Homesteading, Gardening, and Off-Grid Living

Cypress Mulch Vs Cedar Mulch: Which is Better?

By: Zac Friedman

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Two of the most popular wood mulches are Cypress and Cedar. Both of these organic mulches help to suppress weed growth, retain moisture, and insulate the soil. They also provide nutrients as they degrade. Both of these mulches share a similar appearance. There are some major differences to consider. To help you decide which mulch is best for your flower beds, this guide outlines the pros and cons of cypress mulch vs cedar mulch. We’ll cover cost, aesthetics, durability, odor, environmental friendliness, and more. 

Generally, cedar mulch is longer lasting and it adds a pleasant smell to your garden. Cypress mulch is cheaper and adds more nutrients to your garden because it degrades faster.

Cedar Vs Cypress Mulch: Pros and Cons

Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch has a beautiful reddish color. It is known for its distinctive woodsy smell. It has a strong fragrance thanks to natural oils in the wood. Cedar is a long lasting mulch. It is resistant to decay because it contains natural compounds that resist bacteria and fungi.

Cedar is a hardwood mulch. Most cedar mulch comes from the Western Red Cedar. The wood and bark are used to make cedar mulch. Cedar wood chips are one of the most popular types of mulch. 

Cypress Mulch

Cypress mulch has an orangeish or golden brown color. It is a softer wood than cedar. It is naturally resistant to decay, making it a long-lasting mulch, like cedar. In addition, cypress mulches offer a refreshing woodsy aroma.

Most commonly, cypress mulch is made from bald cypress trees or pond cypress trees. Usually, both the wood and bark of cypress trees are used to make cypress mulch. 

Cedar chips

Pros of Cedar Mulch

Probably the biggest benefit of cedar mulch is the smell. It has a sweet and woodsy aroma that many people love. This aroma comes from natural oils in the wood. Cedar is used as an essential oil. 

The pleasant smell makes cedar a great choice for walkways and garden areas where people congregate. Cedar mulch can also help mask unpleasant odors in your garden. This is helpful if you keep livestock.

In addition, the smell can help repel harmful insects including mosquitoes, termites, cockroaches, certain types of ants, and carpet beetles. This makes cedar a great choice if you have a pest problem.

Another benefit is that cedar is long lasting. Hardwood mulches, like cedar generally last for 3-5 years before they need to be replaced. This is possible because cedar contains compounds that resist decomposition from bacteria and fungi. This makes it a good mulch choice for those looking for a low-maintenance mulch. 

Cedar is also a beautiful mulch. It has an attractive reddish color that can improve your home’s curb appeal. Red mulch contrasts nicely with the green foliage in your garden. 

Cedar mulch is also widely available. You can find it at every garden supply store. You can buy it by the bag or buy it by the hard and have it delivered. It is a very common and popular type of mulch.

In addition, cedar mulch is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Cedar mulch is considered more environmentally friendly because reforestation is much faster and easier than cypress. Cedar trees take around 30 years to mature. 

Of course, cedar mulch also offers the same benefits as any other mulch including weed suppression, water retention, and soil insulation. It also adds some nutrients and organic matter to the soil as it decays. 

A pile of mulch next to a wheelbarrow

Cons of Cedar Mulch

Probably the biggest drawback of cedar mulch is that it is expensive. It is one of the most expensive types of mulch. Cedar costs more than cypress.

One thing to keep in mind when you buy cedar mulch is that it lasts longer. You won’t have to replace it as frequently. This brings down the total cost over time. 

Because cedar mulch decays so slowly, it also won’t release as many nutrients into your garden as cypress or other mulches. You may have to fertilize to give your plants the nutrients that they need. 

Cedar mulch can also repel beneficial insects, such as pollinators. Bees and butterflies may be less likely to visit your property if you use cedar. This can reduce the yields of your vegetable plants. 

In addition, cedar mulch can absorb too much water if you apply it too thickly. Water can have a hard time passing through the mulch and into the soil to your plant roots. The water gets absorbed by the mulch instead. It then evaporates before it can reach the soil. You may have to water a little more frequently than you would with different types of mulch.

Some people also don’t like the smell of cedar. It has a very distinct odor that can be unpleasant for those with fragrance sensitivities. Some people are actually allergic to cedar. The smell can cause sneezing, watering eyes, etc. If someone in your family is allergic or doesn’t like the smell, you’ll probably want to choose another mulch.

One other potential drawback to consider is that cedar mulch can temporarily deplete the nitrogen in your soil. As cedar mulch breaks down, microbes consume nitrogen from the surrounding soil to fuel their activity. This removes nitrogen from the soil. The area where the mulch contacts the soil may have a nitrogen deficiency. As the bacteria die off, this nitrogen is returned to the soil. This is an issue with all wood mulches, including cypress but it’s worse with cedar because it decays so slowly. The nitrogen is tied up for a longer period of time. You can eliminate this problem by fertilizing.

cedar tree bark

Pros of Cypress Mulch

Cypress mulch is more affordable than cedar. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s the better choice. 

Cypress mulch also adds more nutrients to the soil because it degrades faster. These nutrients are beneficial for the microorganisms in the soil. They also help your plants grow stronger and healthier. You won’t have to fertilize as often.

The mulch will also add more organic matter to the soil as it degrades. This improves soil stability. It also allows the soil to absorb more moisture.

In addition, cypress adds a pleasant aroma, like cedar. The scent of cypress is a bit less strong. It’s also a bit sweeter or more citrusy. Some people prefer it.  

Cypress is also durable. It also offers weed suppression and water retention qualities. In addition, it helps to control soil temperature by keeping your soil cool in the summer and warmer in the winter. 

Cons of Cypress Mulch

Cypress mulch is less sustainable than cedar. It can take up to 100 years for a cypress tree to mature. Currently, cypress trees are being harvested faster than they are being planted because cypress mulch is in high demand. Cypress forests are being depleted. This is not sustainable. The depletion of cypress trees destroys the natural habitats of birds and other species. It has also caused cypress trees to become threatened in certain areas.

This has also driven the price of cypress mulch up. Some companies are harvesting cypress trees that are not yet mature to meet demand. This results in lower quality mulch. 

These days, because there is a shortage of cypress, some cypress mulch is made from immature trees. Wood from these trees decays faster so the mulch won’t last as long. It’s less durable than wood from mature trees. Actually, it performs similarly to pine mulch. 

Another drawback to cypress mulch is that it can make the soil more acidic (lower the pH). This can be harmful to plants that are sensitive to acidic soil.

If your soil is alkaline or neutral, it probably won’t be an issue. Cypress mulch will only acidify your soil slightly. If your soil is already acidic, it can be an issue.

If you need to maintain neutral or alkaline soil for specific plants, you will want to avoid cypress. Consider doing a soil test before adding mulch if you’re unsure.

Cypress mulch also decomposes faster than cedar. This means it will need to be replaced more frequently. On average cypress mulch lasts 2-3 seasons. In some climates, it lasts longer. 

A Note About Termites

People sometimes choose cedar or cypress mulch because it is said to repel termites. This isn’t exactly the case. Termites aren’t as attracted to cedar and cypress as they are to other types of wood but they will still eat if given the opportunity.  All wood products can attract termites. Termites feed on cellulose, which is found in wood. 

If termites consume some of your mulch, it’s not really a problem. The problem is if they move into a structure such as your house or garage. They can cause some serious damage. 

To reduce the likelihood of termites moving into your home, keep a gap 12-18 inch between the mulch and any structures. Fill that gap with stone or gravel. This will discourage the termites from moving into the structure. 

A tree with mulch around the base

Which is Better? Cedar or Cypress?

For most applications, cedar is the better mulch. It lasts a long time, it smells great, and it repels insects. In addition, it is more sustainable.

One thing to keep in mind is that it can repel good insects such as pollinators so you may not want to use it on your vegetable garden. 

Cypress mulch shares many similarities. It is also a great choice. The main difference is that it isn’t as long lasting. It is also less sustainable. You really can’t go wrong with either. 

Both of these mulches share some drawbacks. Compared to other mulches, they are expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, you may consider a cheaper mulch like pine bark mulch. Alternatively, you could use a free mulch like pine straw (pine needles) or grass clippings.

Another drawback is that cedar and cypress mulches can also be displaced by heavy rain and flooding. They float. 

Blended Mulches

Many cypress and cedar mulches that you find at garden centers at big box stores are actually blends. They contain other types of natural wood, such as pine. They aren’t pure cypress or cedar. These blends use cheaper woods to bring the cost down. Pure cedar and cypress are expensive. 

It can actually be difficult to find pure cypress or cedar mulch in some cases. You may find that most of the mulch labeled cedar or cypress in your local garden supply store is actually blended. To get pure mulch, you may have to shop around a bit.  

There is nothing wrong with blends. They offer the same benefits as the pure form. They may not perform as well in some cases. For example, a cedar blend may not last quite as long as pure cedar because the woods that the cedar is blended with may degrade faster. It may not have as strong of an aroma. In addition, the color may be slightly different. 

Final Thoughts 

In gardening, it’s a good idea to use an organic material to cover the soil surface. Cypress and cedar mulch share many similarities. They are both similar in color. They have excellent woodsy aromas. Both are resistant to decay, making them long lasting. In addition, they help to reduce erosion, retain soil moisture, and control weeds. Both are widely available in North America. They both make excellent mulch. 

One important consideration for many gardeners is the environment. Cedar is the more environmentally friendly option. Cypress trees are being overharvested in some areas. For this reason, it may not be the best choice but it is still an option.

The best type of mulch for your garden depends on your budget, your aesthetic preferences, the part of the country you live in, and your goals for your garden. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best mulch for your yard.

Do you use cedar mulch or cypress mulch? Share your experience in the comments below!

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