants don’t grow too early. Similarly, it can even help in shading the soil during summer, thus keeping it from getting too hot for the roots. In addition to that, it helps to even out abrupt temperature swings. 

If you’re looking for a long-term, inexpensive solution to regulate your soil quality, cedar mulch is an amazing choice. 

When to Not Use Cedar Mulch 

While it has multiple benefits for your garden, some instances make it a non-preferred option. Some of these situations include:

1. Sensitivity to Fragrances 

Since cedar has a strong fragrance, using its mulch can exacerbate pre-existing allergies for people. Even though most people find the scent of cedar pleasant, people with allergies may face many symptoms if exposed to it. A few examples of these symptoms are nasal congestion, sneezing, and teary and itchy eyes. 

Sensitivity to Fragrances
Image: seedsandspades.com

In case you or your family members have any allergy or asthma, try substituting cedar for pine, or other scent-free materials. 

2. Acidic Soil 

Acidic Soil
Image: morningchores.com

When added to soil with an already low pH level, fresh, wood mulches add acid to the soil, which can be problematic. Even though fresh mulch generally also adds acid to the soil, it is in smaller quantities that don’t make a difference. In contrast, if DIY gardeners are already facing soil acidity problems, they should avoid using cedar wood chips as mulch. 


3. Beneficial Insects

Even though cedar mulch is used because of its attractive quality of being a natural pesticide, it might not always be favorable. Primarily because not only will it drive away plant-eating pests, but also other beneficial bugs important for the soil and pollination. 

Beneficial bugs include insects like ladybugs, ground beetles, damsel bugs, etc. These insects help in pollination and even prey on damaging bugs. All in all, these bugs provide a long-term, sustainable solution to pest infestation. 

Beneficial Insects

4. Nitrogen Depletion 

Mulch from cedar trimmings draws nitrogen from the soil during its decomposition process. All wood trimming mulches do this, sometimes leading to the unavailability of nutrients to feed plants and help them grow. 

Nitrogen Depletion
Image: theconsciousfarmer.com

However, only the top surface of the soil is affected by it, since it is in direct contact with the mulch. In such cases, it shouldn’t be a problem since the roots will still be able to get nutrients from the bottom levels of the soil. The only exception to this is when mulch gets mixed into the layers of soil. In that scenario, it can deplete nitrogen levels near the roots, therefore having negative effects on your plantation. 

5. Wet Soil

Known to help the soil retain moisture, cedar mulch might not always be beneficial for your soil. Especially if your soil is already moisture retentive. Soil with poor drainage properties can become boggy, thus leading roots and plants to rot. In case your soil has a high propensity to become waterlogged, you should avoid using mulch or should use it in lesser quantities. 

Wet Soil
Image: earthundaunted.com

6. Restricted Budget 

Although cedar mulch is not too expensive, it is still more costly when compared to other mulches. The difference between the smaller bags might not be much. However, when added up, there could be a huge difference between buying cedar mulch and other organic mulches. 

Therefore, if you’re trying to cut down on costs, cedar mulch might not be the best option.

Restricted Budget
Image: doughroller.net

If you face any of these situations, you should consider alternatives. A few alternatives to cedar mulch could be leaves and pine needles, grass clippings, newspaper, and pebbles and rocks. 

Using Cedar Mulch 

While mulching essentially involves spreading wood chips, newspaper, or grass clippings across your flower beds, if done right, it can reap a lot of benefits. Follow the below-mentioned method we suggest for applying mulch to your garden. 

Things Required:

You can even get a bucket to make it easier to store and spread your mulch. 

Steps to follow

Mulching may seem like a simple gardening task, but there are more steps involved in the process than you’d guess. These steps are:

Choosing the Right Time to Mulch 

Deciding when to mulch depends on what you want to achieve out of mulching. Different seasons have different effects when it comes to mulching.

1. Spring 

Consider topping your vegetable garden with mulch in spring, only after the soil warms up. Not to forget, soil that is cool will portray the exact same behavior as wet soil. This is what hinders the seed germination aspect, and there is then a multifold chance of dying seeds and seedlings. 

It’s simple, if DIYers prefer an added layer of mulch on the soil, waiting till the soil gets warm is a sensible idea.

2. Fall

When applying mulches for winters, you should apply them after the soil freezes, but before the cold temperature arrives. Spreading mulches before the soil freezes can attract rodents that search for warm places before winter.

3. Winter

Relying on mulch during the winter season assists in resisting the freezing of soil towards the end of winter. Additionally, mulch in winter blocks the natural thawing that is supposed to occur on the soil. This can cause severe damage to the soil. 

It is the repetitive period of warm days and cold nights that lead to tinier rooted plants getting extracted from the ground. Once these roots are exposed, the plant will most probably die in a few days. Thus, applying mulch during winter avoids the problem of fluctuating temperatures. 

4. Summer

The soil in the summers gets heated up causing the plants to not grow without burning. Cedar mulch helps in regulating the heat and making the soil cooler in warm months, thus allowing your vegetable garden to become healthier. 

Ultimately, experts suggest laying mulch after spring planting. 

Calculating the Amount of Cedar Mulch to Buy

Since cedar mulch is already expensive, you do not want to overbuy and waste your money. At the same time, buying a lesser amount will cause you to stop your mulching tasks halfway. Therefore, it is important to buy the right quantity of mulch. 

Calculating the Amount of Cedar Mulch to Buy
Image: cyncesplace.com

To start calculating how much mulch you need, you need to:

  • Determine the square footage of the area you want to cover 
  • Following this, you should multiply it by the inches of mulch you want to apply
  • Finally divide that number by 12, as a cubic foot of mulch can cover 12 square feet 

It is usually recommended to apply a 2-4 inch layer of mulch. If you aren’t sure, you can use this measurement for mulching in your garden. 

Applying Mulch to the Area 

After you have cleaned out the area that needs to be mulched, you can start with the process. However, remember to clean the area of all dried-up leaves, sticks, and other debris. Then, follow these steps to successfully apply mulch to your flower beds:

  • Since mulch helps seal in moisture, if your beds are dry you should water them to prevent weed seeds from germinating 
  • One main benefit of cedar mulch is its ability to suppress weed growth, therefore, remove existing weeds for a head start 
  • Shovel the mulch from the bucket or wheelbarrow, and spread it evenly on the area using your hands 
  • Smoothen and level the area using a rake, or your hands 
  • Water the mulch after applying to keep it in place

However, remember to water the area lightly, since there could be waterlogging. 

Maintaining Your Mulch 

Cedar mulch is prone to losing its red hue fast. Therefore, it needs proper maintenance to look bright and new at all times. If not managed correctly, mulch can be disadvantageous for your soil. Keep the following points in mind when taking care of mulch in your gardens: 

  • Keep replenishing the material, at least on the top surface, to maintain the bright hue of cedar
  • Avoid dousing new mulch with water, a little sprinkle is okay, and it even helps prevent seepage into the soil 

  • If you notice mold forming on your mulch, turn it slightly to allow all surfaces to get exposed to air 
  • In case weeds sprout through the mulch, remove it using your hands or an effective weed killer
  • Turning mulch gently with a rake can help maintain a bright appearance 

Following these few simple tips will ensure your cedar mulch looks bright and new, as opposed to a faded appearance. 

Bonus Tips to Keep in Mind

Besides following the steps mentioned above, applying these bonus tips while mulching will ensure your trees and garden beds stay unharmed: 

  • Do not mound mulch against a tree’s trunk, instead, keep it a little further away to prevent rotting and diseases
  • Avoid over-applying mulch since it causes roots to grow shallow, making the plants more susceptible to death in drier periods
  • Use lighter mulch instead of cedar where replanting is required
  • Once you start applying mulch, do not remove a layer since it can dry out the soil and destroy the roots 

Lastly, you should avoid using cedar mulch and other heavier mulches for vegetable gardens since the soil needs to be turned each year. 

Cons of Using Cedar Mulch 

Like all things, cedar mulch has a flipside too. Therefore, when deciding what mulch to use, you should be aware of not just the positive attributes, but the negative ones too. A few disadvantages of mulch from cedar wood are:  

Loses Color Fast 

While cedar is widely known for its beautiful red hue, in reality, it does not last long. It is prone to losing its earthy color fast, often giving a faded appearance to your flower beds after a while. The material starts turning into a grey color within one or two seasons, making it an unpleasant sight for many. 

Loses Color Fast
Image: cuttingedgehardscapes.com

Potential Fire Hazard

If you apply it near wooden, inflammable structures, you are creating a potential fire risk. This is because the cedar chips can get heated up in arid and hot environmental conditions, becoming inflammable. 

Moreover, if the mulch comes in contact with a lighter, lantern, or torch, it will burst into flames and may damage your property. 

Potential Fire Hazard
Image: yourlandscapinghelp.com

Encourages Growth of Fungi 

Flowers, shrubs, and trees usually prefer to have soil that has a lot of bacteria. These plants consume them as a form of nutrient, providing for germination and ongoing results throughout each season.

However, if you add cedar mulch as a way to preserve your planted areas, fungi might start to establish dominance on your property. This can lead to a deterioration in overall production. DIYers residing in humid and hot locations can observe issues in as soon as 24 months. This is mainly because we use organic materials for this process.


Cedar mulch is an organic form of mulch that is exceptional for improving the appearance of your garden beds and improving soil quality. However, there may be some instances when it is not favorable for gardeners. The best way to decide is by doing in-depth research and looking at all available options. 

Bonus Read: Struggling to eliminate grass-eating grubs? 1 of these 7 grub killers should ease your battle against these annoying rodents.

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