Favorite mulch

ellie_nm(7/NM)September 5, 2004

What's your favorite mulch?

I finally almost cleared out the rocks that were under some roses and now I am putting in compost and peat moss but also need to put in some mulch before long. I was thinking about shredded bark but now I'm wondering if that's the best choice.

I am also going to put some mulch down by some strawberries and herbs and also under some raspberry bushes (there are 7) running along one side of the house. I put in some straw but the wind blows it all over the lawn and it also sprouts grass in places -- so I am looking for other choices.

I also have some flowers in the front that I think need something, right now it's just bare soil.

Any ideas besides rocks (which I hate and there's a pain to get up and get rid of)?

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My favorite mulch came from my neighbor who cut down a large number of cedar trees in his yard. This mulch, of course, was free and it went a long way.

Sometimes tree companies will give mulch away (and even deliver it) if you ask them.

Other than that, I use pine bark nuggets, which many people don't like because they say they float away in the rain. I've not had that problem though with mine.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2004 at 12:40AM
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Xcited(Z5 CO)

Having laid down over 75 tons of rock and wood mulch I say go with wood. All my clay soil is turning into soft stuff since the worms are chowing down on the wood. I called tree companies and found one doing a land clearing a few miles away, they sold me the mulch at $3.00 a cubic yard with delivery included. I think it's mostly Cottonwood mulch. I also bought a single cubic yard of artifically colored wood mulch from a landscape company that was supposed to be perfectly fine for the plants or veggies. All I know is that the worm activity is about zero in that bed with that now yucky looking pale red mulch. The rest of the yard with the regular natural mulch probably has double to triple the worm activity now.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2004 at 4:50PM
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AzDesertRat(AZ 8b Sunset 12)

I would agree with Xcited and Redthistle. I layed down a heavy 6-8" layer of shredded bark and wood chips on a flower bed about 3 years ago. Now, the dirt is almost black and filled with earthworms. As an added bonus, the soil ph is now down into the low 6's. Where I added sulfer, the ph is down to about 5.4.

Mind you, I have to add 3-4" of the stuff every year. It just seems to dissolve every year, especially with our heat and humidity (at least during monsoon season). I also use pine needles and those disappear rather quickly, but as of yet, I haven't seen the degree of improvement that I have seen with the shredded bark and wood chips.

NO ROCKS (still trying to get rid of mine)


    Bookmark   September 8, 2004 at 10:42PM
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I have decided to go with the bark mulch too. I heard there may be some kind of problem with bark chips (the big chunks) -- something about attracking rodents.
Has anyone heard anything about the pecan shells?

The rocks are a real pain to get rid of -- it seems like it will take years to finally get rid of them.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2004 at 11:50AM
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AzDesertRat(AZ 8b Sunset 12)

Elie, I mix the medium and fine bark/wood chips together with no problems. The finely shredded stuff disappears really quickly. The medium size lasts a little longer. The only thing which is sort of annoying is that some birds (namely Albert's Towees (sic)) keep poking through the mulch and kick it on my lawn. Small price to pay for pest control I guess.

I have also used pistachio shells, pecans shells, cocoa shells, and some others. They work in suppressing weeds, but they are not as good in improving the soil as the wood/bark chips. Be forewarned, keep the mulch at least 6" from your foundations. You can used pine needles or other mulch up to your foundation.

Hope that helps and good luck

My rocks--I think it will take me months before all of mine are out. Have to wait for it to cool down before I can get much done.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2004 at 11:33PM
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paulandirene(z7 NM)

About pecan shells.... I used to pick up pecan shells when I went to Las Cruces to visit my in-laws (I live in ABQ). If you can get a batch that has sat around for a while, they work pretty well. However, when they are fresh, they usually have little bits of pecan in them.....which draws insects and birds until the bits are gone and the rain washes them clean.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2004 at 5:46PM
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I add my vote to the Wood Mulch group. I get mine from the local community mulch site. I know, all the Xeriscape "experts" say to avoid it (at least here in Colorado they do), but it's the best thing for keeping clay soil from turning into adobe brick during the summer heat. It also improves the soil tremendously and keeps the weeds in check. Here, I keep the mulch somewhat on the thin side (2-3 inches). Anything more keeps the ground too cold in the spring here in zone 5. Further south you could probably get away with a bit deeper mulch.

The only suggestion I have is to keep the bark an inch or two away from the crowns of the plants - just to keep the plant stem from any possible rot issues.


    Bookmark   October 19, 2004 at 1:52PM
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DrynDusty(z8 AZ)

I use alfalfa hay, largely because it's available here not 90miles to 170 miles away. I put it on in 6 inch "books", which just peel off the bales. It has a high nitrogen content so it decomposes nicely and quickly. There are a few weed seeds, but I pull them and they become mulch, too. I've been doing this for 17 years in this garden, but the humus goes away quickly, because of the high temperatures. No problem with the wind blowing it away: gentle 60 mph breezes that we get year 'round. ;)

    Bookmark   November 4, 2004 at 2:52PM
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Hi Ellie,

Did you finish your mulch? I'm new to this forum so just catching up, but I used pecan shell and am very happy with it. I have used bark in the past and I found that the pecan shell stays prettier longer and doesn't decompose as fast, so doesn't need to be replenished as often. I'm in Alb. and got it from Soilutions. Please let us know what you ended up doing and how it turned out!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2005 at 6:05PM
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vrgotx(8a Dallas, TX)

I don't know what part of NM you are in, but if you are near a cotton gin, gin trash makes an excelent mulch. Garden Centers sell it bagged-up as "Cotton Seed Hulls" It decomposes nicely and turns into compost.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2005 at 12:12AM
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Vikk(8b sunset 10)

I just discovered...after sifting my compost with hardware cloth I developed a large heap of semi-rotted sticks, roots, wood chips--whatever didn't fit through including some soil chunks. I put it around some roses and other bushes and it actually looks interesting and the plants seem to love it. Twisted knarly stuff but organized. :)

    Bookmark   April 3, 2005 at 3:02PM
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overrocked(SW USA)

I too, use bark, but I only mulch with bark between the beds and use timothy hay for next to the plants. I also use a shade cloth for June, July, and August. Where I put compost in a flower bed last year, I have 10 worms to every shovel full this spring! My neighbor is a tree trimmer, I have his permission to get a garbage can full of wood chips off the truck trailer whenever I feel like it. (but i don't use this fresh stuff for mulch, i use it for the compost bin- great source for browns) I also take tree chunks and line them up against the fence. When the bark starts drying away- I pulled it off and started a bark mulch pile. After a year it is good enough to shred by hand. The wood gets used for firewood, and the bark gets used for mulch. (save a tree trimmer a trip to the landfill and they save $30- use that to take the price down a bit if you have to buy it from them)

    Bookmark   April 5, 2005 at 3:15PM
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randit(z8 southern NM)

We are total "Greenies" to gardening in NM, having arrived 6 weeks ago from Coastal GA. Several of our new, and friendly, neighbors have gone the all-gravel-rock-mulch look. This looks about as garden friendly as landing on the moon...sigh. I want to try to use some sort of pecan, or bark mulch, instead of rocks..YUCCK. But..how do ya keep anything, except for rocks, from blowing away in these spring winds? How do you keep pecan mulch, or bark, from ending up in the next county? Rocks will never improve the soil...how do you find an "organic" mulch that will stay in place?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2005 at 1:11AM
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bizmhamama(CA z10)

I used about 3" of wood bark as mulch last year and it looked gorgeous all summer. But it became completely overcome by weeds over the winter - probably due to the 19" of rain we got since October. I thought the mulch was supposed to DETER the weeds...

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 2:31PM
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ShelleyinNM(SW NM)


I use the smallest bark I can find...just because of preference. Have no problem with it in the wind.

Use rock and you'll be removing it and sifting out the sand in a few years. Will increase the temps inside your house. It's a great heat sink. Plus, it looks kinda sterile.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2005 at 7:53PM
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randit(z8 southern NM)

I have been away from this forum for some time. We have been trying to dig in the "bones" of our new garden...trees. A pick & shovel is required at our address...ugh. I want to thank the people who graciously offered their comments on how to mulch. I agree, with a number of people who have typed in to the subject of mulch...if we use rocks...we will likely be sifting them out throughout the next millenium. I have been asking around, for landscaping services in Las Cruces, but all of these people are BIG on rock....YUCCK. Still trying to find something that will not blow away in the Spring winds.. Thanks for everyone's feedback.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 1:48AM
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I have no lawn in my front yard, only xeric perennials completely surrounded by natural (read: not dyed!) cedar mulch and I will NEVER use anything else anywhere in my garden! It sticks together very well, almost forming a mat(the wind has never picked mine up) and with only 2-3" depth I get virtually no weeds (and the few that do make it through have very weak roots from trying to push up through so much mulch that they pop right out). Hope that helps!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2005 at 2:58PM
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cnm7(7a Albuquerque)

I like either bark (non-colored) or pecan shells for mulch. However, one large area of my front yard is very exposed and I wanted something that would stay in place and not require yearly replenishing. When I bought the place this area was covered in 2" round rock (the awful grey kind). I hired a backhoe and dump truck to get it out of my life. I did get some crushed gravel in a nice color called Sedona. I used that in the very front (utility easement area and the section of the yard that could potentially get blown away by Spring winds). I plant "very xeric" plants there. Also added some planting beds, currently mulched with bark nuggets, closer to the house and in the back.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2005 at 11:48PM
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richiebeans(Albuq NE)

Several years ago I got rid of my stone mulch. They were called SantaFe Brown and looked a little like tan railroad ballast. Wanting to recycle it and not throw it away, I found a good use for about 1/8 acre of it: Under each roof drain of my house I dug a 4 feet round by 4 feet deep pit and lined it loosely with weed-block. I then filled them with the (cleaned) rocks to the top and covered them with larger, decorative rocks creating a very stable and safe cistern that you could walk on top of. I planted some trees nearby; they do very well in southern exposures with no supplemental water as do the adjacent shrubs. They look awesome!

I wanted to know.... how mobile are crushed pecan shells in the spring-time winds of the high desert around ABQ?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2005 at 7:43PM
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I chopped up my oleander trimmings and used it as mulch - along with organic compost and wood chips. It seemed to work well. Now, I wonder if using oleander this way will create a problem?

    Bookmark   November 14, 2005 at 4:30PM
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I live in SW Pennsylvania and recently applied many bags of cedar wood chips around 3 sides of my home. They had a season ending clearance special on them at the gardening section of the local Lowe's Home Improvement Store. Lacking a pickup truck I thought that hauling them in in bags was most convenient. I did this mainly to keep down the weeds and because of all the good things I've read about cedar when used as a mulch, specifically resistance to insects. These various beds where I applied the chips include 10 newly planted Wichita Blue Junipers, 7 Azaleas, 6 Hollies, 3 Dogwood trees, several small pines and several dozen Tulip, Hyacinthe and Peony bulbs or tubers. All of these items were planted in the last 3 months except the Dogwoods and small pines which came with the home which I purchased a year ago. The Azaleas were planted on one side of the house where they will receive a moderate amount of shade and be protected from the winter winds. The bulbous plants were planted on 2 sides of the house where they will get a mixture of sunlight and shade. The Wichita Blue Junipers were planted further away from the home on 3 different sides to allow more sunlight . All of the acid loving plants were treated with root stimulator and Canadian Sphagnum Peat around the main stem not long after planting which occurred since Labor Day. I applied the cedar chips (which are a bright beige in color) in such a way as to barely cover the ground underneath such that it wasn't visible. At my wife's request I applied the chips up to the main stem of each plant for astetic reasons. The only negative I've read about cedar chips is that they can rob the soil of nitrogen as they decay. I plan to give all of the acid loving plants a dose of fertilization in March and again in June with Miracid. I also plan to give the Wichita Blue Junipers an application of Sheep Manure in the spring at the suggestion of a local garden shop owner. Given the types of plants I've planted and where I've placed them, can anyone tell me anything I may be doing wrong? Will the cedar chips inhibit the Tulips, Hyacinths and Peonies from coming up? Can you offer any better suggestions for fertilization in the spring?

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 2:15PM
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My favorite mulch is dictated by:
1) the plants I am using (desert plants, w/ small leaves vs. leafy, humid region / riparian plants)
2) what the soils look like on the landscape site
3) the soils the plants I choose prefer culturally

Organic mulches: bark chunks or larger wood mulches usually look out of place in the southwest, and junky eventually---their coarse size swallow up smaller plants visually. Shredded cedar and cypress mulch, though, are great in a woodland setting (think oasis w/ regular, serious irrigation). Pecan shells are also good for acid loving plants, again, this is not most desert plants. All such mulches are organic, and other than the bark chunks favored by big box stores, they enrich the soil with enough water and tend to hold together, decomposing over time---they req. replacing annually.

Inorganic / rock mulches: popular to bash, but with a simple / not-too-sparse arrangement of native southwestern plants, the finer materials of neutral color look very much like native soils and are attractive (called screenings in Cruces/El Paso, DG in AZ/NV, or crusher fines in Abq). Their finer textures compliment dryland plants far better than organic mulches. Our plants thrive in their mineral nature, as rich soils and thick wood mulch is foreign to them!

Perhaps fines can be mixed with some other neutral toned rock a little larger to get a natural effect (soils have more than just one uniform aggregate size). Also, leave some of the small leaf matter that falls to stay on inorganic mulch as in nature, as opposed to creating an overly "vacuumed" look. Of course, with leafy plants, inorganic mulches look too stark, and they do not provide needed organic matter. (think Photinia...but they are usually not too happy where you see them in the SW!)

Most of what looks bad is usually due to poor maintenance and poor planting design (or lack of the right plants!), not rock.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 2:22AM
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What is the best way to maintain rock mulch? I have a 10 year old house and especially under my trees, Mesquite and Texas Ebony there is a lot of plant debris. It has mixed with the stone.

I see people with blowers, but do you have to blow it into a pile and pick it up? Also, since mine has built up over the years, is there anything I can do other than sift it out and try to maintain from here on out? TIA, Linda

    Bookmark   January 29, 2006 at 11:54AM
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I spent ten years trying to keep the rock mulch under our Mesquite looking nice. Impossible. I talked to several landscapers and they said the same thing. All I could do was go over the whole area on hands and knees to pick out as much as possible (hopefully not breaking any of the pods!).

Last year we had stone pavers laid and it not only looks beautiful, but a quick sweep with the broom or blower and everything is easily spruced up.

Wood Mulch: It's funny, but some years the nurserys and home improvement stores seem to get "good" mulch in and some years it's not very good--even with the same brand. When I find a nice mulch, I try to stock up. I, too, like the smaller bark better and very little blows away. It is certainly easier to pull it away when I want to scratch in fertilizer or add compost.

As for the rock, we have quite a bit on the perimeter. I think the key is to have a landscaped area that is mounded or sculptured (i.e., not flat) and to mix textures and plants. Nothing is going to look too great if it's all rock or all grass and everything is just flat. Same with boulders. I see them just sitting on the rock or ground. They need to be dug in a bit so they blend and look natural.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 9:25PM
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