Roundup: Eco-friendly Mulches

Roundup: Eco-friendly Mulches

Kimber Watson
Aug 17, 2009

Dried Pine Needles Used for Mulch

Lately, I've heard a lot of confusing information about mulch. We've been told it's wise to use because it helps conserve water, fights erosion, and blocks weeds. But I've also heard there's mulch that's toxic to dogs, harmful to plants, and one where trees are harvested just to make mulch. As a newbie gardener, I decided to do a little digging and find a mulch that was good for my garden, as well as the earth...

Peanut Shells, Cocoa Hulls, Pine Bark and Needles, and Rubber

FloriMulch - I spoke briefly about trees that are harvested specifically for mulch, well this is the exception to the rule. FloriMulch is made from melaleuca trees, a tree that grows in the Everglades but is highly invasive, so removing them is helpful to the environment. It is resistant to termites and comes in a variety of colors.

Rubber Mulch - Is made from recycled tires and therefore keeps a non-biodegradeable product from ending up in our landfills. It's non-toxic and will not attract insects and other pests.

Paper - Commercial paper mulches are made from recycled paper that's biodegradable. Does everything you want a mulch to do (keeps in moisture, regulates soil temperature, reduces erosion), but when you are ready to replant, you just mix it back into the soil.

Pine Bark and Dried Needles - This mulch is the only mulch I ever saw in our gardens as a kid. Not necessarily because it was an eco-friendly choice, more likely because I grew up in a coastal town with an abundance of pine trees. 100% organic, pine bark chips retain their shape and color longer than shredded wood mulches, and the pine needles are excellent for acid-loving plants. Using a layer a few inches deep will prevent the roots from freeze damage. They are usually a byproduct of lumbering, so turning it into mulch makes use of a resource that might otherwise be wasted. On a side note, perhaps it's just regional dialect, but we have always referred to dried pine needles as "pine shats".

Coconut Husk - Is all natural and combats drought situations. It also smells lovely and will not develop mildew or attract bugs.

Synthetic Pine Straw - Is fashioned from recycled plastic. It's hypoallergenic, does not absorb moisture, and is termite and insect resistant.

Mulches to Avoid:

Cypress - This is one of the most popular mulches there is, but should be avoided at all costs. While mill remnants are sometimes used for the mulch, entire trees are used as well. Cypress are slow-growing trees that live in freshwater wetlands. They serve as vital habitat for wildlife as well as filtering water resources. Used as a mulch, shredded cypress can also develop fungal mats and will fade in color and decay within a year or two.

Cocoa Mulch - A byproduct of commercial cocoa grinding and beneficial to the garden in many ways, this mulch is often on the eco-friendly list. It will not make the list here because, like chocolate, the mulch contains theobromine which is toxic to dogs.

As we've been told before, try to think of resources you might be able to acquire locally or can repurpose from around your house. Newspapers, straw, corn husks, dried manure, peanut shells, and compost work well for mulch. Get creative and you might be able to save some money and the environment.

(Images: 1: Kimberly Watson, 2: Natural Home)

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