Will Home Depot Cypress Mulch Hurt My Veggies?

tomacco(7)March 17, 2009

This is my first year gardening. I've got Onions, Potatoes and Garlic in the ground, and I just trench-planted some Asparagus. I've got pretty much everything going into 2000 sq feet, plus a separate strawberry patch. Yes, a lot to bite off year one but I need the exercise.

So weeding is not my favorite activity, and plastic/newspapers don't really appeal to me. So I got some Home Depot uncolored shredded Cypress Mulch. I just mulched my onions and around the strawed patch of potatoes, and the path between those and the next stuff thats going in (lettuce/cabbage/beets/carrots in a couple days). I'm planning on mulching that stuff too.

It says this mulch is safe for kids playgrounds, etc. and there are no warnings on it. It doesn't say untreated, but it looks plain.

Is it safe for my veggies? I'm thinking of 'tiny' farming a couple acres organic next year, so I try to keep it natural as possible.

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

You'll find lots of discussions on various mulches over on the Soil & Mulch forum here and you might want to review them as well for better ideas. Just search 'mulch' there for many discussions on it.

Meanwhile - JMO. ;) All the politically incorrect arguments against it aside, cypress isn't an ideal mulch for a vegetable garden. It is primarily a decorative mulch best used in flower beds and landscaped areas. It isn't considered an effective weed control unless applied quite thickly and using 4-5" of it can get quite expensive. It provides little benefit to the soil or the plants as other organic muclhes do as they decompose, and it tends to shed water.

But since you have already applied it, those are moot points and it isn't going to hurt anything as long as it remains on the surface and away from direct contact with the base of the plants. Otherwise it can bind up, temporarily, the nitrogen needed by the plants. Monitor the plants closely for signs of nitrogen depletion and supplement as needed.

Preferred organic mulches are straw, old hay, compost, grass clippings, etc. as they are more effective weed suppressants, benefit the soil nutrient levels and tilth as they decompose, and can easily be tilled in at season's end.

Good luck with your garden.


Here is a link that might be useful: Soil & Mulch Forum

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 7:20PM
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That is what I used.

Thanks for your reply. I don't really get it, though... compost won't stop weeds, it will encourage it, won't it? And won't cypress till in easily as well and then decompose over the winter?

And 2" of this stuff really won't stop weeds? I thought it would. Arg.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 8:48PM
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This is the mulch applied. I suppose pine straw would have been better. Maybe I'll get bales of that from now on and add a little lime so it doesn't push my soil below 6 ph.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 9:28PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Mulch prevents weeds from sprouting by blocking sunlight so any thick layer - the thicker the better - will accomplish that - even compost. The added benefit of compost is that it also improves the soil in the process and feeds the plants. Weeds also prefer alkaline soil so compost retards weed germination by maintaining soil around a neutral pH.

As to the pine straw - it too works ok though oat or wheat straw if you can get them are better - and there is little evidence that pine straw will alter the soil pH except very briefly. The pine straw itself is slightly acidic but as it decomposes, it reverts back toward a neutral pH. This too is discussed in more detail on the Soil & Mulch forum here.

On the tilling question, cypress mulch often contains larger chunks and tough fibrous strands which don't always sit well with a tiller. ;)

I'm not advocating that you rip up all you have applied or already spent $$ on. Just pointing out that as the bag says, cypress mulch is "decorative" and that there are much better (and cheaper) mulches to use in a vegetable garden.

One option often used by others that happen to have a bunch of wood chip mulch to use up is to first lay down several overlapping layers of wet newspaper and then spread the mulch on top of that. It doesn't eliminate the other problems with wood mulches but it does add to weed suppression and lets you stretch the wood mulch out further. Just something to consider.


    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 1:33AM
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I don't see why it would, since there are no dyes or other additives! Pile away and don't stress about it.

I use grass clippings snatched from the side of the road trash day morning. In fact it's about time I started seeding the brown bags...

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 6:43AM
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Thanks for the replies. Having read the mulch forum, I'll probably go with something non-cypress in the future. There's plenty of pine straw to be had and I don't want too much wood in the soil for when I till it.


Oh, as to nitrogen shortage from the rotting wood... I spread 600lbs of 0.5-0.5-0.5 Black Kow and 10lbs of 10-10-10 on this 600 sq feet of garden which was at about 2.5% organic matter, so I'm not too concerned about that but I will monitor it.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 10:31AM
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If you're going to be working in the garden with bare hands, don't forget to consider the texture. The cypress mulch that I've bought in the past has lots of stiff pointy pieces, like toothpicks only rougher.
There was a playground near me that used cypress mulch around the play equipment and it was downright dangerous especially when they first layed it down. I don't care how organic it was. It a kid fell down in it, they would stand up with sticks poking out of their knees. Maybe there is a "shredded" kind that is more smooth than what they used though.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 3:05PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I would think that cypress would like to "never" decay. As Dave said, this stuff is better for decoration. If tilled in it would be woody.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 5:02PM
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Sounds like I'll be raking it up before tilling next round, and using pine straw from now on. Might leave it on the path at the end of the rows, actually.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 8:14PM
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granite(z6 NC)

I would think that the cypress mulch would be very useful as paths, but a pain in the veggie bed itself. I'd recommend that you go with your idea to rake the mulch to the edges before tilling, and then reset it as the walkways in your garden. Putting 10 layers of wet newspaper down and then putting the wood mulch on top of that makes for a very effective weed barrier, even with 2" of mulch.

I use wood mulch in my walkways and compost, ground pine bark fines, pine needles, and grass clippings in the veggie beds themselves. Once or twice a year I rake back the bigger stuff from the paths, scrape out the compost that developed underneath and put that on the garden. I then put down new layers of newspaper (or cardboard) and add the mulch back on top. I get my wood mulch free from a guy that has a tree trimming business AND from my son taking his truck to the landfill for free mulch. The landfill stuff has been aged, and I'll put that directly in the flower beds or the paths. The raw stuff I let sit in a pile OR I use it along the fenceline where I don't have plants growing, its just a groundcover area.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 8:27AM
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Ive been using newspaper/cardboard in the paths. With a thick layer of mixed leaves and grass clippings. It works fantastic to prevent weeds and hold in the moisture. Plus garden worms love the newspaper for some reason. They flock to it.

By the end of the season its pretty shredded and just gets tilled in. Every years my soil gets better and better. Last year I only supplemented with fert once eraly in the season. This year I think I do without any at all.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 11:50AM
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I really do like it as mulch on the path parallel to the rows. I get less muddy when I water.

The wood is not a very effective weed preventer on the edges of the garden where the Bermuda incroaches, but it is working quite well in a one inch layer around the onions and garlic and between those and the other rows.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 10:35PM
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I tried using cypress mulch on my garden once. It was ok for some - however- it stunted my tomato growth. after researching I discovered this: cypress mulch is wood - and if you understand the theory of composting, wood depletes (consumes) nitrogen levels during the decomposition stage. in long term situations it will slowly return the nitrogen back to the soil - especially accomponied with green type manures. so in short - you have already purchased the mulch and if your determined to use it then i recommend using weekly doses of a nitrogen rich fertilizer during the growing season to alleviate the offset.

hope this helps!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 9:46AM
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I put 800 lbs of manure in a 650 sq foot plot plus some 10-10-10, so I'm not too worried about nitrogen leaching, but after learning about that I fertilized my onions/garlic, and will again later in the season. They should be fine, I think. They're growing very well.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2009 at 11:57PM
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I used redwood mulch in my garden last year and I suspect it also stunted my plants. Things grow much better now that I've raked it off the beds. This year it's going on the paths only and the beds will be mulched with grass clippings. It is pretty good about detering weeds though, and is good around shrubs and other deep rooted things that don't care if the top couple inches of soil is devoid of nitrogen.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 12:33AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I put 800 lbs of manure in a 650 sq foot plot plus some 10-10-10

WOW!! I wouldn't be worried about nitrogen leaching either then. But I'd sure would be worried about several other problems. I hope this was well-aged and composted manure and not fresh stuff!!!


    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 12:57AM
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Dave, it was Black Kow well composted manure, 0.5-0.5-0.5. I had about 3" of silty topsoil, under that was pure georgia red clay. Its tilled down to about a foot.

I just did what the soil test told me :)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 2:48AM
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Interesting discussion here. I will be most likely using the cypress blend on my tomatoes (it's $2.50 per bag). Under the mulch around the tomatoes I'll put on a couple inches of Black Kow. With the size of my garden, and the fact that I don't want a super-thick layer of mulch, I think I will only need about 3 bags of mulch and 3-4 bags of Black Kow composted manure. I hope it all goes well. Our soil has a lot of clay and without mulch, water sits on top of the soil for a while and spatters mud onto the plants.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 11:29AM
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Don't use cypress!! I put around my dogwood tree. It did okay the first year, no grass got through the bark. The next year it looked compacted. I was hand watering the tree. So I went to loosen up the mulch after I watered. Much to my surprise as I dug down, no water went though the mulch to the tree roots. I dug it out then and there. I replaced it with mini nugget pine bark. I will never buy cypress if I want my plants to get water.
PS, under the tomatoes I use "Weed Block". I put down a new layer every year. At the end of the season I pull out the vines and leave the weed block until spring. I recycled last years under my new blueberries. I put pine needles over it to hold it down. I saw it at Big Lots for $5 a roll, 3' X 50' .

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 12:42AM
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If you do have plenty pine straw, it will serve you fine. Just mix in some wood ash or lime to keep the pH to a decent level.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 10:12PM
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arugula(4/5 Wisconsin)

After buying 6 bags of finer cypress mulch to hold me until the mulch truck comes with my 5 yards from hardwood, I happened to be reading "The Holistic Orchard" by Michael Phillips, who gives super detailed explanations about why one would not want to use a softwood mulch for fruit trees or garden plants.

He's done many experiments and has concluded that ramial mulch from the upper branches and outer/newer growth is incomparable in the way it promotes soil fertility - especially with miccorhizal fungi and such.

Here's an excerpt from p. 9:

"The arrays of familiar choices at the home and garden center generally do not cut it from a biological perspective. Bark mulch comes from softwood logs for the most part, and therefore comes rich in tannic compounds that once protected standing evergreens from decay..

..Tannins will suppress healthy growth in garden and orchard alike.....Bulk wood chips in a bag....are a brown rot phenomenon.... Let [it] rot for a few years and it's a whole different story.. -Michael Phillips, "The Holistic Orchard"

He then goes on to discuss why you never want to use landscape cloth under your mulch if your long-term goal is healthy, fertile soil. Wet newspapers or cardboard are fine, as many have already mentioned here. The former creates a crust of inhospitable hardpan.

Despite the problems with these mulches, they shouldn't impede water flow, as mentioned by nhardy above. I almost wonder if your problem was due to the "weed block".

    Bookmark   March 17, 2012 at 8:46AM
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If I've got a thin layer of wood chips at the base of my veggies to suppress weed growth and keep the moisture in, and I put granular fertilizer on, how do I mix it into the top few inches of the soil? Is it ok to leave it laying on the top of the mulch and either water it in with a hose or wait for the rain to come to get it to the roots?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 6:32PM
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    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 2:17AM
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I mulch heavily in the fall with hay (not straw - no nutritional value) to smother my garden bed. Then in spring, I pull it away just enough to plant the tomato plants and other seedlings/seeds. No weeding necessary and your bed gets fed constantly.

Good old Ruth Stout taught me everything I need to know about gardening with little work.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 9:33AM
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