I don't know why after Easter I'm always compelled to do a top 10 list of some kind for GardenLine. Or should it be a Ten Commandments list?
I happened to catch some of The Ten Commandments
on TV the other night, and the next day I was doing research for upcoming e-mail tips when I stumbled across a Ten Commandments for Soils and Mulches in Ohio
. While only two of the items seemed to apply to this part of the country, I concluded that I needed my own Ten Commandments ... of Mulch.
Yes, I've written a lot about mulch in the past, especially about my disgust and disdain for dyed mulch. Just in case you are new to these e-mail tips, or haven't browsed through the GardenLine Archive of past tips, here are some 2009 mulch missives from Oct. 22
, June 25
and Feb. 19
Now, I'm taking everything a step further, and I would like everyone who listens to GardenLine to live by these commandments. If you feel confident in your own "mulch mindedness," then print a copy for a neighbor, friend or family member you know is breaking three or more of these rules. If they are breaking more than five commandments, call me ... let's expose them on air! In fact, if any of the following commandments don't make sense, or you'd like to take issue with any, please call in this weekend.
I - Thou Needs to Understand that 'Wood Chips' Doesn't Equal Mulch - Mulch isn't shredded wood. Mulch is anything that covers the soil to retain moisture and nutrients and prevent weeds. Wood chips, or shredded wooden pallets, don't do this. They actually rob the soil of nutrients in an attempt to break down.
II - Thou Must Never Use Wood Shavings As a Mulch - Too often, I get questions about how to use wood shavings or sawdust from a freshly cut tree or from wood workings. As in the previous commandment, fresh wood starves plants. Wood is high in carbon, and carbon seeks out nitrogen as it breaks down into the soil. Fresh wood shavings will immediately deplete the area of nitrogen, and the plants will start turning yellow.
III - Thou Must Keep Mulch Away from Foundations - For years, we've talked about how important it is to keep mulch several inches below where the house and the foundation come together so insects or moisture won't use the mulch as a conduit to the weep holes and get into the house.
IV - Thou Shall Not Believe Charlatans Who Claim Mulch Attracts Termites - Yes, termites might use mulch near a weep hole as a path in, but just having mulch doesn't attract termites. If you've read the other tip sheets above, you know this is a crock perpetuated by rubber mulch purveyors and shady pest-control operators.
V - Thou Shall Not Make Mulch Volcanoes Around Trees - In the subdivision where I live, I recently saw someone piling dyed mulch nearly two feet deep around the base of a tree. My head almost exploded! Mulch rings around trees are good, if you use the right kind of mulch/compost. But the mulch only needs to be several inches tall at best. (Also, while I'm on the subject, stop planting flowers in mulch rings.)
VI - Thou Must Ask One's Self, "Would I Let My Kids Play In This?" - This is sort of a trick commandment. While I wouldn't recommend wood mulch (with no compost) for landscapes, I see good uses for them in playgrounds and running trails. But as for the new trend towards dyed mulches, please stick your hands in a batch and rub them around. Then, take a look at your hands and tell me if it doesn't look like ashen soot or dye has been rubbed on your palms. Really ... would you let your kids play in that? I understand kids don't "play in the mulch" where there are flower and landscape beds, but what is it doing to your gloves, your hands or your clothes when you spread it out?
VII - Thou Shall Not Be Fooled by Good Deals - Like so much in the landscaping world, "you get what you pay for!" Good mulch is seldom less than $3 a bag. It's always more cost-effective to buy in bulk quantities. However, there are tons of signs and ads that say "Mulch: 5 Bags for $12!" or "5 Bags for $10!!" This is almost always wood-chipped mulch or dyed wood-chipped mulch. And nothing good can come from that. A recent offer of three bags for $10 at a reputable nursery WAS a good deal for great mulch ... but that's $3.33 per bag, if you think about it.
VIII - Thou Must Avoid Dyed (Unnaturally Colored) Mulch Always - Most dyed mulches are from questionable wood supplies, like shredded pallets, and nothing else. Plus, no dye is good for the soil, plain and simple ... even if it is supposedly organic. It's still dyed, and the dye will leach into the soil — not good for the soil or the plants in the long run. Other ash-infused mulches are just plain caustic.
IX - Thou Must Understand That Rubber Mulch is Worse - Bet you didn't think I could slam anything harder than dyed mulch, did you? But let's defend the use or rubber mulch in a couple areas. I can see the need to recycle old tires. I just don't want them in my landscape soils. I have seen rubber mulch used successfully in dog runs, hiking trails and kids' playgrounds. However, in the landscape, leaching from rubber mulch is 10 times worse than the leaching from dyed or ash-infused mulches. It leaches dangerous levels of zinc and other harmful chemicals that can kill plants' root systems. Plus it heats up unmercifully in our summers, killing roots.
X - Thou Must Believe There is No Better Mulch Than Compost - One of the reasons dyed mulch got so dang popular along the Gulf Coast was because of them-there Yankees that done moved here from other states. Seriously, people in northern states like Ohio and Pennsylvania are accustomed to darker soils than ours, and I think this may have been their attempt to get that soil shade to "offset" the colors of their plants. In truth, those northern soils are not really black ... just really dark brown. In fact, black does not occur in nature. You can get that dark color by using really good compost as a mulch. And before you complain that weeds will set up in it, there is lots of research that proves otherwise. I've seen it for myself, and love the idea of good compost for mulch, mainly because it's feeding the soil, feeding the roots and feeding the plants.
So, what mulches can you use? Here are my top five:
- By far the standard in Houston is Nature's Way Resources' Two-Year-Old Leaf Mold Compost
2. Shredded and Double-Shredded Hardwood Mulches
- They will have a bit of compost in them as well. Living Earth is the best known of these.
3. Blended (mixed) Mulch of Shredded Hardwood and Shredded Pine Bark Mulch
- It gives you a darker color longer. Black Diamond from Living Earth is a great example.
4. Texas Native Mulch
Anything that you can certify as "Texas native" is good. Nature's Way has this as well.
5. Pine Straw
- Sounds simple, and there is usually plenty of it around. More people can and should start using it.
GardenLine Appearance This Saturday at Lake Hardware in Angleton
This Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., we are taking the GardenLine stuff to Lake Hardware
, 813 N. Velasco, Angleton. This appearance is being sponsored by Nitro-Phos, and you can register to win a year's supply of Nitro-Phos Fertilizers called for in THE SCHEDULE. You do not need to be present to win, but the entry forms probably won't be there until around 10:30. Plus, we've still got plenty of Lemmonhead T-shirts to give away. If you already have a Lemmonhead shirt, be sure to wear it Saturday and get a bonus freebie! If you live in the Angleton area, get familiar with Lake Hardware this weekend. They are a true independent hardware store and do a fantastic job getting most of the products I talk about on their shelves. Once you experience the personal service at a hardware store like this, it will forever change your perception of big-box stores.