Basically, all mulch falls into two categories – organic and inorganic. There are obviously some benefits to using an organic form of mulch. The main benefit is that any organic substance will eventually break down. In that regard, organic is a much more eco friendly choice.
However, the type of landscape mulch that you ultimately choose to use depends on your personal needs.
Pine Bark: Pine Bark is an extremely popular choice in many flower beds. It is extremely effective at controlling weeds and retaining moisture.
Hardwood Mulch: You can get hardwood in two different types of mulch. The first is wood chips and the second is in a shredded form. Both types have advantages, but most people feel that the shredded option is easier to work with and more attractive. Shredded hardwood will also decompose more slowly than wood chips.
Hay or Straw: First, there is a difference between hay and straw and hay should never be used as a mulch in your yard as the hay itself contains weeds. Straw can be used effectively, but it’s not really very attractive and it decomposes very rapidly. It is, however, a good choice to cover new lawn area while you wait for your grass to come in.
Pine Needles: This type of landscape mulch is actually quite attractive depending on the type of flower beds that you have. It allows water to penetrate very easily and is effective at retaining moisture. It’s also a wonderful weed barrier. Think about walking through a forest that’s full of pine needles – how many weeds do you see? For a different look, pine needles are a great choice.
Ground Cover: Okay, I know that ground cover isn’t exactly mulch, but I think it’s worth mentioning here. Many ground covers can be used effectively in place of mulch. It can be an effective form of weed control and will cover your soil – effectively protecting the root area of the plants and retaining moisture.
Gravel, Stone, or Pebbles: By far the most popular of all inorganic mulches avaiable, these are good for places where your plants are permanent. Because rocks don’t decompose, it can be a real hassle when you want to replant in an area that’s already covered in rocks or pebbles. You only need about an inch of any of these substances to assist with weed control.
Ground Rubber Tire Mulch: A fairly new option on the market, it is an interesting way to deal with tires. It won’t break down and never needs to be replaced. That said, since the rubber is typically dark colored (as in, BLACK!), it is going to generate additional heat in your garden, just like a asphalt driveway would.
Landscape Cloth: Not really attractive at all, landscape cloth is usually laid as a weed barrier and then covered with another form of mulch for aesthetics. Landscape cloth is preferable to using garbage bags as it allows air to travel through it.
Trash Bags: Again, these are usually used for weed control and not as a decorative measure. Never use clear plastic bags – they are not effective at stopping weeds. You can use black trash bags, but as mentioned above, using landscape cloth is a better choice these types of covers “breath.”
While not a comprehensive list of the types of mulch that are available, this should help to get you on the right path. What you should do now is head out to your local garden store. Look around at the options available in your area to see what appeals to you.