Homesteading, Gardening, and Off-Grid Living

The Best Mulch for Roses + How and When to Mulch

By: Zac Friedman


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The best mulch for roses is an organic mulch such as wood chips, shredded wood, or bark. Because roses are such beautiful flowers, it’s a good idea to use dark and beautiful mulch to make their colors pop. A range of other mulches can also be used including straw, grass clippings, pine straw, shredded leaves, or even gravel. 

Mulch benefits roses in a number of ways. It helps hold moisture in the soil, suppress weed growth, insulate the roots, and reduce erosion. As the mulch degrades, it adds valuable nutrients and organic matter to the soil. This helps you grow healthier roses.

This guide outlines some of the best mulches for roses and lists some benefits and drawbacks of each. I’ll also explain how and when to apply mulch to your rose beds for best results. All types of roses can benefit from mulch.

Best Mulch for Roses and How and When to Mulch

The Best Mulches for Roses

Wood Chips

Wood chips are one of the best types of mulch for roses. There are lots of different types of wood chips to choose from including cedar mulch, hardwood mulches like hickory and oak, or pine mulch. They can all work fine for roses.

Wood chips also come in different textures. There are chips and shreds. Different sizes are available. Generally, smaller shreds are better for roses than larger chips. Triple shredded wood mulch is perfect.

A pink rose plant

There are a number advantages of wood chips. Most importantly, they are attractive. Shredded red cedar or cypress chips will compliment the color of your roses. Hardwood mulches come in various colors from dark brown to red. They can really make the color of your roses pop. 

Wood chips are also long-lasting. They can last 2-3 years before you need to apply a fresh layer. Cedar chips can last 3-5 years. Wood chips also stay in place well. They don’t blow away.

Of course, wood chips also suppress weeds, retain soil moisture, insulate the soil, prevents soil compaction, and reduce erosion, just like other types of mulch. They add some nutrients to the soil as they degrade.

Wood chip mulch
Wood chip mulch

There are a couple of drawbacks to consider. Wood much can temporarily deplete the nitrogen in the soil surface. Microbes use the nitrogen to fuel their activity then release it when they die off. You can avoid this by applying a nitrogen-rich fertilizer or compost before applying the wood chips.

Some types of wood chips can increase the acidity of the soil (lower the soil pH). This is a problem with pine mulch. The acidity increase is usually negligible but it could be an issue if your soil is already acidic. Roses prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of around 6.5.

Bark Mulch

Bark mulch also works well for roses. It performs similarly to wood mulch. Bark mulch has pretty much the same benefits and drawbacks. Pine bark is one of the most popular types of mulch. 

Bark mulch
Bark mulch

Bark is long-lasting. It also suppresses weeds, retains moisture, and helps regulate soil temperature. Bark mulch is also attractive. It has a nice dark brown color that can really make your roses stand out. It’s also available in a range of textures from large bark nuggets to small chips to fine particles called bark dust. 

Bark doesn’t provide many nutrients as it degrades. It can also deplete nitrogen and increase soil acidity, like wood. 

Straw Mulch

Straw mulch can be a good choice for your rose garden. Probably the best thing about straw is that it’s cheap and widely available. It’s also easy to spread by hand. You can just grab bundles of it and spread it around your rose bushes. You don’t need any tools. Apply a layer 4-8” thick. It will settle down to 3-4″ over time.

There are a few different types of straw to choose from. Most straw is made from wheat, rye, or barley. Rice straw is also available. It is made from the stocks of plants after the grain has been removed. You could also use hay but it can contain more weed seeds. 

Straw is a great insulator. It will help keep your rose’s roots warmer in the winter. This is helpful if you live in an extremely cold climate. Roses are hardy but they need some winter protection. It keeps the soil temperature more consistent.

The straw will also add nutrients and organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. This improves soil quality. Straw isn’t as nutrient-rich as other types of mulch but it does contain some nutrients. Straw also does a great job of retaining soil moisture. 

There are a few drawbacks of straw mulch. It can attract pests. Rodents like to nest in the soft straw. The rodents can attract snakes. If you have a rodent problem, it’s best not to use straw. Straw can also blow around during heavy winds. It also degrades quickly. You will need to add a fresh layer several times per year. This adds work. 

A pink rose bush

Shredded Leaves or Leaf Mold

Shredded leaves also make great mulch for roses. It’s important to shred the leaves before using them as mulch. If you apply whole leaves, they can block water and air from passing into the soil. They can also trap too much moisture in the soil and cause molding and disease. Whole leaves also take too long to break down. You could also make leaf mold before applying the leaves. 

Leaf mulch is easy to apply. Shredded leaves help insulate the soil and keep the soil temperature more consistent. In addition, they improve moisture retention. When they break down, they release valuable nutrients and add organic material to the soil. 

Maybe the best thing about leaf mulch is that it’s free. You can use the leaves that fall from the trees around your home. Just rake them up then shred them and scatter them around the base of your rose bushes. Check out my guide to shredding leaves for mulch for more info.

Pine Straw (Pine Needles)

Pine straw is a great free type of mulch for roses. It does a good job of insulating the soil, retaining moisture, and suppressing weeds. It’s also easy to apply. Pine needle mulch can also help keep certain pests away, such as slugs. Maybe the best thing about pine straw is that it’s free if you have pine trees on your property. Pine straw works best when you apply a layer around 3” thick.

One potential drawback of pine straw is that it can make your soil more acidic. This is only an issue if you apply fresh pine straw. Before you apply pine straw to your roses, let it dry out.

For more info, check out my guide to the pros and cons of pine straw mulch.

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are another great free type of mulch for roses. While you’re mowing, bag your clippings then lay them out to dry. After they’re dry, you can use them as mulch around your roses. Apply a layer 2-4” thick.  

It’s important to let grass clippings dry before you apply them. This is because they can mold if you apply them when they’re fresh. They can also form into a mat that blocks air and water from reaching the soil. When they’re dry, they are looser and less likely to mold. 

Grass clippings are an excellent source of nitrogen. They also help suppress weeds. They are also a great insulator. You will need to add fresh grass clippings periodically throughout the growing season because they break down quickly.


Compost is great for roses. You can make your own organic compost from kitchen scraps and yard waste or you can buy compost like manure at your local garden center. Apply a thin layer of compost around 0.5-1” thick around the base of your roses. It’s best to apply it in the spring. You can then apply another mulch, wood chips, on top.

Compost bins
Compost is great for roses

There are a few benefits of using compost. Most importantly, it provides lots of nutrients to your roses. Compost is high in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other important nutrients that your plants need. These nutrients will slowly be released into the soil to feed your roses. 

Compost also improves the soil structure by adding organic matter to the soil. This helps the soil retain moisture better and resist compaction. This makes the soil more fertile. Compost also increases soil mass. I have a small compost pile in my backyard. Once a year or so, I put some around my roses. 

There are a couple of drawbacks. Compost can be smelly and it can attract pests. It also takes a long time to make your own compost.

Rock Mulch

Rock mulch like gravel, lava rocks, or river rocks can work well for roses. The best gravel for roses is ¾” or 2 cm. Apply a layer around 2-3” thick around the base of the plants. 

Rock can look nice. It is available in a wide range of colors, textures, and sizes. It can also do a good job of keeping the weeds down. Probably the best thing about rock is that it is low-maintenance and long-lasting. It pretty much never needs to be replaced. 

There are quite a few drawbacks to consider. Rock mulch doesn’t add any nutrients to the soil. It’s inorganic. Most gardeners don’t like it for this reason. Rock is also difficult to remove. It can get pushed into the soil. You can use landscaping fabric to prevent this. Some people also don’t like the look of gravel. 

Another drawback of gravel mulch is that it can hold heat. The sun heats the gravel up on a hot day and some of the heat transfers into the soil. In a hot climate, this can overheat the root zone. In extreme conditions, this could kill off your plants. You don’t have to worry about this in most climates. If you live in a particularly hot climate, it is something to consider. 

For more info, check out my guide to rock mulch. 

Landscape Fabric

Some gardeners like to use landscape fabric or black plastic sheeting to keep the weeds down. These materials also hold moisture in the soil by preventing it from evaporating. They also help keep the soil warmer.

There are quite a few drawbacks. Because plastic sheeting is inorganic, it doesn’t add any nutrients to the soil. It can also get torn up over time and introduce microplastics into the soil. Many organic gardeners don’t like using synthetic materials in their gardens. Plastic sheeting can prevent moisture from making its way into the soil. Landscape fabric can also become an eyesore once it gets torn. Weeds can also grow on top of it or through it. It doesn’t eliminate weeds.

Peat Moss

Peat moss can also be a great mulch for roses. It will help maintain moist soil. Peat moss can also help improve the soil structure. It makes the soil less likely to compact. This allows air and water to pass through more easily. This is great if the native soil has poor drainage. It’s great for sandy soils.

Peat moss is usually used as a soil amendment rather than a mulch. Peat moss is a natural product but it is not very environmentally friendly because it is being over harvested in many places. 

Mulches to Avoid

  • Dyed mulch- Some wood chips are dyed different colors such as red, green, black, or yellow. The dyes can contain chemicals that end up in your soil when the mulch decays. It’s best to avoid these mulches. These dyes are designed to be non-toxic but it’s still best not to have them in your soil. 
  • Recycled wood mulch or mulch made from waste wood- It’s best to avoid these mulches because you don’t know where they came from. They could contain remnants from pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or other chemical treatments.
  • Black Plastic Sheeting- Plastic sheeting doesn’t allow enough water or air to pass through. It also blocks nutrients from getting to the soil. This can slow the growth of your roses.
  • Inorganic mulches- Inorganic mulches, like rocks and rubber mulch can work fine for roses but they don’t add any nutrients to the soil. They can help keep the weeds down and insulate the soil but that’s about it. 

When to Mulch Roses

The best time to mulch roses is in the early spring. If you live in a cold climate, late spring may be better. The mulch will help keep the weeds down throughout the year. It will help shade the soil to keep it cooler. It will also break down and provide nutrients. This is when I usually mulch my garden. 

You can also apply mulch in the late summer or early fall. Late August or early September is a good time to mulch. This is a good option if you live in a cold climate. The mulch can help insulate the soil to protect your rose’s roots from the cold when temperatures start to drop.

It’s also a good idea to mulch whenever your old mulch is getting thin. If you notice that the soil is starting to show through, apply a fresh layer of mulch. 

You should also mulch new roses after you plant them. Mulching can give them some extra protection and nutrients. This can help new or young plants.

You can really mulch at any time of year. There is no bad time to mulch. Some times are just better than others. 

A pink rose bush

How to Mulch Roses

  1. Remove weeds and grass growing around your rose bushes- Weeds that are already growing could grow through the mulch. They can also rob nutrients from your roses. It’s best to remove them before applying mulch. You should also remove any other debris, such as old leaves, twigs, etc. If there is grass growing around the base of your roses, remove it.
  2. Apply a layer of compost (optional)- If you’re using a mulch that isn’t very nutrient rich, consider applying a layer of compost or manure first. This will give your roses some nutrients.
  3. Spread the mulch around your roses- As we have seen, there are lots of different types of mulch you could use. I recommend wood chips, bark, or pine straw. Most mulches should be applied 2-4” deep. The mulch should be at least as wide as the canopy of your rose bushes. You could mulch the whole bed if you choose. Leave a gap of around 4 inches around the base of your rose plants. If you apply mulch right up to the base, it could rot your roses. If you’re applying fresh mulch over old mulch, make sure the total depth doesn’t exceed 4 inches. You don’t want the mulch to be too thick. If you apply too much mulch, air and water have a hard time reaching the soil. It can also prevent moisture from evaporating. This can lead to root rot and other fungal diseases.
  4. Water- After mulching water your roses thoroughly. After watering, stick your fingers through the mulch to feel the soil underneath. It should be wet. If it’s not, your mulch is blocking the water flow. You should check the moisture once in a while to make sure it isn’t blocking moisture or retaining too much moisture.
  5. Apply more mulch periodically- Keep an eye on your roses and apply fresh mulch after the first layer decays. Some mulch types break down faster than others. You might have to replace straw mulch a few times per year. Wood chips last 1-2 years.

My Experience

My favorite type of mulch for roses is wood chips or shredded wood. Usually, I use shredded redwood. Shredded cedar mulch is my favorite, even though it is a little bit expensive. Sometimes, I’ll use dark brown bark mulch. 

I like the way these mulches look. They make the roses stand out. I also like that they are long-lasting. I usually only have to add a fresh mulch layer every other year. They may not be as nutrient-rich as other types of mulch but the low maintenance makes up for it. 

It’s always a good idea to mulch your roses. Mulch helps suppress weeds, reduce erosion, insulate the soil, and retain soil moisture. Really, any type of organic mulch will work well for rose bushes. They aren’t too picky. When buying mulch, make sure it comes from a reputable source so you don’t end up with mulch that has been treated with herbicides, mulch that is diseased, or mulch that contains weed seeds.

Which type of mulch do you use on your roses? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Best Mulch for Roses and How and When to Mulch

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