Unless they have a big landscaping budget, many gardeners eventually try to find ways to protect our vegetable gardens and flower borders by making their own "homemade" natural mulch to retard the growth of weeds, conserve moisture and insulate sensitive plant roots. Although plastic and lava rock have their place in landscaping, they are expensive and can't provide the benefits of organic mulch. Homemade mulches can be designed for usage in specific gardens. As an added benefit, they can be recycled in the compost heap.
Establish a "mulch corner" to age materials several weeks before use. Collect grass clippings, compost and shredded leaves. Mix the grass clippings with shredded leaves or compost in equal measure to keep the clippings from packing down into a dense mat that will keep out air and rain.
Start your mulch corner with half-dried grass raked from the lawn in the spring or thatched in the fall. The first mowing in spring or the last mowing in autumn usually encounter the right proportion of leaves and grass clippings for vegetable gardens. Go over clippings and leaves twice to make finer, more attractive mulch for flower beds.
Shred or chip shrubs and tree branches in the spring after dormant pruning to use in flower beds or around trees. Many municipalities also offer shredded wood from pruning activities. Unfortunately, this wood often contains diseased or insect-infested wood. Any shredded wood will be more attractive and shed insects and bacteria if it sits in the mulch pile for a year before use.
Tear up sheets of newspaper or run it through a paper shredder. Mix it with compost or cover it with shredded wood or bark. The newsprint will insulate garden plants, and the compost or bark will not only dress it up but also hold it in place.
Mulch winter gardens with loose materials like straw, tree branches or pine boughs to shelter ground but discourage insects and rodents. Always remove summer mulch before mulching for winter and work the thick summer mulch into your compost heap. You can shred the winter branches for next summer's mulch.