How to get free mulch

If you want healthy soil and healthy plants, you’ve got to mulch. Mulch is not compost–they’re often confused. Mulch is the dry, carbon-rich plant matter which you apply around your trees and shrubs to retain moisture, build soil and repress weeds. It’s also a good material for walkways and open spaces in a yard. Mulch can be made of leaf litter or straw or pine needles or many other things, but one of the most common types of mulch comes in the form of shredded tree trimmings.

Now, arborists and tree services are often happy enough to dump their shredded trimmings in your driveway, because this is often better for them than having to haul the trimmings to a disposal facility and pay a disposal fee. The problem is how do the tree services with mulch to give and folks who want mulch hook up?

A couple named Lori and Mark Russell are working on this problem. They developed a website and free app to put these parties in contact with one another. The app is in beta now, and they are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,500 to finish the app.

This is one of those projects which just makes good sense. It keeps valuable green matter out of landfills, saves miles on the road and tons of wasted fuel. It provides gardeners with much-needed mulch, which helps build soil, grow beautiful plants and sequester carbon. And it’s all free. What’s not to love?

Check out

Or go straight to the Kickstarter page.

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  1. ok this is cool! I’ve been considering this very thing for my house. I’m intimidated by cold calling tree trimming companies though. Further, I’m worried that I’ll get mulch from a diseased tree that was cut down and I don’t want to introduce that to my yard, when I have old, healthy pecan and oak trees currently.
    Thanks for spreading the word about this app. I’m not a big app person myself, but this might be a good one for me and other gardeners out there.

  2. This is a GREAT idea!

    I have to warn you, though–my brother is an arborist and he tells me that the men on his crew like to use the chip piles as whiz palaces when they’re out in the field.

    So as long as you’re okay with a little pee in your petunias, why not?!

    • Ha! Actually, a little pee could be helpful–it adds some nitrogen to the system. At the very least, it won’t hurt anything

  3. After reading copious suggestions to build a relationship with my local tree service, I have tried calling three…offering to purchase loads of wood chips…and zero response. It’s not as easy as everyone makes it sound!

    • I hear you. I think this app is a good idea because it helps link tree services with people wanting mulch in the same area that the tree service is working in, so they can just dump it off immediately. It’s not in their interest to make a special trip to your house if you’re not already in the neighborhood, if you see what I mean. That said, this is a little like an online dating service–you can say you’re interested, but if there’s no one working in your neighborhood, you get no mulch, or if there are other people competing for the the local tree guy’s attention, so to speak, you might have to wait for your mulch ’til someone bites on your request. Still, it’s better than cold calling and begging.

    • A good point. Our landscapes need diversity to support native insects. You can have too much of a good thing (mulch, that is).

  4. There’s already at least two apps/websites doing this: Chip Drop and Chipero, though neither have worked for me.

  5. Please suggest to your friends to add some rewards like e-books on mulching or orchard care, Back to Eden style garden support materials, T-shirts, etc. They will probably do better on Kickstarter when there are more enticing rewards.

  6. My ancho chiles and bell peppers were always on the small side, so I was told to mulch to keep the roots evenly moist. I was worried about the effects of certain mulches breaking down on my plants, as I read that the pine needles I used to keep slugs out of my garden add acid to my soil (so I only used them around the edges of my raised planters.) And wood chips leech nitrogen. Just something to think about. I decided on red plastic mulch, since I live in west LA, and we get a lot of coastal fog here. The mulch has allowed me to turn down the times on my drip irrigation – huge here in LA.

    • Glad your system is working, and I hope you have a good pepper crop this year!

      A couple of points of clarification, though, on the mulches. First, pine needles don’t add acid to the soil, they change the pH, pushing it toward the acidic end of the spectrum. Our soils in LA tend to be alkaline, so a pine needle mulch would not harm anything, and may help balance soil pH.

      Second, wood mulch doesn’t steal nitrogen from plants. True, it is carbon-heavy, and “looks for” nitrogen, but the carbon-nitrogen exchange happens in a very thin layer at the very top of the soil. It doesn’t bother plants, and of course, wood mulch breaks down over time and builds soil, feeding the plants, so it is actually very beneficial. Hope this helps!

  7. Pingback: Mulch, mulch, mulch! | Root Simple

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