Cedar Mulch in the Garden – Everything You Need to Know

Mulching your garden can help conserve soil moisture, prevent weed growth, and improve soil structure. And if you choose cedar mulch, you can also enjoy insect-repelling properties and a pleasant aroma.

I’m going to introduce you to the benefits and advantages of cedar mulch and also cover how to apply it to your garden.

What Is Cedar Mulch?

Cedar mulch consists of chipped and shredded cedar trees. It’s often made from just cedar bark, but it may also contain cedar wood as well.

There are multiple types of cedar trees, and cedar bark can be made from one or more of these species. Some of these trees are “true cedars” since they belong to the Cedrus genus. These include the atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) and Cyprus cedar (Cedrus brevifolia).

However, the majority of cedar mulch is made from trees other than “true cedars.” These include the eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and white cedar (Thuja occidentalis).

While foresters often harvest cedar trees for lumber, smaller branches and bark are byproducts of timbering. Rather than wasting these materials, professionals chip the materials to make cedar mulch.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cedar Mulch

Like all types of mulch, cedar mulch comes with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Weighing the pros and cons of this mulch can help you determine whether it’s the right choice for you.


Cedar mulch offers many benefits, including those outlined below.

Conserves Moisture

One of the big benefits of using cedar mulch is that it helps prevent soil moisture from evaporating. That means the soil stays moist for a longer period, and you can water less often. This can help save water and also time.

While any amount of cedar mulch will limit evaporation, a thicker layer of mulch will conserve more moisture than a thinner layer will. I recommend applying about two inches of cedar mulch to help with water conservation.

Limits Weed Growth

Adding cedar mulch to your garden can also help limit the number of weeds that are present. This mulch uses two different mechanisms to make this happen.

First, a layer of mulch can prevent weed seeds from germinating. And if seeds never germinate, weed will never emerge!

Second, mulch can smother young weeds, leading to their death.

That’s not to say that your garden beds will remain completely weed free. However, I’ve found that it’s easier to pull weeds from mulched beds than it is from bare ground.

Remember to apply at least two inches of mulch if you want to keep weeds at bay.

Stabilizes Soil Temperature

Adding cedar mulch acts as a buffer between the air and the soil, which can help slow fluctuations in soil temperature. Mulching will help keep soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, benefiting plants.

Slow to Break Down

One of the unique benefits of cedar mulch is that it breaks down more slowly than other types of wood mulch. That’s because cedar trees contain various antimicrobial and antifungal compounds that help them hold up outdoors.

The exact compounds found in cedar trees vary depending on the species. Some of them include thujopsene, cedrol, methyl thujate, and thujaplicin.

Adds Organic Matter to the Soil

Since cedar mulch is made from a naturally occurring material, it adds organic matter to the soil. Increased soil organic matter leads to many benefits, such as improved drainage and increased nutrient-holding capacity.

However, since cedar mulch takes a while to break down, it can take a year or more to see an increase in soil organic matter.

Helps Prevent Erosion

Naked soil is susceptible to erosion from rain and wind. Applying a layer of cedar mulch to the top of the soil can help act as a buffer from these erosive forces.

Keeping soil in place helps you retain valuable nutrients, protect crops from stress, and prevent the pollution of local waterways.

Adds a Pleasant Fragrance

One reason why many gardeners love cedar mulch doesn’t relate to its impact on plants. Instead, it’s all about that pleasant aroma!

Cedar mulch smells like, well, cedar. Many people love this earthy, musky aroma that has the ability to transport you to a relaxing forest.

Helps Repel Insect Pests

You’ve probably heard of storing wool blankets in cedar chests or putting some cedar shavings in your closet to keep away moths. That’s because cedar wood contains compounds that help repel and kill insects.

Therefore, applying cedar mulch to your garden can help keep away insect pests like squash bugs, flea beetles, fire ants, and more. It can also help repel pesky critters like mosquitos and ticks.

With that said, you should always be on the lookout for pests! Cedar mulch can help control these insects, but a multi-pronged control strategy is best.


While cedar mulch offers lots of advantages, there are also a few disadvantages you should consider.

Difficult to Buy in Bulk

Cedar mulch may be difficult to find in bulk depending on where you live. That means you may have to purchase small bags of cedar mulch rather than ordering a truckload from a landscaping company or nursery.

If you’re only mulching a small area, this generally isn’t too much of a problem. However, if you’re applying mulch to a large garden, purchasing and spreading bagged mulch can be cost-prohibitive and/or annoying.

More Expensive Than Other Wood Mulch

Cedar mulch typically costs more than other types of wood mulch such as hardwood mulch and colored mulch. The price difference will be small if you’re only buying a few bags of mulch. But if you’re mulching a large garden, you may want to consider less expensive options.

Can Repel Good Bugs

While cedar mulch can help keep away pesky insects, it can also discourage beneficial insects from entering your garden. That means you may notice a decrease in critters such as bees, ladybugs, and ground beetles.

Applying Cedar Mulch to the Garden: When to Use and When Not to Use

You can use cedar mulch for a wide variety of mulching applications. Whether you’re looking to keep weeds down in your flower garden, conserve moisture around your tomato and pepper plants, or help prevent erosion around your blueberry bushes, it’s a great option.

I think that cedar mulch is a great option for a wide variety of gardens. However, since it is a wood mulch, it can be cumbersome and difficult to apply.

If you are mulching a large garden or aren’t able to complete heavy lifting, you may want to opt for a lighter mulch like straw.

When Is the Best Time to Apply Cedar Mulch?

The best time to apply cedar mulch depends on what plants you’re growing and when you plant them. In general, it’s easier to apply mulch after your plants are in the ground. However, you can apply mulch first and then push aside mulch before planting.

If you are planting flowers, vegetables, or trees in the spring, try to mulch soon after the plants are in the ground. This will help conserve moisture, which will allow the new plants to establish roots.

Missed out on mulching your plants in the spring? You can always apply cedar mulch in the summer or fall.

How to Apply Cedar Mulch to a Garden

Vegetable Garden

Some people say that you should avoid applying cedar mulch to a vegetable garden since it can lower soil pH or rob the soil of nitrogen. But it turns out that both of these statements are myths.

If you apply mulch to the top of the soil it won’t impact soil pH or nitrogen content. However, you should avoid mixing mulch into the soil since this can tie up nitrogen and lead to stunted plant growth.

I find that cedar mulch can work well if you’re growing long-season vegetable crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The mulch will help conserve moisture and prevent weeds throughout the course of the plants’ lives.

After you plant these crops in the ground, apply about two inches of cedar mulch around the base of the plants. Leave a few inches of blank

However, cedar mulch isn’t the best option for quick-growing crops like lettuce, arugula, and beets. That’s because it is slow to break down and will still be around after the crops are ready to harvest. You can apply cedar mulch around these crops, but you should rake it out of your beds before you plant another crop.

Flower Garden

Cedar mulch can be a great option for flower gardens. It helps conserve moisture and keep down weeds, allowing your flowers to thrive with less effort.

If you’re planting annual flowers like snapdragons, marigolds, and zinnias, it’s best to plant the flowers first and apply mulch after. Once your flowers are in the ground, apply a layer of cedar mulch around the plants, leave an inch or two of space around the stem of the plants. The mulch should be about two inches thick in order to prevent evaporation and suppress weeds.

Perennial flowers like coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, peonies, and yarrow will continue to grow from year to year, so you may need to apply mulch more than once. I like to clean perennial plants up in the late winter or early spring and then apply a fresh layer of cedar mulch around the plants.

Fruit Trees and Shrubs

Adding cedar mulch to the base of fruit trees like peaches and plums can help conserve moisture and keep away competing weeds. This is especially true when the trees are young.

When you mulch trees, including fruit trees, you should avoid mulching up against the trunk of the tree. That’s because mulch helps trap moisture, which can lead to a rotting trunk if you’re not careful.

That means you should leave a six-inch to twelve-inch gap between the tree’s trunk and the mulch. Applying cedar mulch about three to six feet out from the base of the tree will help keep the soil moist and prevent weeds.

Make sure only to apply about two to three inches of mulch since a thicker layer can prevent the roots from breathing and lead to rot.

You can also use cedar mulch around other fruit plants like blueberry bushes. Cedar mulch is especially great for blueberry bushes since the acidic mulch will lower soil pH and make the plants happy. Add four to six inches of mulch in a three-foot diameter around the base of the bushes.

Some of the Best Options for Cedar Mulch

Since it can be difficult to find cedar mulch in bulk, you may need to rely on bagged mulch. I’ve included two good options below.

Premium 100% Aromatic Cedar Mulch

This cedar mulch comes in two cubic-foot bags and is available at Lowes and some other stores. It may not be available near you, so it’s best to check with local stores before traveling to purchase it.

Coast of Maine Natural Cedar Mulch

You can also look into cedar mulch from the Coast of Maine. It comes in two cubic-foot bags for easy transport and application.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Cedar Mulch Safe for Dogs?

Dogs won’t experience any serious damage if they eat a bit of cedar mulch, but they can become sick if they consume lots of mulch. Therefore, you should discourage your dogs from eating any type of mulch.

Does Cedar Mulch Attract Bugs?

Cedar mulch typically repels bugs rather than attracts them. However, since it affects most insects the same way, it can repel both good and bad insects.

How Long Does Cedar Mulch Last?

The temperature, size of mulch pieces, and mulch thickness can all impact how long cedar mulch will last. You can expect a two-inch layer of cedar mulch to last for one growing season. After it begins breaking down, you should reapply another layer of mulch.

Learn More About Mulch

If you want to explore other options besides cedar mulch, check out some of the best mulches for flower beds and mulch for vegetable gardens.

Photo of author

Briana Yablonski

Briana holds a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Penn State University and has been working with plants, soil, and ecology for over ten years. She spent five years working on vegetable farms throughout the East Coast before starting her own farm in 2020. She has been writing about plants, food, and science since 2019.

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