Mulch is an effective tool to protect your plants, beautify your yard and add nutrients to your soil. Making it is easier than you might think. DIY mulch saves money and it’s environmentally friendly, because you recycle resources like yard waste or food trimmings.

Choose your mulch source

Some are easier to gather than others. Leaves make a good mulch source, as do pine needles and yard clippings. Bark is one of the most effective and nutrient-rich forms of mulch.

Leaves, yard trimmings and compost make excellent summer mulch, while pine needles, bark and straw are best for winter. Also, don’t overlook shredded newspaper as an effective mulch additive.

Collect your mulch materials
Once you know what mulch you’re using, gather it up. Rake fallen leaves or those you’ve pruned, and gather them into a pile. The same goes for grass clippings and pine needles. If your lawnmower has a bag that collects grass, great. Pile up branches, bark or wood trimmings until you have enough for mulch.

If you’re using a compost pile, keep it relatively moist and turn it regularly with a pitchfork or shovel to keep the materials rotated while they break down.

Convert the materials to mulch
Piles of leaves can be swiftly mulched with a lawnmower. One of those grass-catching bags would be very useful at this point if you have one. Otherwise, run the mower over the leaf pile a few times and rake it all together. If you’re using branches, bark or other wood trimmings, the best way to generate mulch is with a small wood chipper. Many hardware stores rent them out. Don’t forget to wear safety glasses.

A mixture of all these sources can be the most effective mulch, as they all bring different nutrients to the system.

To use compost as mulch, simply maintain your pile until it’s ready for use. Depending on how you care for it and the weather, it should be ready in two weeks to four months. When it’s crumbly and dark brown with an earthy odor, it’s good to go.

Prepare your ground for mulching
This step is an easy one to miss, but it’s important. Remove any old mulch that remains on the ground, so you have a fresh start. If you’re maintaining a compost pile, this remaining mulch can be used there. Weed the area carefully, since mulch will actually help existing weeds, which is the last thing you want.

Spread the mulch
You’ll want to use different levels of mulch depending on your needs and the season, but generally about two inches works quite well. Don’t forget to lay it all out evenly with a rake, or hire a yard professional to do the job perfectly. Make sure to leave a small “well” of shallower mulch around the base of plants.

By Paul Pogue, Angie’s List (TNS). Paul Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers.