Ask a Question forum: Real Mulch or Artificial Mulch

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Name: Reine
Porter, Texas (Zone 9a)
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Reine
Apr 30, 2015 4:24 PM CST
The flower gardens at my church are overgrown with weeds. Of course, after weeding them, the weeds grow right back. What little mulch there was has pretty well composted into the soil. The largest flower bed is approximately 12 foot by 30 foot. The other 2 are about 4 foot by 6 foot. All three are up against a building, on the south side.

I plan on taking on the task of cleaning up the flower gardens and hopefully keeping them clean with as little work as possible, lol, with lots of mulch. All that is growing in them are some bushes and a few palms. No one has planted in a long time. I would like to add plants at a later date.

I need facts to present at the next business meeting. What l plan on using and how deep the mulch needs to be. The pros and cons of what kind of mulch is best. And cost effectiveness.

Has anyone used the artificial mulch? Were you happy with it? If using organic mulch which kind is best? How deep?

I'm located on the edge of USDA zone 8b and 9. Just north of Houston.

What do y'all think would be the best way to go?

Reine

springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
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Frillylily
Apr 30, 2015 4:55 PM CST
I would never use artificial mulch. What will happen when you have to dig, divide or pull out something? It will be a big mess.
Just use cedar mulch, that should last a long time and put it about 4 inches thick and then plant only things that will be hardy and not need a lot of pampering and water.
You may even consider some large stones, a statue, some tall grasses, things that look nice, but don't require water much.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Apr 30, 2015 5:36 PM CST
I agree with Frillylily: I would never use artificial mulch. Even stones (pebbles), paving stones or heavy-gauge black plastic film would smother weeds, but they starve the soil.

Besides leaching possibly toxic chemicals into the soil as it breaks down, artificial mulch adds no digestible organic matter to the soil - that is, it starves the soil and favors weeds like horsetail over desired plants.

What you use for mulch depends on what is cheap locally. There are many evergreen trees in WA, and some lumbering, so pine" or evergreen bark is cheap here.

Bark lasts longer than wood of a similar size, so it feeds the soil slower than wood of the same chip size would.

Big wood chips are probably second-best after bark. As long as they only sit on the surface and are not turned under, they don't cause nitrogen deficit as they break down.

I think that even TWO inches of the above would inhibit weeds somewhat. Would FOUR inches inhibit twice as many weeds? Or reduce the number of surviving weeds by a factor of two? Maybe and maybe not, but four inches will make pulling weeds easier than two inches!

Just don't pile up four inches of finely-shredded or water-retentive mulch. It might absorb all your rain and keep it from reaching the soil. And it might even pack down so tight that it slows down air's access to the soil. Well, probably not, but there is such a thing as too-deep mulch, if it is also too-fine.

If you have lots of leaves, pine needles, or straw, use what you have! But these will have to be renewed every year or even twice per year to keep weeds down. The upside is that they will feed the soil rapidly and soon it could be a beautiful flower border (with sufficient work).

I guess the following is not an option if you want it to be pretty AS you set it up. You can buy bags of mulch and lay the bags down ON the bed, touching each other, for a week or two. That will deprive the weeds of sunlight and kill some before the bark goes down. When you have all the bags in place, you can go along slitting them along a long side and dumping the mulch into place, uniformly spread by the bags' spacing.

Of course, buying mulch in bulk is cheaper than buying bags, especially if someone will deliver for free, for a church. Or a member might loan a truck.

12'x30' = 360 sq. ft.
2x4'x6' = 48 sq. ft.
Total: 408 square feet.

ONE inch deep = 408/12 cubic feet = 34 cubic feet = 1.26 cubic yards
(one cubic yard = 27 cubic feet)

TWO inches = 68 cubic feet = 2.5 cubic yards

FOUR inches = 136 cubic feet = 5 cubic yards

springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
Frillylily
Apr 30, 2015 5:38 PM CST
Hmm I guess mulch could keep rain from reaching the roots. I hadn't thought of it that way. I was thinking that the mulch would hold IN moisture and keep it from drying out too fast. I assume that this being church, probably does not have someone out there that often to water and will be a little neglected throughout the rest of the week.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Apr 30, 2015 5:43 PM CST
Well, coarse mulch that does not absorb much water mostly sheds rain and lets it reach the soil. Big wood chips and big bark chips: yes. Sawdust or bark fines: no. Fines absorb a LOT of water and it might never wick out of the mulch layer and into the soil.

Therefor, use coarse mulch or else a relatively thin layer replenished as needed.

It would be best to believe someone who USES lots of chopped leaves or grass clippings in a dry climate.

I haven't done that. I either have drizzle a few times per week or I irrigate, so what do I know except what I read? Also, the only mulch I use is coarse bark.
Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
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chelle
Apr 30, 2015 6:04 PM CST
Some utilities companies will drop off mulch for free if you ask them, but you'd probably need a dedicated dumping area set up beforehand. I use those free wood chips in 3 to 4" layers, with a couple of inches of compost between the layers. The compost traps and holds some water, keeping the mulch and the planted soil below it moist, and it feeds the plants as well. A mulch-compost-mulch layer like this will settle to somewhere in the neighborhood of 8" deep, yet remain loose and very easy to weed.
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Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Apr 30, 2015 7:06 PM CST
I agree You should not consider using any kind of artificial mulch. Besides all the good arguments above, the most common artificial mulch is shredded rubber. It's ugly, smells bad when the sun heats it up, doesn't insulate well due to the large air spaces around the pieces and as it settles into the soil it creates a mess you will wish you'd never begun.

Just like adding rocks as a mulch, why would you add something that in ordinary circumstances you would remove if you were planting a garden?
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Apr 30, 2015 7:26 PM CST
I agree All good points. I would not use anything other than shredded or chipped wood/bark products and yes, pine needles if available. First see if your community has a free mulch program. Free is always a good price.

I notice there is a company called Dirt Cheap Mulch in your area. Perhaps they might be willing to do some kind of deal in exchange for a friendly word in the church bulletin? http://www.dirtcheapmulch.com/ Most churches have a bit of parking lot they could set aside for a load of bulk mulch to be delivered.

As for the mulch holding water, I wouldn't worry. The thick mulch will prevent evaporation and your plants will be happier not to compete with weeds for nutrients. One day when I was up to my elbows in dirt applying mulch (over landscape fabric) in the front gardens, an employee of our local water authority happened by and he said that was the best way to conserve water - heavy mulch. Thumbs up

Take photos of the before and after! Thumbs up
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Reine
Porter, Texas (Zone 9a)
On the 3rd day God created plants.
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Reine
Apr 30, 2015 7:56 PM CST
Thank you, all of you for such valuable information. Thank You!

Artificial mulch is definitely out. Real stuff always looks better, anyway.

I will start taking pictures. It is real weedy right now. And pretty sad looking overall.

The next business meeting is Wed. 5/6/15 and l will be taking y'alls info with me. Maybe other people will be interested in ATP Smiling

l'm getting excited about this project, l haven't been creating in a garden for nearly 20 years. Here at this home, all my plants are in pots or large tubs.
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Apr 30, 2015 8:03 PM CST
One note about 'artificial mulch' just in case you need this at your meeting. This concerns 'rubber mulch'.

I witnessed an incident at an apartment complex that had used rubber mulch. Sure it looked very nice. Smelled yucky up close. But a fire started near the building that housed the washing machines and dryers. The rubber mulch caught fire very quickly. If this had been mulch made of wood or pine straw we could have easily controlled the fire as it was very near the swimming pool - lots of water available. The fire department arrived in a timely manner, but the solid black cloud of stinky, sooty smoke of the rubber tire mulch burning left a lasting impression...and a lasting odor.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Jean
Prairieville, LA (Zone 9a)
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Moonhowl
Apr 30, 2015 9:04 PM CST
All great info and I agree.

There are a couple things I wanted to add... Before you mulch, make sure you water the beds thoroughly and if it is in the budget, use a good pre-emergent like Preen or Amaze to help keep weed seeds from sprouting after the beds are cleaned and mulched.

You can also if it is within the budget add a good general slow release 8-8-8- or so granular fertilizer before mulching.

Remember to keep the mulch from piling up against the trunks/stems of plants (leave a couple inches to help keep disease and root rot at bay) and once the bed is finished, give the mulch a gentle watering to help it settle and keep it from wicking water from the soil.
Name: Cheryl
Kingwood, Texas (Zone 9a)
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ShadyGreenThumb
Apr 30, 2015 11:03 PM CST
There are often $10/yard mulch sales from Living Earth (normally $28/yd) for as much as you can haul usually 2 times a year. Check out Randy Lemmon's website. He usually posts about it on there. There is a Living Earth close to you in New Caney. They might not have another sale until Fall. IDK when you plan to do the project but contact Living Earth and see what they can do for your church project?
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Name: Reine
Porter, Texas (Zone 9a)
On the 3rd day God created plants.
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Reine
May 1, 2015 3:40 PM CST
More great info. I tip my hat to you. Thank's y'all.

Greene, l never thought of the fire hazard on the rubber mulch. We have the Fire Chief in our congregation, l'm sure he'll agree.

Jean, l'll bring up the fertilizing needs. I'm sure the beds can use some.

Cheryl, l called five businesses, prices ranged from $17.00 to $28.00 a cubic yard. With Living Earth having the best price of $17 at this time.

As for the free stuff from tree companies, l signed up for it. I'm sure we can find some great uses for it. Green Grin!

I'm sure going to need my straw hats Hilarious!
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
May 1, 2015 3:56 PM CST
Thumbs up
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
May 1, 2015 4:21 PM CST
You might also check out town or county road crews. If they trim branches or cut trees away from power lines, they pay to dump their wood chips in someone's dump.

If someone in your congregation is in town or county government, a word from them might motivate their road crews to use your parking lot as a free wood-chip-dumping-site for a week or so, and get you all the chips you can use.

If you don't have enough volunteers for weeding or planting next year, Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops might still pursue merit badges, and many of those have a "community project" requirement. Let a local Scout leader know they "may" use your beds to practice on, and you might get some free work done.

I never had a priest give me gardening work as penance, so that might be impractical. But maybe you could popularize "a new kind of confession" and set the rules to include yard work as penance. Just kidding!
Name: Reine
Porter, Texas (Zone 9a)
On the 3rd day God created plants.
Cactus and Succulents Houseplants Bee Lover Critters Allowed Frogs and Toads Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Seed Starter Region: Texas Dog Lover Container Gardener Spiders!
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Reine
May 1, 2015 9:03 PM CST
Hi Rick. Thank You! All good ideas except for the penance thing. Angel I go to a bible-based baptist church and our group projects usually have to do with eating, lol. Hilarious! The pastor and a few others are avid fishers of fish, that means fishfry Hurray!

I'll ask at the business meeting if anyone knows anyone in government. Somebody just might. Thumbs up And the scouts in our area. Thumbs up

Reine
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
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dyzzypyxxy
May 2, 2015 7:49 AM CST
Yup, the local Scout troop put in our raised beds at the elementary school. One of the scouts needed an Eagle Scout project, so they raised all the money, did all the installation, bought and filled the beds with good soil and even mulched all around the 6 beds! It was like a miracle happened, a garden appeared.

In one day a troop of 8 or 9 strong young fellows could weed and mulch all your beds, Reine. You'd be left with the fun of just planting then.
Thumb of 2015-05-02/dyzzypyxxy/0d15d0

Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Reine
Porter, Texas (Zone 9a)
On the 3rd day God created plants.
Cactus and Succulents Houseplants Bee Lover Critters Allowed Frogs and Toads Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Seed Starter Region: Texas Dog Lover Container Gardener Spiders!
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Reine
May 2, 2015 8:49 PM CST
Wow, Elaine Smiling

What a great thing to happen. l will mention all of this at the meeting. It would truly be a blessing. Thumbs up

Thank You!
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
Rabbit Keeper Critters Allowed Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages
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greene
May 2, 2015 8:53 PM CST
Wonder if you could bring a laptop and let the folks at the meeting see the posts and photos on this thread?
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Reine
Porter, Texas (Zone 9a)
On the 3rd day God created plants.
Cactus and Succulents Houseplants Bee Lover Critters Allowed Frogs and Toads Enjoys or suffers hot summers
Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Seed Starter Region: Texas Dog Lover Container Gardener Spiders!
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Reine
May 3, 2015 1:07 PM CST
Great idea I tip my hat to you. and l would like to bring a laptop, but l don't own one. I figure l'll print this thread and bring it.

Reine Smiling

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