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alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Posted by hairmetal4ever Z7 MD (My Page) on
Sun, Jul 22, 12 at 12:29

I'm trying to figure out what would be a good alternative to packaged shredded wood or bark mulch that still looks good (to my eyes).

Sawdust looks hokey to me (no offense to those that use it) and leaves look "messy" unless chopped up, and even chopped leaves look better once they've composted a bit and turned darker.

Also, I don't have enough trees that are large enough to supply enough leaves to do the job, so I'd have to purchase them somewhere.

Deep in my brain, I keep thinking a nice mix of finely chopped leaves (to maybe 1/4" pieces) with some compost to give it some darkness, could make a nice, dark, slightly "chunky" mulch that would look good, and not offend the eyes of HOA members inclined to only accept "commercial" mulches.

Now the quesiton - is there something like that I could buy? I guess a partially-composted leaf mold type thing would be what I'm looking for, right?

The other thought was to add just a small amount of wood mulch to give it some thickness.

I basically want something that does the job of holding in moisture and keeping weeds down, but that would more or less break down within a 12 month period.

I thought of just straight compost, since it just looks like dark soil, but I keep thinking that might break down a little TOO fast, plus, weed seeds would sprout pretty easily in that.

What are some other mulch ideas you've done or heard of?


Follow-Up Postings:

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Cocoa bean mulch

Cocoa bean mulch is expensive and it does get moldy in certain climates like mine. But, it looks good if you have a dry climate.

But, I think wood is ok. I don't think you will find anything you like better then wood. If you are willing to work with the wood it will prove more suitable and cheaper then something else. By "work with" I mean you have feed the plants and keep it from getting right close to the plants.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

You may be able to find bark mulch at a local landscape/soil supplier by the cubic yard which will be much cheaper than buying it in bags.

County compost (i.e. neighborhood green can + whatever else) might be available. In my area one of the landfill workers told me that they don't give their compost out but they cannot find anyone to buy it either.

You can call around to local tree trimming/arborist places and ask if they will drop off their wood chips in your yard. The composition of what you actually get will vary and it may or may not meet the appearance you're looking for. In my area larger places like schools seem to have dibs on the wood chips, I've received a couple of replies that I either need to come with a truck and pick them up myself or that they are selling them. As soon as people find out that 'waste' can be 'sold,' that's what happens.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

I would look locally for what you can find in bulk, the link below is to a local company for me and shows what options may be available in your area. Going to the local bulk place should give you an opportunity to look at what you are buying before plunking down the cash too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Various mulches


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

  • Posted by RpR_ 3-4 (My Page) on
    Sun, Jul 22, 12 at 22:56

Cocoa bean mulch as it has nutrient values and over time turns the color of rough dirt.
It does a very good job of suppressing weeds when applied about two to three inches deep.

It is far better for the plants and soil than any wood based mulch.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Look carefully into Cocoa bean mulches since the harvesting of the beans is often done under slave labor conditions and exploits child labor.
Any mulch used should recede into the background, a mulch should not be more visible then the plants growing in that mulch. Less expensive sourc es of wood chips could be your local tree trimmers that need some place to dump the chips they make anad often need to pay tipping fees to do that.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

  • Posted by corrine1 7b Pacific Northwest (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 23, 12 at 11:45

Home Depot here sells a bagged produce called PEP a soil conditioner that is composted pine & fir bark. It has more substance than crumbly dark finished compost. Essentially it's still a bagged product commercial produced and transported.

Shredded fall leaves make a nice mulch. Apply in fall after plants have gone dormant. Apply again in spring after soil has warmed. Plants will reseed in it as much as weeds, but 2x a year application takes care of seedlings.

We mulch with what we have on hand at that time. We've spread a lot of different things to improve the soil and often put the rough items as 1st inch or so & top with more uniform wood chip mulch. When you cover that 1st layer it doesn't matter what the appearance is like. Partially composted horse manure, used coffee grounds, shredded paper, and guinea pig sawdust bedding plus manures are just some of the things. Since our beds are densely planted during the growing season not much mulch is visible except for the vegetable gardens. Garden visitors don't comment on our mulch, but the plants.

Anything freshly applied and spread nicely should work.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

I did not know that about Cocoa bean mulch, but OP wants things that are not wood and people keep suggesting things that are wood but are cheaper, better, etc... Who can answer the question what is a good mulch that is not wood?

What if the Cocoa bean mulch was fair trade? You can't sure it was harvested by slaves. You can't use if you have dogs so I don't use it and it will mold in my climate very quickly.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

As far as a "partially decomposed leaf mold", I don't think that will be available anywhere in a bag. If you find a commercial facility with a half-done pile you like the looks of, you might be able to get a load of it.

I'd suggest cotton burr compost, which is fluffy and peat-like and would have a nice appearance, but you're too far north and may not be able find it. (It's different from cotton seed products, so don't be confused.)


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Actually Sloat garden center (a local store here) does sell leaf mold in a bag, and it makes super great compost but is even more expensive then cocoa bean mulch. I love the smell of cocoa bean mulch, it's like chocolate. Every time you eat a Hersey bar do you think this was harvested by slave labor?


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Doesn't sound to me as if the original poster is totally against wood mulch, just wanting something that holds moisture, keeps weeds down, and breaks down to nourish the soil.

While sawdust may look hokey, if it's something you can obtain free or inexpensively, it can be used as an underlayer with something more esthetic on top.

What I've done in the past and no longer do as it's so labor intensive is make my own compost/mulch in our cement mixer. The ingredients are sawdust/fine wood shavings, compost, alfalfa pellets, water, and sometimes some source of extra nitrogen such as soy meal, and occasionally shredded leaves when I have them. I found it lasted about 6 months so sometimes did it twice a year but not always. In my mix the alfalfa pellets dissolve quickly with the water and help to color the mulch and also add nutrients for the soil. Worms love alfalfa so it encourages them as well which is one of my main aims to amend my soil. I've occasionally used the mix immediately but other times let it sit and heat awhile. Really improved my clay soil.

Here's a pic where I piled it back in the compost bin to heat awhile...

getting there

Hairmetal4ever, you might use several products and mix them together in a wheelbarrow to produce something that suits you best.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

But, sawdust causes much more nitrogen tie up then even wood, so why use saw dust instead of wood?


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Well the first line said ALTERNATIVE to wood mulch, and the second line said sawdust looks hokey, so I think either of them *by themselves* is out.

Luckygal, your pic seems to match the description of "a nice mix of finely chopped leaves (to maybe 1/4" pieces) with some compost to give it some darkness, could make a nice, dark, slightly "chunky" mulch that would look good..."

However, you can't buy what's in that bin, it has to be made. :-]


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

  • Posted by RpR_ 3-4 (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 23, 12 at 19:04

As the poster said he/she does not want-- the mess that comes with leaves and it is a mess; sawdust, very hard on the ground; or wood/ bark so that leaves few choices.

As said Cocoa Bean Hulls have a much larger nutrient value than any wood product yet the expense the one wants to spend will probably decide what the one wants.
Up here some use Wild Rice hulls but when I asked, it is delivered in bulk, it is not cheap either.

I once bought a pallet of Eucalyptus mulch and that cut the price in about half, so a bulk buy of what ever should save some money and make replenishing far easier as it did for me.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Eucalyptus is Allelopathic. No wonder it was half priced. But maybe that is mostly if you have a Eucalyptus tree. I heard you can't grow anything under it. Eucalyptus has a smell, I don't care for either.

Wild Rice hulls, I never heard of them, but sounds good for people with dogs and mildew climates.

I also get my microbark in bulk instead of bags which does cut down on the price.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

  • Posted by RpR_ 3-4 (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 23, 12 at 22:38

Eucalyptus mulch has no smell and the mulch has no Allelopathic affect accept on many nasty bugs.

I used it around my roses until it went from three dollars a bag to nine.
It does seem to turn to soil a bit quickly but the soil is wonderful.
It also got rid of wood ants in some trees I had that had rotting sections. Piled the Eucalyptus over the wood they lived in and they went away.
It does not float which is great during heavy rains, unlike cypress it stays where it was put.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

tons of free mulch can be collected from parks, but op does not want wood
Go on Craig's free and you can often find free wooden mulch from tree trimmers. These mulches are not so great.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Sawdust, used as a mulch and not a soil amnedment, will not tie up anymore Nitrogen then would wood chips. Till either one, or even shredded leaves, into your soil and the Soil Food Web will utilize available Nitrogen to digest that high carbon material. Lay the same stuff on the soils surface and they will not be as interested in converting that as if it were in the soil. They will work on the mulch much more slowly and not tie up N that your plants need.
Many of us do not think about materials such as rice hulls because they are not too readily available or, if available, too expensive. There is, however, lots of waste material available that can be used for mulch, but any material used for mulch should not be the focal point. Mulches should recede into the background.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

I did have some tie up once with the micro bark on a unwanted plant that I did bother to feed. Tie up does happen, but it effects vegetables more then other plants. I don't mulch my veggie raised beds.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Tie up does not effect vegetables more than other plants a.) and b.) the best thing that can happen to a vegetable garden is a nice application of nourishing mulch.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Being totally unsure what the question is, here are some possible answers.

If the problem is the cost of commercial mulches, some places offer free municipal compost. While you don't have control over what goes into it, in the northeast, the overwhelmingly largest component is leaves.

If the problem is nutritional, see if you are near a retailer for Sweet Peat. There are other, similar products in other places, but that is the one I am familiar with. It is largely horse manure, with some other things mixed in.

Shredded bark mulch will break down in less than a year where you are.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Because the soil in the raised beds is so nice being all brought in and not native it does not need any mulch at all, but where I have ground space that does need mulch. But, the heavy redwood mulch microbark did cause some tie up in which the plant had a very light color of green leaves, but I transplanted and feed and that went away. A small plant that is just starting out (like a vegetable or an annual) vs. a large shrub. The vegetable will be affected, but not a large shrub. But, this is not a reason not to use wooden mulches, since it can be dealt with.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

All soils need to be mulched with something to 1. aid in moisture retention, 2. aid in unwanted plant growth ("weeds"), 3. aid in soil temperature control, and 4. add organic matter to the soil.
Ma Nature will try to cover the soil with something, often what we call "weeds" in an effort to do that.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Not in my box. There are no weeds because there is no native soil. I may have one or two from time to time, but nothing like the native soil that can get 100's of new weeds overnight. Dandelions can still float on in. I do fluffy up the soil frequently to keep it soft.


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Ma Nature

It is not like Ma Nature is just sitting in the sky going, "oh some bare soil, I am putting weeds here." Weeds come from seeds. Most people let the weeds go for many years. Some weed seeds last for many years like even 60 years. If you don't have weed seeds in your soil, the only weeds you will get are ones that are blown in by the wind or brought in by birds. When you compost weeds with seeds you just add a lot of weed seeds right back again to your soil. When you let the weeds go to seed it is just the same as composting them or worse even. It only takes two weeks or less of inattention to weeding to cause weeds to seed. Once the soil is filled with weed seeds it is going be nearly impossible to remove them all. Even you mulch with heavy wood the seeds will break through that at some point. If you buy some compost that is not sterile it could have weed seeds. Weeds also come from your neighbors yard under your fence into your yard. It takes never ending work to keep weeds under control.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

I bet if you changed a handful of words... get some rhyming words... that post would read like a poem.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

I don't worry a whit about weeds. I'm a mulcher.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

I don't worry a whit about weeds. I'm a mulcher.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Which cannot be said often enough.


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

I did not know weeds came from seeds or that there was no Mother Nature planting things by magic. Gee! I learn all kinds of stuff on this forum.

What was the question? :-p


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RE: alternatives to wood/bark mulch

Apparently metaphors are difficult to understand.


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