One mulch to rule them all ?

princesspea(sunset14)October 25, 2013

Can I get a general suggestion for a soil building mulch for all my trees/fruits? I am in the SF Bay Area, San Jose (zone 9b) . I have a small yard and small budget so anything I can get bagged will be easier, I think. I am asking here because I care the most about the food plants.
I have citrus, peaches, cherries, apples, cane berries, passion fruits, roses, gingers, hibiscus and gardenias. Some of these are acid requiring plants.
I am confused - as what I have used in the past few years at the nursery suggestion seems to be just water repelling and not doing anything for the soil.
Thanks excellent gardeners for advice.

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danzeb(7a long island)

If you are getting mulch from a garden center than it would be bark. Get bark that is natural without added dye for color. If you are using peat moss that tends to repel water when it is dry. If you want something to mix with your dirt you need compost.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 2:12PM
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The answer to your query is wood chips. one foot of them, to be replenished in a few years. Call a tree company and have them dump their load onto your driveway. They save landfill fees,you save Home Depot bills, no money is exchanged.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 2:16PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

Agree with Glib.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 3:46PM
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X3 on wood chips.

You might need to bump your N applications a bit, but shredded chips are a useful, effective, and flexible mulch.

The only caveat I would add is try not to get them from road or power-line clearing.....I have brought in some persistent weeds accidentally with chips from these grab all shredding operations.

I don't know if that is a common problem, maybe I just got unlucky.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 6:24PM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

I use Cotton Gin Trash fresher better its best mulch out there smaller wood chips releases great Tea for plants roots it take care soil diseases and help on some above ground disease like leaf spots on my Roses. You by in bag at some garden centers. I'm luck to get free at Gin by trailer load 77" X 16 Foot in winter I haul it at night I load trailer with there equipment pack down take there garden hose wet material on out side wet this keep from blowing off at night humility up higher. Around trip about 25.00 of diesel fuel. I carry about 4 Tons on trip unload with my wheel Backhoe, Use a lot on sandy soil poor soil December is my Hauling month this Dec I'm hoping to get 20 Tons hauled. I try to get 10% organic matter in soil last about 10 years Where applied gin trash soil test come back don't need anything. Went to best compost school I could find twice researched feed stocks for making compost Cotton Gin Trash one way over other feed stocks. Chicken litter one best to add compost pile for Nitrogen to Carbon ray-show 1 part nitrogen to 25 parts carbon.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 8:28PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Any thoughts on using some tree guys woodchipper mulch that is heavy in Arborvitae?

I put it around the other plants I know would like some more acid mulch, but wonder about the fruit trees. I can always wait til the next load and see if it is different.

And I have a non ending supply of horse manure that I usually put down first and cover with the wood chips. (our man compost bins are already full and cooking for spring veggies)

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 11:13PM
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I see no issues with white cedar. the wood is not particularity acidic. It will take longer to break down if the trees were big enough to develop heartwood.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2013 at 10:40AM
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For the chipped stuff from a tree guy there are a couple things to consider. He is going to want to dump a lot, not just a couple trash cans worth, unless he is doing your neighbors tree. Depending on how close, he may not be willing to dump less then a full load. So talk about the details before you commit.

Second thing, it's better to get a winter load. Summer has lots of leaves and will mold and smell moldy for a couple weeks or more.
As a 3rd note bind weed and a few other things will grow through mulch. So you may have to pull a few things by hand

    Bookmark   October 26, 2013 at 11:11AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I'm rather picky myself. I don't like wood mulch, from the stores, it's probably old palates from China. From the wood chipper who removes infected trees all the time, and in my area a very common tree is black walnut. Which could actually kill your plants. So I'm not going to take any from the tree trimmers. I prefer pine bark. And I also use my own hard wood bark from the fire wood pile. Piles of dirt on my wood pile from bark look rich and like high quality compost. I don't produce a lot though.
So I only buy pine bark. I use it around my trees. Other plants I use pine straw as i have a free endless supply.
If I had a huge production, I guess I too would try to find a cheaper product. i would probably use pine straw as I have access to hundreds of pounds of it, if needed.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Sun, Oct 27, 13 at 22:59

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 10:56PM
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alan haigh

Drew, black walnut mulch is fine if given a few months to leach out harmful chemicals. There are not many tree diseases that are spread by way of chipped wood and I've not heard of this being a problem outside the theoretical world (meaning its rare enough not to be of practical consequence). At any rate, the man delivering the arborist mulch will likely know the source of the wood.

What I like about wood chips is that they are usually free and ecologically kind to use because it saves the expense of further trucking, processing and packaging a more finished product requires. What I don't like is when they come from a poorly maintained chipper and contain a lot of long strips that make them difficult to fork and less attractive.

I don't think it's a good idea to use more than a 4" depth of any mulch and even that amount may become a problem during drought if you are counting on brief thunder storms for relief. Pulling it away from the base of trees may become necessary in such conditions with establishing trees.

Shredded leaves are also a great homeowner's mulch which is more nutritious than wood. Dried lawn clippings can also be used- especially to give trees or other plants an organic source of N. Very few things can invigorate plants more than lawn clippings.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 8:18AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I agree that we should be efficient and not throw useful material away. Leaching is not practical for me, no place to keep it, and wherever it leaches, nothing will grow.
I mulch my lawn, so grass clippings are fed back to the lawn. I do use leaves though. At my cottage I have a problem with too many leaves, I compost most of them, but do use them as a mulch in my woodland edge garden.
As far as diseases we here have a problem with armillaria. It's good you don't as it a very problematic parasite.
Another major problem is blight which can be easily spread. So to each his own. Phytophthora is often seen around here, and not only will mess with trees, but your garden too. Yes, this occurs all over and could be spread by other means, hard to say if mulch can really spread this. Probably, but it's all over. The loss of many oaks in our area from this disease is rather disturbing.
In our area many are calling for the banning of this polluted raw mulch from tree trimmers. Concerned about oak wilt and other blight problems associated with raw, non composted mulch. Again I'll let others figure it out, in the meantime I will not be using it.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 10:16AM
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alan haigh

Interesting Drew, I hadn't heard of this association before and I'm very interested in the general subject of mulch. Here the arborists bring their chips to a yard that shreds it and than sells it in bulk for $15 a yard. The estates around here use tons of the stuff in their million dollar (or sometimes much more) landscapes, especially for their perenniel beds. I've never heard of anyone having problems with it except occasionally in vegetable gardens.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:31PM
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alan haigh

Here's what the queen of mulch has to say about the research on the dangers of spreading disease by way woodchips. Apparently they can be very dangerous if mixed with the soil but are not a problem when left on the surface.

Here is a link that might be useful: spreading disease with wood chips

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:37PM
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I use large chunk redwood mulch out beyond the dripline, mostly because I like the look of it. I don't care too much for gray dingy standard woodchip mulch. Closer to the trunk I use the free local black muni-mulch that the county offers. It's a dichotomy regarding price, but is visually appealing to me. Black and red mulch contrasts well with my redwood fencing and the greenery of my plants and trees. I have a suburban lot, so aesthetics are important.

Here is a link that might be useful: Backyard Fruit Tree Basics: Mulch

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:39PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

I've been using wood chips from tree crews for a long time. I've not noticed any problems other than weeds and tree sprouts. I've put pure walnut mulch around trees and never noticed them slow down.

Wood chips (like just about any other mulch) can repel water if it is extremely dry. In my area, this is more than offset by the water conserving properties of the mulch.

I don't like the extra vigor/extra pruning that comes with using wood chips, but weed suppression, soil conservation, moisture retention, soil building and earthworm promoting properties make it worthwhile.

Around here so many people are starting to use wood chips as mulch, it's getting very difficult to get them anymore. I got about 60 loads earlier this year, but I haven't gotten a single load for the last 3 months.

Next year I plan to have the pasture baled and try hay as mulch.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:59PM
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I'm in San Jose and get wood chips/tree trimmings from a guy who will deliver 5 yards minimum. He's based out of WIllow Glen area so if you are near there he will deliver to you.

See link if you're interested...

Here is a link that might be useful: The Branch Manager

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 12:28AM
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alan haigh

Olpea, if you don't like the invigorating affect of woodchips (and, as you know, it is an issue that also concerns me with mature fruit trees) you may hate the invigoration caused by hay mulch with its higher N content. Straw might be an exception to this problem. Voles love both. Hay really pushes growth in my nursery when I use it, seemingly more than chips.

I doubt this excessive invigoration is an issue where there isn't much rain during the last couple months of the ripening process if you keep the trees a bit thirsty.

I'm going to do some experimentation with woven fabric covered by white course gravel (small stones) to see if reflected light is helpful here. I realize that would not be practical for a large number of trees, but it may be a semi-permanent solution and the gravel might create problems for the voles by pouring into their tunnels. Most of all, the reflected light might reduce fungus pressure and push up brix.

I have a customer with a courtyard that is maintained with white gravel on the ground and white walls and the apples growing there have exceptionally high flavor.

In 25 years of working on estates that often use large quantities of shredded wood chips and also using them in my nursery operation, I have not experienced any disease problems with wood chips either, but that doesn't mean that Drew doesn't have a good reason not to use them where he is.

I do believe that woodchips are more likely to help trees through drought than become a problem. I think an awful lot of water is stored in the rotting wood that wicks into the soil by capillary pull as the soil dries. I've never lost a mulched tree to drought even without pulling it away when it becomes dry. Shredded wood is more likely to mat up in a way that repels water than chips out of the chipper. It is also more likely to tie up nitrogen because it breaks down faster.

The last sentence may seem to contradict the idea of woodchips invigorating trees, but that affect occurs over time as the chips convert to a rich compost that releases N and also supports life forms that actually pull N from the atmosphere.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 11:43AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

I use many truck loads of wood chips a year, going to guess 10 truckloads. I get them free and delivered by the local electric company and they are trims from around the power lines. I find these chips far superior to regular tree companies chips as there is never weeds in it and it is mostly chips from smaller branches. I apply the mulch thick.....10" but in my sub tropical climate 10" a year breaks down. I could not imagine growing without the chips in this sugar sand.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 3:48PM
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I use leaves and white pine needles. I use the pine needles as-is and I shred leaves with a leaf blow-vac before spreading them. I like this mulch because it's full of nutrients, it breaks down at exactly the right pace (slowly enough to provide good ground cover for a year, fast enough that it builds soil quickly without robbing N when plants need it), it smells nice, it doesn't put your home at risk of being covered with artillery fungus spores or infested with termites the way wood chips do, it provides food for large worm populations that will aerate and till organic material into the soil, it's readily abundant where I live each autumn, and it's essentially free. After a few years of leaf mulching, you will have black, rich soil that holds moisture well and that almost anything will thrive in. In the part of the world I live in (SE PA), as far as I'm concerned, there's really nothing that beats leaf mulch.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 11:52PM
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Wow this is a fantastic opinion poll! You guys have so many different ideas, from all around the country, it's very interesting to learn what is readily available and favored in different areas.
Melikeeatplants: I actually live in Willow Glen, I will see about that guy, thanks. Ok idea if I can use five yards, that will cover my entire property!! But maybe I can sweet talk him out of a couple buckets worth.

Also there are about fifty gingko trees on my block, they make the hugest leaf piles when they drop everything at once- in sure the neighbors will not even notice me taking some.

Anyone know if you can shred leaves by putting them in a trash can and then hitting them with the string trimmer? Like a giant size immersion blender- I don't know how else to shred leaves. Or are ginko leaves small enough I don't need to shred. (2-3 inches triangle, if you aren't familiar with them)

Gardenwebbers are the best!


    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 12:03PM
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I think neighbours will be very happy if you clean up their fallen leaves!
I have been doing that for years, especially elderly neighbours. If there is too many to use, I put them in large black plastic bags (have small yard & small composting area), poke few holes for aeration, and leave somewhere under trees or bushes to overwinter. I do add few scoops of soil/manure/whatever soil available after every 1/3-1/4 of dry shredded leaves, and some fresh grass clippings too - it speeds up composting process. Have more compost ready for next season.

I shred using a mulching lawnmover-do you have a lawnmover?
You should try the string trimmer, it may work?...Rina

This post was edited by rina_ on Thu, Oct 31, 13 at 9:28

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 12:19PM
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"Anyone know if you can shred leaves by putting them in a trash can and then hitting them with the string trimmer?"

Yes, you can shred them this way. I use a leaf blower. Most leaf blowers come with a part that allows you to use them as a leaf vacuum. Inside the leaf blower there's a spinning bladed part that looks like a bigger version of the rotating part in a blender. It chops up leaves nice and fine and then sends them into a bag that attaches to the other end of the blower. It works like a charm - you can shred huge piles of leaves in no time.

Lawn mowers will also do the trick, although I've found they don't chop up the leaves quite as finely as the leaf blower does.

In case you're wondering, leaves really won't blow around too much, especially once they've gotten wet and have started breaking down a bit. Shredding virtually eliminates the small amount of the initial blowing around leaves would otherwise do.

Really can't say enough good things about what leaf mulch will do for your garden. In addition to the benefits I've mentioned, leaf litter and the compost it results in seems to encourage a healthy balance of microbes in my soil that keep my plants disease free. Creating a layer of dead leaves also provides a habitat for frogs, toads and various kinds of insects that keep populations of pest insects in check.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 2:27PM
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alan haigh

Sears used to sell a leaf shredder that was nothing more than a string trimmer on a stand with a ring of plastic that served as a feed. Not sure if the device is still available anywhere but it was not terribly expensive and worked well.

Whether unshredded leaves will blow away depends on leaf species and relative shelter of site.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2013 at 2:34PM
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