Bagged vs Bulk Mulch – Which Is Right For You?

Mulch is an important part of any gardening project. It provides countless benefits to your plants and soil, and makes landscaped beds look clean and attractive.

When buying mulch, you have a lot of options. Brown mulch, black mulch, red mulch, rubber mulch, natural mulch, and so much more. But, first you have to decide whether to buy your mulch in bags or in bulk.

In this article, I’ll share a detailed comparison of bagged vs bulk mulch. It should help you decide which route to take based on the project you are working on. Let’s get started!

Bagged mulch at store

Main Differences Between Bagged and Bulk Mulch

The primary difference between bagged and bulk mulch is the price and quantity. Ultimately, if you need more mulch, you’ll probably want to get it in bulk. If you just have a few garden beds to mulch, you may choose to buy bags.

Bagged Mulch:

  • Best for smaller applications
  • Wider selection of types
  • More expensive by volume
  • Produces a lot of plastic waste

Bulk Mulch:

  • Dropped off in a large pile on your property
  • Great for large beds or landscaping
  • Cheaper by volume
  • Usually less diverse selection
Cedar mulch in hand

Buying bags of mulch may seem simpler, but this isn’t always the case. Purchasing bagged mulch involves driving to one of the big box stores, loading them into your car, driving them back, and slicing open all of the individual bags around your landscape bed.

With bulk mulch, it will usually arrive in a dump truck, dropped anywhere you want on your property. Then, you have a pile of mulch to shovel around to your different gardens. No plastic or trips to Home Depot with this option!

Price Comparison Between Bagged and Bulk Mulch

If you’re still on the fence, let’s break down the price differences between bagged and bulk mulch. Most bulk mulch will come in a minimum of 1 cubic yard (27 cubic feet). By comparison, most bag mulch is sold in a 2 cubic foot bag.

On average, bulk mulch will cost between $45-75 per yard with delivery included. This varies based on your location, quantity, and type of mulch you are buying. This breaks down to $1.66-2.77 per cubic foot.

Bagged mulch averages about $4 per 2 cubic foot bag, breaking down to $2 per cubic foot. So, depending on the quantity needed, you can save money (and plastic) by buying in bulk.

Free bulk mulch?

One commonly overlooked option is to call your local arborist. Many tree-cutting services will happily drop off fresh hardwood chips, free of charge.

The drawbacks are that they will often want to unload a lot of wood chips (at least 5-10 yards). It may be a good idea to talk to your neighbors and divide up a load of fresh wood chips.

The benefits are that it is a natural, un-dyed, organic mulch that can actually help support a local small business. Plus, if you wanted colored mulch, you can use a mulch dye to dye it yourself.

How much mulch do you need?

1 cubic yard of mulch can cover about 100 square feet when applied 3″ deep. My personal recommendation is to buy in bulk if you need at least 1 yard of mulch. For smaller projects, a few bags may be enough.

Bagged Mulch

Bagged mulches are perfectly fine for small flower beds or gardens, or for topping off an existing bed. Many of these mulches are dyed different colors (red, black, brown), but also come in natural wood finish, such as cedar.

Cedar mulch bag

A lot of people prefer the simplicity of picking up bags from the garden center instead of calling local businesses to find the best price.

Bagged Mulch Pros and Cons

Since you have to buy individual bags, it is common to under-mulch when using bagged mulch. Your mulch layer should be about 3-4″ thick, which means you need quite a bit to cover a large garden bed.

Bagged mulches are also often dyed for appearance. These chemicals fade over time, and can also leech into the soil, making them unsuitable for growing edible plants.

Black bagged mulch
Dyed mulches fade over time.

Bagged mulch can also contain a variety of recycled products that may contain harmful chemicals. It is best to find a mulch that is certified all-natural to avoid contaminating your soil.

The benefits are that bagged mulch is convenient for small projects. If you only need a few cubic feet to surround a new fruit tree, then picking up a few bags is a good option.

Again, bagged mulch prices can be higher by volume than buying in bulk. However, it all comes down to what type of mulch you are in need of, and how much you need for your project.

Bulk Mulch

For any new landscaping or perennial beds, I highly recommend buying in bulk. You’ll need a large amount of mulch (probably more than you think) to adequately cover the soil.

compost pile large

Bulk costs are lower, and you won’t have to waste plastic just to transport your mulch, making it the eco-friendly choice. Check your local nurseries to compare prices, as some companies may charge an extra delivery fee.

Bulk Mulch Pros and Cons

Buying anything in bulk usually saves you money, and the same is true for mulch. The more you need, the more you’ll save by going with a bulk delivery.

If your mulch is not dyed, you can even store it under a tarp in a pile for later. So if you’re on the fence and don’t need that much, consider saving some of it for your next gardening project.

The drawbacks of bulk mulch are that it can be messy when it is dumped in a pile. You’ll also need a fairly large area to keep the mulch until it is used up.

The bottom line is that buying mulch in bulk (or getting it for free from local tree-cutters) is the economical choice. However, bagged mulches do have their place for small projects.

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