Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Which Mulch Is Best?

With Spring around the corner here in Milton Georgia, readers have asked us to post information regarding gardening and landscaping. Thanks to "Steel Magnolia", we have the following article and video on mulch types. Courtesy goes to .

Red mulch, black mulch, brown mulch aren’t they all the same?

No, they are not all the same. So I will explain how they vary and where and how you should use each one. My favorite mulch is hardwood bark mulch. To better explain this I made a movie for you.

Pine Bark Mulch.

In the movie I did not mention Pine Bark Mulch. I Didn’t have any handy! Pine bark mulch makes a good mulch for mulching planting beds and it’s also a great additive or can even be used as the base for a good potting mix. Pine Bark mulch doesn’t break down as quickly nor does it contain the nutrition that hardwood bark has, but it’s still a great mulch to use for growing and potting soil. Actually here in Ohio pine bark is hard to find unless you buy bags. But the local nursery growers here like it so well as a potting mix they actually have it trucked in from North Carolina 90 cubic yards at a time.

Shredded Hardwood Bark Mulch.

Shredded hardwood bark mulch is made from 100% tree bark, and not ground up wood. Therefore it contains a great deal more nutrition for your plants and as it decomposes it greatly improves the soil in your gardens. When the logs of hardwood trees are arrive at the saw mill one of the first things that happens is the logs are put through a de-barking machine and all of bark is removed from the logs before they are cut into lumber.

The bark is the shredded and often times it’s shredded two or three times. That’s what they mean when they say double or triple ground. But the most important thing for you to know is to confirm that you are indeed buying mulch that is made 100% from hardwood bark. Because . . . there are a lot of mulches that pretend to be hardwood bark mulch and they are not.

The Impostors!

Red Mulch Black Mulch and Brown Mulch that has been dyed to obtain the brown color.
All of the impostors are dyed to get their color.

The impostors, as I call them, are mulches that are made of ground up wood, usually pallets. These mulches contain little to no bark at all and are 100% wood. Wood might be okay as a mulch to keep down weeds, but not only do wood mulches contain no nutrition for your plants, they actually pull nitrogen from the soil and the wood decomposes. Once the pallets are ground up to look like mulch, the ground material is dyed so it has a deep color. Today a lot of people like these mulches because they are red or black in color because of the dye.

Thats fine, and using this kind of mulch to mulch the beds around your house is okay. I don’t like these wood mulches for several reasons. One, the mulch floats out of the beds too easily and is always all over the sidewalk. Plus these mulches really don’t break down all that well. I want a mulch that is going to improve my soil, not pull nutrients from the soil. But as a mulch they are okay. In potting mix they would be disastrous!

Wood Chips from the Tree Trimming Company.

Tree trimming service produce tons and tons of wood chips and they are often looking for places to get rid of all of this mulch so they offer to drop a load off at your house free or charge. Wood chips from a tree company are okay for mulching pathways in your garden, but that’s about all I would ever use them for. They contain a great deal of ground up wood, leaves and twigs. It takes this material a long time to break down and as it does it will pull nitrogen from your planting areas.

But more importantly, wood chips contain no nutritional value therefore really do your garden more harm than good. If allowed to rot for a period of many years, they might be okay. But they are not something I’d ever use in a planting area around my home or in my nursery. They’re great to use over a muddy path. For that they are wonderful.


Many supply yards that sell mulches also sell compost. Compost can vary considerably from supply yard to supply yard. For the most compost materials are great for the soil. They really don’t make the best mulches because they are really fine textured and contain enough nutrition that weeds will grow right in the compost.

So compost materials shouldn’t be used as a mulch, but they are great for adding additional organic matter to a landscaping bed. Most compost materials are made from leaf compost, maybe mushroom compost, and sometimes the include material from sewage plants. It’s important to know for sure what’s in the compost that you are using. Should the compost that you buy contain any material from a sewage plant you should not use it in your vegetable garden.

I hope this helps! -Mike McGroarty

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