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Old 11-24-2008, 12:57 AM   #1
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Default Wildlife Friendly Mulches

Wildlife friendly mulches that I use are listed out below. I would love to know what others are using because I have always favored organic mulches.

I used to use cypress mulch until a friend shared the link below with me-
http://www.tbep.org/pdfs/Mulch_Bro.pdf
I used up what I had left and never purchased it again. I hate feeling guilty about using a product.

Dyed mulches may look attractive for a period of time but they have their own issues and are not environmentally friendly.

I do not use cedar mulch anywhere any longer as it is does not appear to be good for man or beast and can be particularly deadly to herps. It has allegedly now been clinically proven that the vaporized oils from cedar can cause lung infections and even cancer. I did not take a good look to see if I could locate anything online to back up my comments but Cornell probably has a study out there somewhere as well as other universities. Cedar does have an insecticidal chemical present which is why we use it for closets and such. The chemical is plicatic acid and it has caused asthma and problems for many animals when used as bedding. I never could figure out if the presence of the acid was a detriment to plants but here is a link you might find of interest if you had been considering using cedar mulch in an area where children or pets or wildlife are-
http://www.bio.davidson.edu/Courses/anphys/1999/Cook/Text.htm
Although pine does contain abietic acid, it does not appear to be carcinogenic like cedar. The oils in pine mulches do make me itch like the dickens but that's just due to an allergy I have to it. I never removed any of the cedar mulch that I had used in the past as I was told it wasn't worth my time or effort. It is my understanding that after a year or so, the undesirables would have leached into the soil underneath where any cedar mulch had been used.

I now rely almost exclusively on hardwood bark and/or chips, pine bark and/or chips, crushed corncobs, grass clippings, cardboard, seaweed (when a relative brings it to me), peanut hulls, straw, pine needles, cottonseed & buckwheat hulls, and shredded leaves as mulch. I've also been known to lay down torn and tattered 100% cotton clothing that has seen better days as mulch. Old clothing can work, just remove any buttons or zippers. Sheesh, we can even use newspaper as mulch as inks are now all soy based. I will use layers of white pine needles around acid loving plants such as hydrangeas, rhodos, and azaleas and then I just cover it with whatever is handy. I really like the look of pine bark mulch but cocoa bean mulches definitely have their place on my property and they smell so nice and look so attractive in flower beds. Unfortunately, cocoa mulch is sort of expensive and there are several drawbacks to using cocoa bean mulch particularly if one has dogs- mycotoxin producing molds and compounds that can be toxic to dogs as well as other pets and livestock. I've not had an issue with molds in my cocoa bean mulches because I take care to turn them with my hands to expose any moldy layers to the sun but you can also rake them to stir them up too. Regarding the toxic compounds present, most people know chocolate can kill a dog. What they don't realize is that very similar toxic compounds are present in cocoa beans. Most dogs, unlike wildlife, don't have that intuition that safeguards them from chowing down on poisonous plants or for that matter toxic mulches. For me, not a problem as our dogs aren't allowed in areas where cocoa bean mulch is used so no risk of them sampling it and the wildlife won't sample it.

More info here on the mycotoxin producing molds-
http://www.aspca.org/site/DocServer/CocoaMulch-NAACT.pdf?docID=1201

I have recently begun to place burlap over the top of my mulch around trees and saplings. According to quite a few experts, the burlap enhances biological activity associated with humus production. I just began adding burlap so have little or no personal experience with it other than the addition of same made sense to me and I figured why not. Could be hype but we'll see.
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Old 11-24-2008, 02:08 AM   #2
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What do you think of using Yew branches and cuttings?
I've used any tall grasses I cut back in March as a mulch, particularly Switch grass as I have the more of that grass.

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Last edited by will-o-wisp; 11-24-2008 at 02:16 AM. Reason: adding comment
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Old 11-24-2008, 08:18 AM   #3
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Use them. Although I have not used them for a mulch I do not see any reason why not.

I have two Taxus canadensis and the few cuttings I've had have been tossed on habitat brush piles instead of used as a mulch or in a composter. More so because I have little that is evergreen around here and thought they'd be better put to use tossed on the habitat brush pile.
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Old 11-24-2008, 08:30 AM   #4
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What about using some of the clovers, you would have to be a bit careful about which one since some are prone to reseed, but I would think that type of cover would not only draw in beneficial insects, but would also benefit the surrounding vegetation as well.

It certainly works for drawing in deer in your garden, that may be all the brunch choices available, though. LOL

Interesting subject, hadn't really though about that aspect of mulching. I'll be following this thread closely.
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Old 11-24-2008, 10:15 AM   #5
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You are talking apples and oranges. Clovers (Trifolium spp.), as you've referred to them above would be classified as a cover crop and some people try to call them a green manure. Most cover crops are leguminous and fix nitrogen well but unfortunately the most popular and commonly used cover crops are highly invasive. Gardeners don't exactly have a great track record of tilling them into the soil before they mature and set seed.

The best thing to use for a cover crop to draw in beneficials insects as well as to benefit the communities of native vegetation would be to use locally native species. One that I use frequently is Petalostemum purpureum (Purple Prairie Clover). There are many other environmentally friendly cover crops (green manures) that can be used that are equally as efficient at improving soil quality and fertility while reducing weeds.
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Old 11-24-2008, 11:48 AM   #6
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Living mulches - cover crops are interesting to me but you have to study the life cycle of the plant. At least here in the South (I am in Alabama) winter rye is a great cover crop and it is finished in Spring. Then it lies down and becomes a very nice mulch. You don't have to dig it in. In fact a lot of cover crops do not need to be tilled in -- they are great for no till gardening.

And buckwheat in the summer is such a pure joy - it attracts bees and the stalks are hollow. You really can just stomp on it and it will turn into mulch. Or, you could mow it when its finished.

And of course a permaculture alternative to mulch is CARDBOARD.
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Old 11-24-2008, 04:21 PM   #7
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Not familiar with the purple clover, it may not do well in my area, but buckwheat does very well here.

Yep it's easy to knock down and turn under, but you do have to watch the bees, since they don't like that. The last time we used it, DH had do the tilling after dusk. I wish I had had a video camera. The plants literally waved with the bee activity. It was amazing. It makes the soil so much richer as well.

We were using it to kill off volunteer morning glories that had started in one of my newer veggie beds. I am not a fan of morning glories at the best of times, but it was interfering with my food.......major no, no.
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Old 11-25-2008, 08:20 AM   #8
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Petalostemum purpureum is a NA eastern native-
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=DAPU5

This one might work very well for you and if it escapes cultivation, it's not likely to be an issue as it's locally native to where you garden-
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=DALE3

Which species of buckwheat do you use?
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Old 11-26-2008, 11:29 AM   #9
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Darned if I remember, it was awhile ago. Got it from the local farm/garden where I had worked. The advice on how to use it came straight from Mother with clear warning about NOT letting it go to seed. Was well worth it, as it killed out the morning glories, enriched the soil and made the bees super happy until we mowed down......LOL But the honey that year was something extra special!!
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Old 01-22-2009, 07:37 AM   #10
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Hi Leslie, you could always hand pull it before it becomes an issue and sets seed and I think I could find a mild mannered native to send you if you were interested.
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