Thursday, May 6, 2021

Mulch Happens

Horticulture Hotline 05/06/21

By Bill Lamson-Scribner


Pine straw is in short supply. Oak tree worms won’t stop coming down. Should I color my mulch with a spray dye to give it that new look?


Here are a few general facts about mulch. 


·         In the old days, the recommendations were the more mulch the better up to 6-8 inches. The latest research only recommends 2-3 inches. 

·         Always wait to apply mulch in the fall until after the leaves have dropped from your deciduous trees. In the spring wait for the late leaf droppers like Live Oaks and Water Oaks to drop their leaves and ‘worms’. 

·         Be careful not to apply mulch right up to the trunks of plants, shrubs or trees.  The trunk has a different cell structure than the roots and cannot handle prolonged periods of moisture.  The moisture will soften the tissue and allow disease and insects to attack the trunk, or the trunk will send out adventitious roots. 

·         The main purpose of mulch is to buffer the temperature extremes and suppress weeds.  If your soil is naturally wet, it is better to have a very thin layer of mulch so that the ground dries out quicker. If your soil is dry, a thicker layer of mulch will help hold the water in the soil longer. 

·         When applying mulch around your house, try to keep an 18-24 inch mulch-free zone from the base of your home. You don’t want to give termites a way to breach the protective barrier around your house.  You might even contact your professional pest manager to inform him that you have added mulch to your beds. 


Now days there are many synthetic mulches (synthetic pine straw, mulch made out of ground tennis shoes, mulch made from ground tires), also rocks, and dyed wood mulch that will keep their color longer.  These mulches look good but will not add organic matter to your soil (except the dyed wood mulch). 


When your pine straw has turned a little white but still looks clean, you can spray on some Brown Mulch Reviver (Possum’s Brand). Just fluff up the straw with a rake and spray it and you have “new” mulch. You can even add weed killer or preemergent products and kill/prevent weeds at the same time. Since you don’t want to pile on mulch year after year this could save a lot of time and money. When I was working on Hilton Head Island, we did this with great results. I know some landscapers here that use this product as well and like it!


There are many types of wood mulch (hardwood, double shredded hardwood, pine nuggets, mini nuggets) that over a period of time will break down and help the organic content of your soil.  Wood mulch will add more organic matter over a period of time, than the pine straw.


If you like to have your cake and eat it too, you can apply Cotton Burr Compost at a depth of 2 inches and cover it with pine straw or wood mulch and this would immediately benefit your soil.  Every time it rains or your irrigation runs, your plants would be receiving a tall drink of compost tea chocked full of nutrients.  This combination would also feed the beneficial micro-organisms in the soil and not tie up any nitrogen.   You can have the neat tucked appearance of pine straw or wood mulch and get the nutrients from the Cotton Burr Compost that will immensely improve your soil. The people (and their plants) that have tried this method have been extremely happy!


Get out your preemergent product of choice, SeaHume, insecticide for fire ants and mole crickets, mole killer or repellent, and preventive fungicide. Rats, roaches, fleas?


Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.