|Our pile that's being quickly disbursed.
You don't have to pay $22 per yard for mulch. Many tree service companies are happy to offload their chipped up wood so they don't have to pay to dump it or store it themselves. You can call up a company who services your area and the next time they're around, they'll deliver the load. Even local utilities such as the power company will off load their chips for you.
This tree service company had a full truck and had to go to another job to work on a big leaf maple. My request was convenient for them so they wouldn't waste time and money taking the load to a dirt exchange or back to their yard to make room for the next load. They would have given me the whole shebang if they could (around 8-10 yards). Be prepared to get around 6-15 yards of the stuff, but you can always share it with neighbors and friends. In fact, several neighbors came over to get a few wheelbarrow loads for their own yards.
|Twigs, leaves, bark and wood mixed together for a rich soil amendment.
Any plant that prefers rich, humus soil will love a layer of chips around its root system. They key is not to spread the stuff too close to the trunk or too deep. Three inches should do the trick, unless it's in a path. Any deeper, and you could suffocate a root system or, in the case of rhodies, inhibit bloom. Some plants don't like to be mulched at all such as lavender and sedums. Don't apply chips to plants that prefer dryer conditions and seemingly crappy soil.
|Chips over a layer of cardboard around the beds looks nice.
If you're concerned about spreading disease with mulch from many different sources, don't worry. Studies have shown that arborist chips do not spread plant diseases. In fact they can suppress some fungal diseases by burying the pathogen so the spores don't splash up onto the plant during a rain storm. Fungal communities found in wood chip mulches are generally decomposers, not pathogens. If you want more information on the benefits and myths around arborist chips, read this paper from the WSU Extension
Some folk don't like the look of arborist chips, preferring bark instead. I'm not a fan of 'beauty bark' myself. The raincoat of a tree is the bark, so putting bark down around your beds actually sheds water, creating drought conditions. Bark takes longer to decompose into the soil. Bark looks like poopy-doo within a a few months, so you have to keep reapplying it, which leads to a major reason not to use it: you have to buy it and it's fairly expensive. If you must use bark, put a top layer over your arborist chips (one inch of the three). You'll get the look and the benefits. And for cryin' out loud, don't use landscape fabric underneath the chips. It completely defeats the purpose of using mulch in the first place, but that's another entry.
So, now that it's fall, get that mulch down. You'll be happy with the results.