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Mulch, Grasscycling, and Compost

Mulch, compost, and grasscycling are all landscaping practices that return plant material to the soil. These practices are good for the soil, good for your plants, and good for our environment. These practices are incorporated in the following River-Friendly Landscaping principles:

For more in-depth coverage of mulch and grasscycling, download our Mulching & Grasscycling Guide.


Mulch is any material spread evenly over the surface of the soil. By covering the soil, mulch conserves water, prevents soil erosion, cools the soil, and suppresses weeds. In addition, organic mulch adds nutrients to the soil, nurtures beneficial soil organisms, and reduces soil compaction.

Many materials can be used as mulch, for example:

  • Fallen leaves from your trees (keep away from storm drains)
  • Chipped/shredded tree and shrub trimmings
  • SMUD and many local tree-trimming companies offer shredded green waste for free
  • Compost
  • Straw
  • Newspaper
  • Grass clipping
  • Landscape and home improvement stores carry a variety of bagged materials, such as bark and wood shavings
  • Landscape material companies offer compost and bark in bulk
  • Inorganic mulches include landscape fabric, rocks, and gravel


Compost is decomposed organic material. It is something that happens naturally on the forest floor. Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic material. It turns plant debris into a beneficial soil amendment. On-site composting reduces pollution associated with transporting waste.

Used in the landscape, compost improves soil texture and returns valuable nutrients to the soil, maintaining plant health, and reducing the need for chemicals.

There are many good books available on composting (check with your local library). You can also download a Bay-Friendly Landscaping pamphlet to get you started. Or go to or call (916) 875-7165 for a copy of the Backyard Composting Guide.


Grasscycling means leaving the clippings on the lawn after mowing. The clippings decompose and return their nutrients into the soil, making for a healthier lawn and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. In addition, leaving clippings on the lawn reduces the amount of green waste and needs to be transported and disposed.

Here's how:

  • For best results, mow dry grass frequently
  • Leave the clippings on the lawn after mowing, except during the limited time of the year when the grass is too wet or too long
  • Installing a mulching blade on your lawn-mower will result in finer materials
  • Though not necessary, you can replace the standard blade on your lawn mower with a mulching blade which will cut clippings into smaller pieces that break down more readily.

Read more about grasscycling in our Mulching & Grasscycling Guide.


Is your landscape River-Friendly?
Use our benefits calculator to find out.

Here are some more in depth articles on specific RFL topics that you might find of interest:

Contest Winner

RFL Inspiration Garden

RFL Examples

Rain Gardens

Mulch, Grasscycling, and Compost

Get Mulching

Fertilize Naturally — Is Feeding Frenzy Really Needed?

Plant Trees, Save Energy!

Right Plant, Right Place!

Plant Selection

Plant Communities

Take Action to Save Water Outdoors…

Lawn Care: How Green is Your Grass?

Rethink Your Lawn

Pests Bugging You?

River-Friendly Pest Control

Managing Common Pests

Good Bugs

Interview about RFL (MP3)

Choose California natives first

Don't Blow It!

Reducing Outdoor Asthma Triggers


Watch the YouTube video
"Slow the Flow - Make Your Landscape Act Like a Sponge"
to learn about the importance of landscaping to stormwater quality.

The Seven Principles of
River-Friendly Landscaping

Click on any section to learn more