gloved hand of a gardener mulching around evergreen shrubs with cedar mulch

The Pros And Cons Of Using Cedar Mulch In The Home Garden

Common in flower pots, flower beds, and pathways, cedar mulch is a unique one-of-a-kind mulch that has additional properties, including insect repelling and soil effects. Comprised of the clippings and the shavings of the bark of the cedar tree, this mulch is found in many beautiful gardens. Many forests even have their own natural form of cedar mulch that helps to improve the forest.

Long sought after for their wood properties, cedar trees grow quickly and are typically straight, which makes them ideal in the wood industry. However, before cedar is cut into logs, it has to be limbed, and these limbs and the bark are what are turned into mulch for your garden.

Ideal as a ground cover, cedar mulch has a multitude of purposes in the yard and garden area. You can also find dyed cedar mulch, so if you’re trying to adhere to a specific color scheme, dyed mulch may be an ideal way to go about color-enhancing your garden.

It’s important to note that cedar mulch not only repels troublesome insects, but it also repels beneficial insects and pollinators; for this reason, it should be used only under specific conditions.

What is Cedar Mulch?

Cedar mulch is comprised of the trimmings and bark of the cedar tree. The trees are limbed up when felling trees, and branches and bark are frequently put through a chipper to change them into mulch. Available in its natural reddish-brown color, it can also be found dyed in deeper reds, yellows, browns, blacks, and occasionally other colors. Cedar mulch is very aromatic and often has a strong scent of cedar. The fresher the mulch, the more pronounced the aroma.

Why Do Gardeners Use Mulch?

Gardeners use mulch to hold the nutrients and water in the ground so that plants will have plenty of water and nourishment when growing. When left bare, soil can quickly deteriorate and erode thanks to water, wind, and other environmental factors. Mulch is also often used for aesthetic purposes and looks very attractive in planters, flower beds, paths and walkways, and gardens adding to the garden’s appeal.

Why Is Mulching Good for Your Garden?

Gardeners don’t mulch their gardens just for aesthetics; it’s also done to help protect soil and plants from erosion and loss of nutrients. Mulching helps to hold in the nutrients and water, providing plenty of nourishment to plants. It also helps to prevent soil erosion and loss of nutrients by watering and keeping the soil in place from the wind and other elements that may cause the soil to erode.

In addition to preventing soil erosion, mulching helps to reduce weeds which can quickly overtake a walkway, pathway, garden, or flower bed and squeeze out the flowers or vegetables that are supposed to be growing. The mulch works to keep the weeds down while allowing the plant an opportunity to grow strong and healthy.

Productive gardening requires warmer temperatures, and the mulch helps to hold the heat in the soil and maintain a healthy temperature for plants even if the weather takes an occasional unexpected dip by a few degrees. In addition, the mulch will help to protect the roots from the occasional temperature dip and encourage healthier growth of the plant and root system.

Cedar mulch specifically can help to protect your tender plants from pests and insects that are hungry and want to dine on your tender young plants. The insects and pests don’t like the scent of cedar and will avoid those plants.

Inert and Non-Inert Mulch

It’s important to understand that anything that covers the ground can be considered mulch. However, not all mulch is created equal. Mulch can be comprised of old blankets, old rugs or carpeting, cardboard, gravel, rocks, stones, or even other items that cover the soil around plants.

An excellent example of inert mulch would be stones, rocks, or gravel. Since these don’t decompose, they aren’t going to be imparting any form of nutrition into the soil. By contrast, the bark is only partially inert. When the bark is fresh, it will begin to decompose, and the decomposition releases nutrients into the soil. However, eventually, those nutrients are depleted, so there is no more to give to the soil, and the bark changes to an inert form of mulch.

Consider, too, that mulch can change the pH of the soil that it’s placed upon. Green pine needles and grass clippings, for example, can change the pH of the soil, making it more acidic. The same effect can be achieved using bark, clippings, and other forms of mulch. If you’re using aged cedar, the cedar has already begun to decompose, and it won’t impart as many changes into the soil.

Never underestimate the benefits of a good mulch. Different mulches can offer the garden different benefits, so it’s important to understand soil pH and the benefits of the various types of mulch that are available to you before choosing which mulch to use in the various areas of the garden. Many gardeners use several different types of mulch in and around their gardens so that they can reap the benefits that different mulches offer.

two hands holding cedar mulch in a garden

Pros and Cons of Cedar Mulch

There are many great pros and cons to cedar mulch. Depending on the goal of the garden, cedar mulch may be the ideal solution. However, not all gardens will benefit from cedar mulch. These pros and cons should help to identify when and where to use cedar mulch in the garden.


Long-lasting: Cedar mulch is long-lasting in comparison to other organic mulches, such as straw and pine mulch. If you’re looking for mulch that you won’t have to replace often, then cedar mulch may be the ideal option, as it will last for many years to come.

Insect repelling: Cedar is a natural insect repellant; for this reason, it’s been a long-time favorite with many gardeners. No one wants to sit outside and be devoured by insects. If you have an insect problem in a specific area, cedar mulch may be an ideal option for controlling it.

Ideal ground cover: Cedar mulch is an ideal ground cover, an important quality for any kind of mulch. Sometimes there is a lot of space between plants that need that extra something to keep them looking nice. Since it can be dyed, you can choose a variety of color options for your ground cover.

Pleasant aroma: To the human nose, cedar smells pleasant and won’t be as offensive as some mulches are when decomposing.

Pretty and attractive: Cedar mulch is an attractive reddish brown, which many gardeners prefer, it’s also available in dyed forms, so there are many options that can be considered when choosing mulch for the garden.


Repels all insects: Cedar mulch is a natural insect repellant; however, it also repels beneficial insects and pollinators. If you’re seeking pest control but want the benefits of pollinators, this isn’t the mulch for you; you’ll want to find another type of mulch for your purposes.

Negative impact on the ecosystem: Cedar can have a negative impact on the ecosystem by releasing acetic acid, which can be harmful to plants.

Costly: Cedar mulch can be more expensive than other forms of mulch. If you’re on a budget, you may wish to consider a different option, especially if you have a large area that you want to mulch.

Slow decomposition: Cedar decomposes more slowly than other forms of mulch. For some, this may be an advantage; however, for others, it is a huge disadvantage as it won’t impart the positive effects of mulch leeching nutrients into the soil for as long.

Loses color: Cedar tends to lose its color faster than other decorative mulches, which means that if you were using it for aesthetics and color enhancements, it won’t be as long-lasting as other forms of mulch. Also, if it was dyed, the color fading will be leaching chemicals into the soil, which can be damaging to nearby plants as well as the vitality of the soil.

Smell: Some people find that the aroma of cedar is too strong or more off-putting than other forms of mulch. The older the cedar mulch is, the less likely this is to be a factor.

Should I Use Natural or Dyed Cedar Mulch?

Choosing to use dyed or natural mulch is more than just a personal preference; dyes that are used in the mulch can break down over time and leach chemicals from the form of dye into the soil. If you’re going to be consuming the plants, you probably won’t want to be consuming the chemicals from the dyes that change the color of the mulch. There are some dyes that are edible, so you’ll want to make sure to read the fine print regarding the dye that is used to change the color of the mulch you plan to use before using dyed mulch in a vegetable garden or an orchard.

Dyes can also have an impact on the environment. If you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint and have less of an impact on your environment, you may wish to use an all-natural cedar mulch in lieu of a chemically dyed version.

When to Use and Not to Use Cedar Mulch?

Clearly, there is a time and a place to use cedar mulch. It is ideal to use on walking paths, dog runs (as long as your dogs don’t have issues with the cedar odor), and plants that are well-established. Dyed mulches can also leach chemical dyes into the ground, and if you’re trying to live green, this isn’t an ideal solution. There are some dyed forms of cedar mulch that are all-natural forms of dye.

Depending on who you talk to, cedar should or should not be used in flower beds. Due to the allelopathic substances, the chemicals that affect plant roots, you may or may not wish to use cedar. Most people only use cedar on well-established plants that are past the tender seedling stage. Different mulches may be at different stages of decomposition, so read the fine print and learn all that you can about the particular type of mulch that you plan to use for your garden areas.

If you’re relying on natural pollination, you’ll also want to avoid using cedar mulch on your plants. For this reason, many gardeners only use cedar mulch on pathways and well-established plants, keeping these areas far away from areas where they want pollinators to visit. The older the mulch, the less odor it holds, so older cedar mulches may still allow for some pollinators to visit.

Avoid using cedar mulch in vegetable gardens and fruit orchards, as you want the natural pollinators to come and pollinate your seedlings and plants. You also don’t want the decomposing mulch to do any root damage to your vegetable garden or your orchard. Cedar mulch is also expensive and not the best solution for vegetables or fruit trees. If, however, you do choose to use cedar mulch in your vegetable garden or orchard area, ensure that the mulch doesn’t touch any of the stems of the vegetables or the roots of your orchard trees.

If you prefer the aesthetics of cedar mulch, you may wish to consider other options and a thin layer of cedar mulch on top of your other forms of mulch. Just remember, not all mulches are created equal. Mulch is typically only three to four inches in depth and will need to be replaced occasionally as it will wear away naturally.

Final Thoughts

Cedar mulch is an ideal aesthetics mulch that will enhance a pretty flower garden or pathway. All in all, it has its place in gardening, and when used correctly, it’s absolutely beautiful. Proper, correct use of cedar mulch can add a gorgeous touch to your garden area. Attractive and available in a variety of colors and forms, cedar mulch is the choice of many a gardener wishing to add an attractive area to their garden or outdoor living area.