Texas Gardening forum: Hugelkultur Beds around tree and municpal mulch

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Name: Barbara
San Antonio, TX
Zone 8b
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BarbaraSATX
Sep 11, 2014 10:07 AM CST
I'm planning my first hugel bed and I wanted to put it in front of a tree at my back fence. Will the heat from the bed damage the tree? I will place it about 2' from tree trunk.

I've been reading where cedar does not break down and shouldn't be used in the hugel bed. Is this the same for using it as a mulch in other areas? I was delighted to learn I could get free mulch from our city re-cycling center and put it around all my trees and shrubs and flowers. Now I'm afraid I may have really messed up as there is a great deal of cedar in it. My yard smelled of cedar for two days after I applied it. Should I remove it and buy regular hardwood mulch?
Thumb of 2014-09-11/livingston/32a9b3

Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Sep 11, 2014 10:31 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

The hugelkultur beds don't produce heat so you don't have to worry about that. I think the bed near the tree will not cause any problems.

As for the cedar mulch, there's a PDF floating around the net that talks a bit about this. I don't like linking to the PDF so I will include the entire text below:

Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor,
Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University

The Myth of Allelopathic Wood Chips

“Wood chips made from cedars will kill landscape plants”

The Myth

As readers of this column know, I have an ongoing love affair with wood chip mulches. Invariably after giving a presentation on sustainable landscape management, I get the “But what about…?” questions. Recently, the concerns have been “But what about cedar wood chips? I’ve heard they are toxic and will kill my plants.” There are many references to this ability, called allelopathy, on the web and in popular publications. A recent article in Grounds Maintenance makes the statement that “allelopathic mulches include uncomposted sawdust of redwood (Sequoia) and cedar (Cedrus); the bark of spruce (Picea), larch (Larix) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga); and both the leaves and sawdust of Eucalyptus.” Web sites warn against the use of cedar wood chips, citing toxic leachate from wood and foliage killing plants and animals in both terrestrial and aquatic systems. Other sites suggest that volatile chemicals released from cedar foliage will inhibit seed germination, kill seedlings, and cause tip burn on foliage of established plants. On gardening Q&A pages, responders to questions zoom in on the mention of cedar mulch and attribute landscape problems to its use. No wonder there is widespread concern on how safe cedar-based mulches are for healthy landscape plants.

The Reality

There are bona-fide examples of allelopathy in tree species. Probably the best known is black walnut (Juglans nigra), which contains the compound juglone. This water-solube member of the quinone family is found in all parts of the black walnut and is quite effective in killing competitors, especially seedlings and other shallowly-rooted plants. It appears that juglone reduces oxygen uptake and photosynthetic activity, inhibiting growth of sensitive plants. Nevertheless, there are a variety of landscape plant materials that are resistant to juglone toxicity.

On the other hand, there is virtually no documented evidence for allelopathic activity in either Thuja or Cedrus spp. Though one study suggests that Douglas fir seedlings might be sensitive to Thuja extracts, these seedlings were held under highly artificial laboratory conditions (i.e. were submersed in solutions for 74 hours).

Cedars, especially Thuja species, have developed chemical weapons against a number of pests and pathogens. Researchers have found that Thuja plicata heartwood contains thujaplicin, a water-soluble tropolone not only inhibitory to various bacteria and fungi, but with anti-tumor activity as well. This antimicrobial activity is probably responsible for the rot-resistant nature of cedar wood. There is, however, no evidence that this substance harms plant tissues.

Another weapon in cedar’s chemical arsenal is thujone, one of several essential oils found in Thuja foliage and other non-Thuja species. Best known for its ability to repel clothes moths, thujone and other foliar terpenes also repel, inhibit, or kill cockroaches, termites, carpet beetles, Argentine ants, and odorous house ants. These compounds are not readily soluble in water but volatilize and become airborne. The lack of solubility also suggests that this compound does not leach into aquatic areas despite concerns to the contrary.

The Bottom Line

- It is unlikely that wood chip mulches containing cedar will have negative effects on established landscape plants.

- The allelopathic activities attributed to mulches made from cedar and other species may actually
be due to other factors such as nutrient and light limitations.

- Seeds and seedlings, whether weeds or desirable species, are more sensitive to mulch suppression as they do not have established root systems.

For more information, please visit Dr. Chalker-Scott’s web page at ]http://www.theinformedgardener.com
Name: Barbara
San Antonio, TX
Zone 8b
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BarbaraSATX
Sep 12, 2014 1:23 PM CST
Thanks for the information. Certainly is encouraging as I get my mulch from the city recycling center and it definitely includes cedar, among other things. The course ground is free and the fine ground is .03/lb. so I definitely will continue to use it.

After posting the question about the bed under the tree I did some more reading and discovered I shouldn't really put any kind of bed around a tree as it will eventially damage the roots of the tree. So back to the drawing board :)
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Sep 12, 2014 3:34 PM CST

Garden.org Admin

I can't disagree with the concerns about the roots of the tree. Thumbs up

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