Best All Around Mulch
What is the best all around mulch to use in the garden?
It depends on your gardening likes, style, budget, and the availability of mulch materials. I like to rake and shred fall leaves from my yard to use as a mulch in flower and vegetable gardens. Some municipalities provide leaf mulch (composted leaves) for their residents to use. Both quickly break down adding organic matter to the soil. This means you need to replenish the mulch more often.
Evergreen needles are another good garden mulch. In some areas gardeners can buy bales of "pine straw". In the north we usually have to rake our own. The evergreen needles are longer lasting than the leaves, great to walk on barefoot and I think aesthetically pleasing. They eventually break down adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil and do NOT make it too acidic.
Cocoa bean shells are popular in flower gardens. A thin layer can effectively suppress weeds. I like to mix it with rice hulls to reduce problems with slime mold also known as dog vomit fungus. The mold is unsightly but does not harm the plants. Pet owners beware that some dogs eat the mulch and can become sick or even die. There is also some concern about disease problems and cocoa bean shells can be costly when mulching large areas.
Wood mulches are best for paths, trees and shrubs. These products break down slowly temporarily tying up the nitrogen in the soil. This can result in stunted growth of flowers and vegetables mulched with wood chips. Additional nitrogen may be needed if woodchip much is used on annual and even perennial flowers and vegetables. Twice shredded wood mulch breaks down faster and I have had luck using it on perennial gardens. Watch the plant's growth for signs of nutrient deficiencies. Add a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer if plants are stunted and leaves are uncharacteristically pale or yellow.