This mulch stands out like a sore thumb, and may contain hazardous elements.
(Photo courtesy Julie Moir Messervy)
Like many of you, I fail to understand why so many people consider the bright red-dyed mulch to be the mulch of choice for their home outside. I know that I shouldn’t put down anyone’s taste, but of more concern is the use of mulch that is potentially harmful to oneself and the environment. Some of these red mulches are made from chipped wood that comes from demolished buildings with CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) in it, a preservative that contains the carcinogen arsenic. You’ll know it’s safe to buy if the Mulch and Soil Council certifies the mulch you’re interested in.
This brown mulch looks better than the bright mulch pictured above, but it may not be the best solution.
(photo courtesy Julie Moir Messervy)
You’ve all probably heard that, while putting on handsome dark brown, fine-gauged mulch makes your planting beds look well tended and weed-free, it’s not always the best thing to do for your garden. Gardensalive.com posted an excellent article about how wood mulch can both slow the growth of established plants and starve new ones. They recommend using 2” of compost over all your beds to both keep down weeds and feed your plants at the same time.
But the real problem these days is what I see wherever I travel—the mulching of America. Homeowners have come to believe that they don’t need plants anymore; that once the mulch goes down, they’ve created a finished landscape. Wrong! Use mulch as a temporary fix to hold a slope or compost to fill up a planting bed until the shrubs, perennials, or groundcovers have a chance to grow in. Ideally, you won’t need to use mulch at all once your plantings are established.
Look at the progression of a North Carolina front yard from 1) lawn to 2) mulch to 3) a beautiful garden for all to enjoy:
(photos courtesy of Virginia Weiler)
One more thing:please don’t use rubber mulch on your garden. Yes, it’s made from recycled tires, but no, it’s not permanent and has all sorts of toxic chemicals that will leach into your soil. Read Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott’s paper, “The Myth of Rubberized Landscapes,” for details.