beigestonehill(z 6 /7VA)November 11, 2010

hey all you conifer growers, please give me your opinions on the best mulch for my conifer beds. I am looking for what is best for the plants. My soil is a bit alkaline. Thanks

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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Anything organic will break down (eventually) and feed the soil around the plants. I like shredded pine bark but a lot depends on your yard design and what is available locally. Mulch will have little effect on your pH.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 7:21PM
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Hi Beige. That mulch which you can most readily obtain is the 'best'. Woodchips are good. Shredded bark is good. Pine needles are good. Ground up yard waste is good. See the trend here?

All of these organic materials will decompose over time, adding to the humus content of the soil, just like nature does it. But long before that, these materials will keep the soil moist, help to control weeds and other competing plants, and keep your lawn mower away from the tender bark at the plants' bases.

There are, of course, subtle differences in the chemistry involved, but we'd be splitting hairs if we got into that. Any organic mulch will do wonders. After that, it's all down to what you can obtain, what pleases your aesthetic sense, and so on.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 7:22PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

no .. no.. no .....

we have to start by defining the terms ....

wrap yourself around this ....

MULCH is applied on top of the soil.. and is used to temper drought.. winter soil temp fluctuations .... shade dark soil in summer.. retain moisture... and retard weed growth ... and has very minor long term soil benefit ...

SOIL AMENDMENTS like compost are INCORPORATED into the soil ... and used to change the structure of the soil ... for whatever reason you choose ...

ergo .. ibso presto [that means nothing, but sounds good] .... the choice of mulch most likely will have little or no effect on soil pH ... alkaline ... or anything else ...

if you have soil issues.. start with a soil test.. define what the issue is.. and then use whatever is recommended to 'fix' your soil issue...

and then cover the top of the soil with whatever accomplishes the goals of mulch ... adding how good it looks to your eye ... which is basically the only issue

personally i prefer hardwood chips that are free from tree guys.. in the olden days i used large cedar chunks... longevity was most important to me ... and i think colored mulch is an anathema

and please.. NEVER... EVER.. apply landscape fabric... use the search function in GW .. or start a new post if you want opinions about that nightmare ...

soooooo .... what is the project.. a few more facts about what you are doing.. might help us focus in to help you ...

good luck


Here is a link that might be useful: i like this one the best: any imprecation of divine punishment.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 9:26AM
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Shredded Eucalyptus Mulch......I prefer the red. The red turns a nice deep brick red color as it breaks down and the conifer greens and blues pop nicely off it.

Reasons I prefer eucalyptus over others you ask???? Several reasons :

1) The shredded breaks down slowly. That's important if you have a lot of ground to cover.

2) When it is fresh, the eucalyptus oils that seep from the wood into the soil are a deterent to many pesty insects.

3) It doesn't float. Once it gets wet, it packs together and doesn't float. If you get many heavy showers, that is a nice feature. It's a real drag to come out after putting down a bunch to find it all washed out on the sidewalk or yard.

The brand to get is Aaction " Grade A "'s the one with the Koala bear on the package. They just started selling to the big box stores recently so most Lowes now have it. Sells for about $4 or so a bag.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 11:29AM
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Ken, I greatly appreciate your preference for hardwood chip mulch devoid of "tree guys"! Now if only more consumers would quit demanding same.

Funny stuff, but in truth, a guy did indeed go through a chipper down in S.E. Wisconsin a couple years ago. Family-owned treecare company that had apparently neglected some safety issues. The guy was up on the feed table stomping on some stuff to get it to go through. That's a very bad idea and against all safety regs. He got caught up in the branches and was pulled into the disc area. His co-workers-family members I believe-were unable to stop his progress. Among other factors, the reverse bar that is standard issue on these types of chippers had been disabled.

I don't quite agree though that there is NO effect on soil chemistry achieved through the use of organic mulches. To be sure, it is not a huge effect, but after all, roots go where they find conditions to their liking and as such, the very top part of the rhizoshere, which in such cases will be where the mulch is decaying, will become well-colonized with fine feeder roots. And if mulch is replenished from time to time as it usually is, there will be a constant replenishment of this activity. Otherwise, I concur with all of your (Ken's) points.

Hey Tex, does that really pan out with the Euc. chips? I've read that claim from time to time and also for cypress (Bald cypress I believe) chips. Of course, we generate lots of regular mixed but mostly hardwood chips and will continue to use those. Just curious about that.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 11:55AM
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I've been using it for about 8 years now. Major decomposition on a 2-3" base takes about 2 years.

Due to heat and rainfall amount, the oils are pretty much gone in the first few months.

The no float factor.....that's my big reason for using it if for nothing else.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 12:29PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Compost needn't be incorporated into the soil to have an effect on texture, although it certainly is quicker. I have beds made only by mowing the grass low, putting several layers of newspaper on top and then mounding organic material on top of that. When I do this in fall the bed is planted the following spring and gets only compost and/or leaves as top dressing thereafter. After a few years the soil 6-8-12 inches down is markedly different than the lawn a foot or two away. Worms are particularly good at pulling material under.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 4:32PM
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To say that mulch has no effect on adding humus to the soil simply isn't true...granted, it takes warm temps and rainfall added into the mix, but fungus and microbes break down all the nitrogen and carbon and trace minerals, and what they don't readily consume goes straight into the soil. If one were to dig down a few inches in soil that has had mulch sitting on it for a few years, the transition from woodchips/mulch to humus and soil can be readily observed. Worms help out with this a great deal, of course, as well.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 7:02PM
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I use a product called Fertile-Mulch. It is composted manure and sawdust. As a top dressing it looks great, (dark and dense) and improves the soil quickly adding nutrients and making it much looser aiding in root growth. The only draw back to this product is that is not great for weed control as weed seed that lands on it can germinate. It is called different things in different areas, but is worth seeking out.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 8:08PM
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Yep,thumbs up for worms ! Your major ally when it comes to maintaining or improving soil fertility ! T.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 1:30AM
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bernd ny zone5

I would like to add my two observations in gardening over many years.

Most parts of shredded mulch seem to disappear structure wise over a year. That's why we have to replenish mulch every year or so. Mulch does not seem getting worked into the soil volume wise, but gets broken down by sun, rain and microbes, some content 'floats away' as gases in the air, others getting washed into the soil.

Over 8 years, some 20 years ago, I dug spent bedding of a pet rabbit into a clay soil perennials bed. When now redoing the planting bed, I did not see any difference between that improved bed and clay soil which I had not improved. That bedding was completely used up by plants or washed down further, no longer improving soil structure.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 8:45AM
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Worms are supposed to be invasive pests from Europe in the once glaciated area where I live. I don't know if the trees care or not. Do most natural large conifer forests have earth worms?

So for conifers, use conifer based mulch? Or "hardwood" mulch? Conifers may prefer the conifer mulch, being more similar in habitat to what conifers have lived in for 250 million years? And provide and more likeable pH?
Or maybe Conifers would enjoy having maples killed and ground up for them, sort of conifers strike back against the broadleaf invasion?

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 10:16AM
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Haha Noki, revenge of the conifers!

The earthworms-as-an-invasive-species issue is one that I'm just now starting to wrap my head around. If something I post here is erroneous, I hope someone will spot it and clear it up. Anyway, my understanding of this is that it's the "nightcrawler" that is involved here. Apparently this is an Asian species of earthworm and the problem with it invading forested areas is that it does too good a job of consuming/digesting leaf litter in theses forested areas. This is on the list here in Wisconsin, primarily for the more northern, forested parts of the state. Studies point to declining amounts of leaf litter on the forest floor in affected areas.

We have many other, native earthworm species present, like "redworms", that are not considered problematic.

It took me by surprise some years back when this news first started to surface. I had always considered any and all earthworms to be entirely beneficial, but this does make sense now that the reasons have come to my attention.

So, in short, not all earthworms, just the big nightcrawler types that are, indeed, invasive. I suspect though, that in our yards, gardens, and agricultural lands, this is not a problem.

Where my land is, in our state's transition zone between the forested north and the agricultural south, nightcrawlers are present, at least in the farm field part of the property. There, as here at home, you literally cannot sink a shovel into the soil without scooping up one or more of the big guys. As to whether it is damaging my particular woods, I do not see evidence of that.

Hope this helps, and by all means, if somebody has a more complete understanding of this issue, chime in.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 12:40PM
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Am of the opinion that the bark and leaves from same species of tree as the tree that you are planting makes the best mulch for that particular tree. That should most nearly match nature. Don't think I've ever actually done that to test it. Usually just use either pine straw or shredded hardwood, whichever I have at the time. Usually apply thin layer of compost on top of the backfill before adding the mulch.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 11:59AM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI


As I understand it the better soil caused by the invasive worms doesn't hurt the native plants, per se. The problem is the improved soil is now more appealing to more aggressive plants which outcompete the native plants causing a shift in the forest makeup.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 4:55PM
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Hey TJ, thanks for posting that, though I'm finding myself extremely doubtful. Not arguing with you, but I probably would be with whoever came up with that! My reasoning is simply that, where a given forest community has developed, it is a combo of site factors-including, of course, the soil-and seed-bearing mother plants being in proximity. I fail to see how, following the invasion of a given piece of woods by the Asian crawlers, suddenly buckthorn would spontaneously generate in that location even though it is not present nearby.

Am I missing something here? This just seems an incredible stretch. Could you by any chance refer me to some data on this topic? I'm finding it quite interesting. And BTW, for anyone reading this, know that I've been concerned about the invasive species issue for decades now. And I am a true lover of native plant communities, although I'm not a purist by any means. Buckthorn=always bad. Norway spruce in a Wisconsin woods=not only not a problem, but an enrichment of what's already my scheme of things.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 5:36PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

I'd tend to agree with you, +om as it relates to the heart of an old growth forest. But with forests being farmed, sectionalized and clear cut, the "bad seed" becomes more available to both reforested areas as well as to what old growth is left. And that (soil fertility, friability) is just part of the dynamic. The way roots grow changes (more fiberous), fungi changes, soil macro organism change, etc. Not so bad on existing trees, more so on the next generation. It seems to me the U of Minn wrote about it, maybe UW as well.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 6:25PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Correction to the above poor wording. Should read that roots are more fiberous (dense) without worms.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 7:17PM
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