Monday, May 14, 2012

Mulching Options

Read an article recently that cautioned mulch made from rubber tires contains the toxins aluminum, cadmium, chromium, and other heavy metals and should not longer be used.  On the other hand, it's been categorized as perfectly safe by the EPA.

Sawdust is another option that comes with duel reviews.  Sawdust from green treated or other chemically treated wood is not recommended for mulch as it may leach those chemicals in harmful quantities.  Sawdust can become compacted and slimy if not mixed in with the soil. 

Wood chips can be obtained packaged, which is somewhat regulated, or free (often a utility) chipping fresh cut trees.  The advantage of obtaining chips from a free source is they're - wait for it - wait for it - they're FREE.  The disadvantage is certain types of wood could damage plants (walnuts, some cedars, etc.)  Another is they could be infested with termites or other wood damaging insects that could migrate to your home.  Fresh chipped wood can be "hot" and burn the surrounding plants.  Fresh chipped wood seldom is uniform in size or color. 

Even packaged wood chips can come with problems.  Wet wood chips can attract insects.  Slugs do love a good wet mulch.  Same with termites and earwigs.  The uniform color comes from dye.

Rock mulch doesn't have the above issues.  The down side of rock or gravel is it doesn't insulate.  It absorbs the heat and throws it back in much higher temps to everything around.  This can stunt or kill some plants.  It's extremely difficult to plant or weed through rock mulch.  HUGE task to remove.

Pine straw (basically the needles) works well in the south but will decompose in one winter in the north.  Some plants may be sensitive to the pine sap. 

Mulch made from fallen leaves is a good option where the wind won't rearrange.  As they decompose, they add nutrients to the soil.  Raking is over rated!

Tumbled glass is used more for decorative accents rather than as a mulch.

There are many options for fabric that goes under mulches.  Make sure you use the kind that lets water pass through and only in spots where the mulch can be applied deep enough to adequately cover.  I think we've all seen landscape fabric peaking through an otherwise nice garden bed making it look unkempt.

Garden mulches such as newspaper, shredded office paper, cardboard, old rugs, and so on are good when looks don't count.  Don't use slick or colored newsprint on your gardens.  Slick won't absorb water and colored may contain chemical dye.

When considering a mulch, first think about where it's to be used; against your home foundation, near a pond or stream, on a vegetable patch, where children play or around tender plants.  Most mulches have benefits and down sides. 

Benefits are decorative, a green solution, weed prevention, retain ground moisture, adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes and evens out temperature.  One current idea being bantered around in the landscaping field is to simply plant everything so close it shades out weeds.  It's all about choices.   

Nothing in the gardening field is perfect for every instance.  All mulch requires some heavy lifting and maintenance for upkeep or to replenish.  Perfect comes at a price even if it's free...

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