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2 Ratings: 4.0
A protective cover placed over the soil, primarily to modify the effects of the local climate.

In agriculture and gardening, mulch is a protective cover placed over the soil, primarily to modify the effects of the local climate. A wide variety of natural and synthetic materials are used.

Tags: Green Living, Gardening, Mulch
1 review about Mulch

Environmental Impact of Mulch?

  • Mar 24, 2010
  • by
I like mulch.  It dresses up my beds and ties my landscaping together nicely.  I purchase my mulch locally.  It traveled about three miles to get to my house and was made from locally grown hardwoods.  The mulch is dark brown because dye was added in the manufacturing process.  

While contemplating my landscaping this morning, I got to thinking about the environmental impact of mulch, if there is any.  Although the mulch itself is all natural...and normally created from scrap wood that no longer has any other use (recycled or reused)...it also has added dye.  So I wanted to open the discussion on mulch to see what alternatives are out there and what the environmental benefit analysis would be for the alternatives.

The most likely alternative in my area would be Pine Straw, which I personally despise.  I do not like the product and would not use it.  Undyed mulch might be locally available if I searched for it, but what would be the offset if it has to travel further to get to me?  I also wonder if the dye that is used in landscaping mulch is natural and/or environmentally friendly.  Does anyone have input on that?

One final thought that occurred to me was the use of locally produced bulk mulch vs. hardware store bagged mulch.  The bulk mulch is substantially cheaper than store purchased mulch.  The reason is pretty simple.  The store purchased mulch is bagged (one environmental issue) and shipped a greater distance (another issue).  I always consider cost as a balance to doing what is right environmentally.  I will pay a bit more to be kind to the environment, but everything has limitations.  The cost/benefit analysis must fall within a reasonable range for me.  (I pay more at my local coop market for certain locally produced items because I get better quality, support my local economy and the cost isn't outrageously higher).

So help me out here.  My mulch is already down for this year.  I probably won't have to update it for two more years.  But the floor is now open to discussion.  My rating was based on the product not the Green-ness of the product.  It could be adjusted downward if the impact to the environment were shown to be negative enough.
Environmental Impact of Mulch?

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March 25, 2010
Nice job John
March 25, 2010
Thanks. You never know what random thought will enter my mind over my first cup of coffee in the morning.
March 24, 2010
I grew up with my dad using compost as fertilizer and mulch. Compost is about as eco-friendly as you can get.  Some are hesitant about using compost due to the possible smell. I have some DIY compost help here.  I usually use some of my compost as mulch with good success.  The only problem with using compost is that you will have to reapply it more than once in a season.

If you don't want to use compost or don't have a compost bin I'm sure there are some reasonably eco-friendly mulches sold in stores, but I don't exactly know any examples as of now.

However, I do know of one option from personal experience and you sorta touched on it in your review.  Bulk mulch.  A few years ago I had a big oak tree that was dangerously close to my house removed.  The workers ground up some of the tree onsite and asked if, for a small $25 fee, I would want them to dump the shavings in the back and I could then use it as mulch.  I didn't have a place for all of that mulch, so I said no.  But a neighbor of mine jumped at the chance and had a smile on her face as they dumped a truckload of the new freshly ground tree mulch on the side of her driveway.  That is what you call reusing and locally grown product.  So maybe check with your local tree services and see if they offer this service.

Also, you mentioned mulch dyes.  I've never bought their product, but I did find a company online called Earth Shades which claims to sell eco-friendly mulch dyes.  They can be seen here.

I hope this helps and good luck with your yard.
March 24, 2010
March 25, 2010
Seems like the only reason mulch would smell is that it hasn't had enough time to fully compost.  Fully composted mulch will smell earthy, but not pungent.  This of course depends on the feedstock, but overall give your mulch some more time to compost and the smell won't be there.

  There are many places that can get mulch nice and dark without adding a colorant to it. 
March 24, 2010
Who knew that such an interesting review could be written about mulch? :) And I had no idea that there was dyed mulch. I hope that doesn't affect produce grown. Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking review, John!
March 24, 2010
Good question. I don't think they would sell a toxic substance without a warning for that reason. But who knows?
March 24, 2010
Enjoyed reading this very thoughtful piece. Since I do not have a huge yard to landscape I generally purchase my mulch in bags from my local hardware store. Like you I would also be concerned about the dye in colored mulch. I generally use natural pine or hemlock mulch. I also dislike using chemicals in my yard and try to use as few as possible.
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