The Twelve Days of a Green Christmas – Eleventh Day


On the eleventh day of Christmas my green friend gave to me…eleven bags of mulch…ten qigong lessons…nine mystery plants…eight light bulbs…seven milkweed plants…a six pack of beer…five pairs of slippers…four chocolate bars…three holly trees…two vent fans…and a new doorbell!

Ahhh…mulch…not much to think about here…right? Mulch blocks weeds, regulates soil temperature and moisture, fights erosion and keeps gardens looking neat and trim.  Not a big deal…except some mulches can actually harm your plants and are not good for the environment!

The most popular mulch, sold at the big box stores, is cypress mulch available in a variety of colors. However, this low-priced mulch comes with a high environmental cost! According to University of Florida data, timber companies grind some 129,000 tons of the state’s cypress into mulch each year, part of a cycle that takes nearly 3 million more cubic feet of cypress than it replaces. Cypress thrives in freshwater wetlands, where it stores and filters water resources and provides a vital wildlife habitat. This graceful native tree grows slowly and, once cut, is difficult to replace. Today logging companies clear-cut younger stands, and though mill remnants make up some cypress mulch products, entire trees make up others. Aside from the eco-friendly aspect, shredded cypress mulch loses its’ color in a year or so and forms a fungal mat which impedes drainage and can kill or damage your plants.

melaleuca mulch
Melaleuca Mulch Photo Credit: Florida Native Plants Nursery

Being an environmentalist, my green friend gave to me eleven bags of melaleuca mulch, aka Florimulch. What…that invasive plant in the Everglades you exclaim?  Yes, the exotic Australian Melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia), or paperbark tea tree, has invaded more than half a million acres of Florida wetlands. Spreading rapidly by fire, Melaleuca has turned vast portions of the Everglades’ saw grass prairie into dense, monoculture forests. Although highly invasive as a tree the mulch is beneficial is several ways. The invasive plant can be destroyed, shredded into mulch which helps the environment, doesn’t significantly alter the soil pH and termites don’t like it! Is it easy to find…no because no one requests it at the big box stores!  If we did we might be able to find it readily.

So, if you want a more environmentally and garden-friendly mulch but can’t find Melaleuca mulch try choosing another eco-friendly mulch.

Renewable eucalyptus grows rapidly on commercial plantations. The mulch’s pleasing scent doubles as a deterrent to fleas and other lawn and garden pests. Eucalyptus also retains its color longer than cypress, aging from golden-yellow to reddish tones. You may need to replace eucalyptus more often than pine bark or other wood chips, however, because it does settles into the soil which is better than becoming a fugal mat. You can actually find this mulch at the orange and blue big box stores.

Cocoa mulch is the byproduct of commercial cocoa grinding. These small, shell-shaped hulls contain 2.5 percent to 3 percent nitrogen. Their low acidity makes them an ideal choice for roses. Snails and slugs are said to shy away from this mulch, but dog owners should beware, as cocoa hulls contain theobromine, the chemical that makes chocolate toxic for canines. Cocoa mulch may develop a layer of harmless mold that can be removed with water or raking.

Pine bark chips and needles: chips keep their shape and color longer than shredded wood mulches, while pine needles can nourish acid-loving plants. Usually obtained as byproducts of other lumbering uses, these commonly found mulches make use of resources that might otherwise be wasted. Pine bark chips do tend to float away in heavy rain, making them unsuitable for sloped landscapes.

Old tires can have new lives as rubber mulch. A number of companies sell shredded rubber mulches in long-lasting natural and fanciful tints. This inorganic mulch is soft on gardeners’ knees and won’t fall prey to hungry insects. For even less maintenance around trees, look for preformed, recycled rubber tree rings. A local rubber mulch producer may be nearby. The eco-friendliness of rubber mulch is somewhat controversial so be sure to do your research before you make a decision about this mulch.

Local resources such as straw, peanut and pecan shells, corn husks, chemical-free sawdust, or composted manures work well as mulch. Some tree service companies will unload truckloads of chippings at your doorstep. When using freshly chipped wood, be sure to add a nitrogen fertilizer to offset decaying wood’s tendency to tie up soil nitrogen. Also call around to local landfills and recycling centers. Many provide free tree waste mulch.

Until today, when my green friend gave me Melaleuca mulch, I had been using cardboard boxes with straw or organic matter on top.  The cardboard worked great to kill weeds and the straw provides a good base for whatever I wanted to plant next.  I’m looking forward to spreading my eleven bags of Melaleuca mulch!

Have you found any eco-friendly mulches that have worked in your yard?  Share your experiences in the comments for the rest of us to learn.

If this is the first post you have read of my green rendition of the Twelve Days of a Christmas and you can’t figure out what the heck I am writing about or why I’m writing about the Twelve Days after Christmas, click here to read how this all began. I hope you join me tomorrow for the Twelfth Day of a Green Christmas on the Eve of the Epiphany!


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