why are bark mulch bad?

preppystudJune 10, 2009

several of you suggested that i should remove all the bark mulch in order to solve the over population of pill bugs.

i have several areas where i plant things. i only have one particular sunny area that has lots of pill bugs. at my other areas, i also have bark mulch on top of the soil. i think that they are good, because they keep the soil moisture. after a while, i can break those big bark into pieces. etc. they also keep the weeds from growing.

this particular area is about 1/8 of a basketball court size. so it will take a while to clean out all the mulch on top of the soil.

if there is no pill bugs, i don't see why the mulch are bad?


by the way, after i posted that first pic of pill bugs eating one live leave. today, i found out that those evil bugs finished the whole leave! that is a really big leave. now they probably killed this cucumber plant.

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iam3killerbs(7 NC Sandhills)

Here's some info about bark mulch for you that talks about some of the problems to which it is prone.

If your mulch is promoting the population of pests, by keeping the ground too moist and giving them a place to hide, then its not doing its job and needs to be removed.

Despite the issues brought up in the linked page, bark mulch is not necessarily evil. You've listed its advantages nicely -- its a very good at smothering weeds and lasts better than most mulches. But it may not be the right mulch in the right place in that particular garden bed.

Perhaps a lighter mulch that allows more air circulation would suit that particular area? No one mulch is best for all circumstance. :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Some issues with bark mulch

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 8:20PM
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i dont like bark mulches (heavy in carbod (wood)) because it doesn't decompose quickly and it acts like a nitrogen barrier to your soil. biological activity that decomposes wood requires nitrogen.

it's not a big deal if you have wood mulch, but i avoid it, and when i mulch, i try to balance my nitrogen (green material) and carbon (brown material - wood, etc)

i also suspect that your pill bug problem is being caused by your bark mulch.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 8:25PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

No one said in your other post that bark mulch was bad, just the it isn't recommended for use around vegetables and seedlings. And the reasons why it isn't recommended were explained in detail in that discussion.

Bark mulch is for landscaping. It is used as a decorative covering. Using it around young seedlings and vegetable plants results in the problem you have - excess numbers of pillbugs, slugs, snails, etc. that can, when they have nothing else to eat, lead to plant damage.

Plus it provides no nutrients to the plants, can rob nutrients from the plants, does not retain soil moisture nearly as well as many other muches, does not supress weeds at all well, and does absolutely nothing to improve the soil.

Several of us have advised you to get rid of it if you wish to solve your problems but you seem to want to keep it for some reason. All we can do is offer experienced advice. It is your choice whether you take it or not.

You can find numerous discussions on the problems of wood bark mulch over on the Soil, Compost & Mulch forum here.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 8:48PM
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some barks are big, some are small, so it will take a while time to remove all of them. i have to hand pick them because there are plants growing in the same area. that is why i don't want to remove them.

but you wrote: "can rob nutrients from plants?" is that true?

when they decay into pieces, don't they prove some organic nutrient back to soil?

there are too many forums on here, so i didn't read that soil forum.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 8:59PM
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don't remove the bark you have, dont sweat it

just cover it up with a form of nitrogen (greens) - grass clippings, coffee grounds, dead weeds, anything

bark mulch does decay, and it does add organic matter to the soil but very very slowly.

it robs nutrients because high carbon materials (like hay, bark mulch, woods) require nitrogen to be broken down. organisms that decompose [eat] the bark mulch need nitrogen to do so. that's why it robs nitrogen from your plants (and probably a few other nutrients, maybe)

don't remove your bark. just cover it with greens.

your problem is a soil environment that is unbalanced. there's too much browns, not enough greens.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 9:37PM
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I love bark mulch....in my perennial beds. It lasts a long time, looks good, and in my case, is free. Bugs are not a problem with the bark mulch in the perennial bed. For the most part, my flowers don't taste so good.

But not in my veggie garden. There I want mulches that are going to break down by the time next planting season comes along. I want to be able to add amendments in the fall, usually just laying it on top, but sometimes I do turn. Turning wood chips is a pain.

I agree that there is no need to remove them if you don't want to bother, but with consideration to your pill bug problem, you probably should add something that will break down faster so that the pill bugs eat something else. Also, a finer top mulch, like grass clippings, probably wouldn't be so attractive as a home for the pill bugs. I don't have the problem, but I don't know whether it is the mulch itself or just the fact that there is a lot of OM in my soil so they don't do damage and I don't notice them.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 10:17PM
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ppod(6 SE NY)

For those in the dark about the previous discussion on bark mulch....

Here is a link that might be useful: pictures of pill bugs eating live plants! evil pest!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 11:21PM
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Earwigs love bark mulch. Another reason not to use in the garden

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 11:36PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

"there are too many forums on here, so i didn't read that soil forum"

Sooooo... you want someone else to do the work of reading all that for you and sum it up for you? Have you made friends with the "search" function of gardenweb yet? As Digdirt and others have made clear, the information you want is on these forums and has even been given to you in response to your many posts on this subject.

I realize that you want a quick, easy, effortless solution to your problem and I sympathize. I didn't want to put up a fence to keep rabbits out of my garden because it was a lot of work (but oddly cheaper than the sprays, etc. for repelling rabbits). And once I did put up that fence I didn't want to have to go back and reinforce it with hardware cloth because there was a BABY rabbit that fit through the mesh of the first fence. But gardening is like that. You have to work for what you get, sometimes in ways that you didn't expect. And the people here are always ready to lend a sympathetic ear because we have all been/are in your place. After all, if it isn't the pillbugs, it is the rabbits. If not rabbits, then the rain. If not the rain, then the drought... :)

But we can't make you read and understand the information we have, we can't make up your mind for you, and we can't get all the way over there to LA with our rakes and get that bark mulch up and replaced with something more suitable for your veggies! But we are all rooting for you and hope that your garden becomes a source of pleasure instead of the frustration you seem to be currently experiencing! Best of luck!


    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 11:55AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Well put sunni.

"can rob nutrients from plants?" is that true?

No, I just made it up. Geez!!

If one does a search on your name they will find many posts all over the forums here, many asking the same basic questions over and over. New posts are not needed for every question and should just be added on to your existing discussions. And they should be posted on the correct forums please.

There are also numerous requests for at least your garden zone info so that valid info can be supplied. But then your profile simply says you don't have a garden and hope to have one someday so apparently these are all hypothetical questions. If not then you need to start doing some basic gardening research. Simply go to Google and type in your question and you will get tons of info to read.

And the questions you post all have easy answers already available on these forums and the web in general with just a little bit of research effort on your part. Do some exploration of the many forums here. All the information you want is already readily available.

Helping is one thing and we are happy to do it but spoon-feeding you basic info over and over only to have you argue with or question if it is valid is another thing all together.


    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 12:21PM
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I don't think that bark mulch is bad for all vegetables, and I don't think that it is devoid of nutrients. I don't even think that it will rob the soil of nutrients, except in the first half inch or so.

First off, there is an advantage in long lasting mulch. If you can plan so far ahead that this year you will have tomatoes there, followed by garlic, followed by bush beans, followed by squash, you have weed suppression for two or three years without further work. The big disadvantage is that the spot will be unsuitable for direct seeding for a long time, or even for transplanting small, shallow-rooted seedlings such as lettuce.

If you dry and burn the mulch, there will be a residue (ash). That ash is typically 50% carbon and 50% nutrients. This said, such a chunky, large size mulch is best used only for large plants, or large seeded plants. Potato, garlic, beans started from seed, tomatoes, squash, pepper, okra, eggplant started as plants, will do just well there.
Raspberries and other brambles will do well. Rhubarb, and any other perennial (grapes, aronia, cardoon) will be fine.

In fact, I routinely toss the peeling bark (whole pieces) of my firewood under the kiwis, currants or raspberries, and I have done that for years. Just sprinkle some fertilizer before it rains, and find a way to cope with the bugs. Surely they won't get out in the open if there are some dead leaves in there. Also, a bird bath in the garden generally leads to insect reduction. Specially robins, they are quite good at scratching around.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 12:42PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

don't pine bark mulches (what it looks like) tend to make the soil more acid?

if you don't want to rake the bark up then simply apply your green type mulch over the top, and keep it topped up, the purpose is to give the bugs something to eat other than your vege's. me i'd probably systemaically pull the bark to the edge part of the bed then put the hay, you could do that as you go along.

why the bark hasn't attracted the bugs in other areas is hard to imagine without seeing the site, might be that the plants in that area arean't as attractive to bugs lifestyle?

and green mulches will keep the soil moist if not better than barks will, as well they keep the root runs insulated, warmer in cold, cooler in heat, so plants stress less.

this forum does have lots and lots of sub forums, you would need a full time career checking them all, for me i visit the garden and soil ones plus a couple of others that we i feel i get to see most posts of interest.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 4:07PM
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ajpa(z6 se PA)

Instead of taking out the mulch, maybe you can clear a circle around each plant/seedling, like a No-Pill-Bug-Zone. You can draw a circle with DE or crushed eggshells as a barrier for slugs (of course you have those too) and sprinkle Sluggo. Another thing you can do is put a collar around seedlings with cut-off plastic bottles.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 4:22PM
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