The Dirt on Mulch in Florida: Part II
Yard Clipping and Leaves (stuff from your yard)
For permanent plantings, it is ideal to use clippings and leaves from your own yard. This helps prevent the overfilling of landfills, leaves no carbon footprint, and also saves money. Any leaves raked should be incorporated into the landscape. Pruned branches may be further cut up, and then spread over the area desired, or kept in brush piles (adding to the wildlife component). Larger branches may be left in a specific area for a time being so that the leaves fall off the dead branch and may be gathered later. When tree services are used, plan on keeping the mulch created. Lawn clippings may be also used; be aware that weed seed may be a component of them. Another source of green manure is excess algae and plants from your pond or water feature, this is best reserved for fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
Local tree trimmer mulch (seen in this photo) is perhaps the best mulch of the bunch. Just like using stuff from your yard, recycling tree trimmer mulch reduces landfill waste, leaves a small carbon footprint, and can be cheap or even free. It generally comes by the truckload however, so space is needed to store it. Curing the mulch is essential before applying. Let the pile of mulch sit for at least one month. As it breaks down, the composting process creates heat which then sterilizes the weed seed that may be present. You will even see steam rise from the top of the pile. I always keep a pile in my yard to use as needed. In addition to commercial tree trimmers, loads of mulch may often be obtained from local power companies and government agencies, such as parks and recreation. There are often mulch transfer stations where it may be obtained for free in smaller quantities. A potential drawback is that the aesthetic quality of local mulch varies. However the nutrients are largely the same.
Cypress Mulch should be avoided. Sixty percent of cypress mulch comes from deforested wetlands, and isn’t sustainably harvested. It is one of the cheapest mulches for this reason. For more details click here for this helpful brochure from the Suncoast Chapter.
Eucalyptus mulch comes from trees that are farmed for the sole purpose of mulch production. It is attractive and durable, but also more expensive. It can be found at most garden stores however. For smaller plantings, and situations when local mulch is not available, it is a better alternative to cypress mulch.
Under the brand name, Florimulch, this mulch is ideal as it is produced from large stands of invasive Melaleuca quinquenervia from our natural areas. It isn’t farmed, and companies aid local governments by removing this invasive as a service with the intention of converting them to saleable mulch. One needn’t worry about melaleucas coming up in one’s yard as the mulch is heat sterilized, thereby killing any seeds that may occur. It has the other added benefit of being somewhat allelopathic, futher inhibiting weed growth. It can be a bit more expensive than other mulches. Another drawback is that it is difficult to obtain as few stores carry it. It is up to us to let our garden stores know that it is in demand.
Pine straw is a popular alternative. It is gathered as a byproduct from pine plantations, and sold in bails. Byproducts are better by their nature, of course. Attractive, and consistent, it is well used in more formal landscapes. It is lower in nutrients, and does further acidify the surrounding soil, which may also inhibit weed germination.
Pine Bark Nuggets
Pine bark nuggets are also byproducts. They are larger, and break down more slowly than typical ground up mulches. They are a good choice for paths to be distinguished from surrounding mulched areas.
Pine chips, also byproducts from pine harvesting, are often are derived from smaller branches not used in lumber products. They are lower in nutrients, but may be cheaper than some mulches.
Hay and Straw
Hay and straw may be incorporated as mulch or in your mulch regime. They make a good first layer, covered by more expensive mulches. They tend to be neat, thus good for higher traffic areas.
Gravel doesn’t add too many nutrients, however it does insulate and conserve soil moisture. It may also alter soil chemistry depending on its alkalinity. Gravel is optimal for high traffic areas, stylized planters, or areas adjacent to buildings. Gravel may come in many different forms, sizes, and rock types. Pea rock is a local product coming from limestone mined in Florida.
Recycled tires are converted into a mulch, and their use is somewhat controversial. Tire rubber is synthetic, and may contain harmful chemicals. It lasts longer than other types of mulch (it doesn’t break down very well), and is often used in playgrounds. Like gravel, it doesn’t add nutrients, but does insulate and conserves soil moisture.
Which Mulch is Best in Your Garden ?
Mulch Pros and Cons
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