Cypress Mulch

mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)November 2, 2009

This may belong in the Soil Forum, but I searched over there and couldn't find what I was looking for. I couldn't find it here either, but this is probably where I read it.

In the Leggy Plants thread BeekyMartin asked the following:

  • "I kept reading that you should mulch your tomato plants, but no mention of what kind of mulch. So I used cypress mulch, which I had, and use it on my landscaping. Is cypress OK? I do have a couple unknown problems with a couple plants."

Beeky, straw is an excellent mulch, as is a variety of other toppings. My grass clippings usually end up as mulch. I have almost 100 large Italian Cypresses. They make a great windbreak in the desert. I've been saving their droppings, and quite a bit of their cuttings for next season. Butthen somewhere in my recent reading, I believe I read Cypress as a mulch stunts plant growth, but I cannot find it.

I wanted a thread with it in the title, just in case the person with the info stops by.

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Hi Bob - I agree that there are far better tomato mulches than cypress. Or any of the packaged wood chip types. Many discussions are available about the advantages of straw, spoiled hay, shredded leaves, leaf mold, grass clippings, compost, etc. over any of the wood chip/shred mulches.

Aside from the issues of cypress mulch being considered "politically incorrect" (unless you have your own trees) any of the others will provide better moisture control, weed suppression, nutrients, soil improvement, etc. than cypress IMO.

Wood chips, packed against the stems or tilled into the soil, can leach nitrogen needed by the plants. Less of a problem if a clear area is left around the base of the plants but that defeats the point of mulching. ;)


    Bookmark   November 2, 2009 at 6:30PM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)

Huh, thanks Dave. I had no idea there was such a bruhaha over cypress mulch until reading your comment and doing some digging.

Anyway, I found this in my search and it's the kind of information I think someone else around here was referring to. Anyone interested in "mulch trials involving tomatoes" that's a long read, but you can find the results by scrolling to the graphs near the end. I'm not sure that study is as rigorous as it reads though. Some of the comments make me wonder. I found another pdf file that was longer and more involved, but I'll spare you.

I've decided to put all my cypress needles, sticks and clippings into the compost pile and use them as a mix with other 'better' materials. At least I no longer feel like cypress is complete waste, and I learned another tidbit about our environmental wars.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2009 at 10:14PM
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I use cypress bark mulch and cyprus tree needles for mulch. But NOT in the tomato beds!

Cyprus tree needles, cypress bark mulch and pine needles are great for mulching ornamental beds especially in shade gardens and for bedding plants and ornamentals that enjoy a slightly acid and damp soil.

You might assume those parameters include tomatoes. Yes. But the pine needles, cypress needles and ESPECIALLY the cypress "bark" mulch (most of which products include large amounts of sap wood and slab wood chips from the cypress milling) are very slow to rot. And that's why I don't use them in the tomato beds ... because they take too long to break down to where the stuff can be tilled, incorporated, into the soil year to year.

Wheat straw is the best annually applied mulch, in my opinion. Alfalfa hay is another good option but contains too many seeds, IMO. I like to put the clean wheat straw on in "leaves" pulled off the square bales so the resulting mat is about 2 to 3 inches thick laid down kind of like tiles on a floor. Then I spread the shake over that mat another thin inch thick.

The resulting straw mulch mat rots slowly over the summer season so it never heats up like grass clippings (although grass clippings are an excellent mulch) and by autumn the straw is rotted about 3/4 of the way into humus. Then I remove all the tomato vine and tomato plant residue from the bed and blow the leaves from the lawn into the beds and run the mulching lawn mower over the dry leaves to break them up into leaf mulch left to rot over the winter.

The reason I don't use much grass clipping mulch any longer is that I prefer to mow the lawn unbagged with a mulching mower and leave the grass clippings on the lawn for free nitrogen. Also, I use crab grass and broadleaf herbicide on my lawn and do not want that residue in my tomato patch.

The pine and cypress needles I apply each spring in Brenda's ornamental and annual beds do break down. Just much more slowly than wheat straw. But we love the needles for mulch in flower beds especially because they don't wash out or float off like wood chips tend to do and they smell fresh and don't mildew.

The cypress "bark" mulch, particularly the products that include cypress wood chips have taken up to 2 years to rot down to where I need to add a new topping around the shrub plantings where cypress is a great product. Also, I don't notice mildew and insects so much in cypress mulch as is more common with hardwood mulch.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2009 at 8:12AM
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