Friday, January 11, 2008


You see it everywhere: That wooden mulch comprised of little chips around every tree, along the shrubs, even in vegetable beds. You can even get it dyed different colors—bright red is popular. But don’t believe the glowing endorsements you hear at Home Depot and perhaps even from your landscaper: Wood mulch is bad for plants! It harbors pests like mice and termites and encourages fungus growth, specifically artillery
fungus, which is particularly nasty because it spreads its spores by flinging black sludge everywhere. The sludge is notoriously difficult if not impossible to clean.

Decaying wood will also deplete critical nitrogen from the soil. I don’t understand why wood mulch is so popular. It most likely has something to do with marketing, especially since the best mulch for a garden isn’t expensive or hard to find. Here’s what we’ve found:
- Yard waste compost makes the best mulch. It feeds plants and supplies natural disease-fighting microbes.

- Keep all mulch at least 6” from plant stems.

- Red mulch improves tomato yield. This is not red-dyed wooden mulch, but a special red plastic mulch like this one that absorbs a specific spectrum of sunlight and purportedly improves tomato yield. We may try it this year, as we are crazy about our tomatoes.

And Mike McGrath knows a lot more about mulch than we ever will.

Next chapter: Yummy compost

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