THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MULCH ALL HAVE THEIR GOOD AND BAD POINTS
Link to other compost pages
- Types of Mulch
- List Of Organic Mulch
TYPES OF MULCH
Any organic material can be used in some form of compost system. However not all organic materials is suitable for mulching.Sometimes the physical properties of an organic material that make it good for compost will also make it unsuitable as a mulching material.
The list below has been kept to the organic materials that are the best suitable for mulching and most are generally easily available. There are many more organic materials that can be used but very local in supply. If you are organic matter poor, and wish to remedy that situation, go hunting for organic materials in your local area. You might be surprised what you can get, and often free for the taking.
For a more complete list of types of mulch materials, mainly for composting, but does include some more local organic sources that you could use as mulch click this link
LIST OF TYPES OF MULCH
Alfalfa is a perennial flowering crop used primarily for cattle feed across the world. The depth of its root system, that reach down 12 feet, allows the plant to access minerals and nutrient out of reach of many other plants.
Alfalfa is considered a complete natural fertilizer, high in nitrogen, which remains reasonable high even as it ages, with a good balanced of phosphorous and potassium. It contains high amounts of Vitamin A ,Folic Acid , Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin and Tricontanol, a natural occurring growth hormone, and a high availability of trace minerals.
Alfalfa hay bales can be used in teas, mulches, in compost heaps, sheet composting or dug into the soil and left to decompose. It is used to increase organic matter in the soil, making an excellent fast and effective soil conditioner by its carbohydrates and protein encouraging microbial activity in the soil. Alfalfa rapidly decomposes and will generate a good amount of heat in a short time, making it a valuable addition to any composting method.
Buckwheat hulls, this information applies to most grain hulls. They add very few nutrients to the garden and have a high lignin content making them very slow to decompose. They do however make an excellent soil conditioner for heavy clay soils or areas that have poor drainage.
The main problem with grain hulls in general is keeping them on the garden. Being very light and fluffy makes them easily blown away in even the slightest wind movement and difficult to use by themselves as a mulch.
The best place and easiest method of using these grain hulls in the home garden is as the first layer in sheet composting rather than your vegetable growing area during the season. Rough up the top 1 inch, 2.5 cm, of soil. Then spread the hulls 1-2 inches, 2.5 -5.0 cm thick and cover with an 1-2 inches of hay straw or any other mulch that will keep the hulls in place. Thoroughly wet the top mulch, this will percolate down to the hulls and nature will take over from there.
For all the difficulties grain hull present they are well worth the extra effort to handle because of the splendid job of they do of opening up these poor draining clay soils.
Our little wriggly friends love them too, they will convert these hulls into compost in about four months.
Cardboard, especially corrugated material, is a great addition to the list of suitable types of mulch. Its biodegradable glues contain large amounts of nitrogen. Can be shredded but is better left whole. Caution is needed; some cardboard has a plastic coating and should not used.
Card board like newspaper makes an excellent first layer when sheet composting. They will totally suffocate all weeds and ground cover. They can also be place on a garden area and used as your weeding program. Leave the mulch in place and poke holes in the cardboard when the time comes to plant. The cardboard mulch will decompose completely while the plants are happily growing.
Cardboard is great for worms they will devour it like there is no tomorrow.
Feathers are high in nitrogen, and if available for mulch they are best being used for mulching an area where other mulches can be added on top to hold them in.
However they then need to be mixed with wetter materials because they don’t readily absorb water. The stem portion is tough, and because of the hollow center they are excellent for providing a mulch with air passages that will help with the oxygenation of a thick mulch.
Garden reside unless it is totally dry material is reasonably high in nitrogen. All of the spent plants, thinned seedlings, and some weeds can make the trip to the compost pile, be included in the sheet composting armory or just added to the garden as mulch.
Of course you are not going to want to recycle any of the nasty weed that most garden can harbor at some time or other. Invasive rhizome grasses and weeds like, kikuyu and couch grass, spear grass, quack grass, dog grass, twitch, or whatever it is known as in your part of the world. These along with a large list of hard to kill perennials are better off being disposing of rather than adding to your mulch. For more details go to Weed Problems.
Most grain hulls have similar properties, for detailed information click this link Buck wheat hulls
Hay is mostly carbon. Of all the different types of mulch hay is one of the most common. The greener the hay the more nitrogen it contains, however this nitrogen is lost very quickly and even good quality shed stored hay will rapidly deteriorate with time. The tough, woody stems of poor quality hay make it difficult to absorb moisture and good quality leafy hay is not much better.
Pasture hay needs to be weathered before using as mulch Even the seed from good quality grasses are not desirable in the veggie garden, without even mentioning the countless weeds seeds that will turn your veggie garden into a weeding nightmare.
The best way to overcome the seed and poor water absorption qualities of hay is to leave the bales to spoil. If you have the space, break open the bales to expose the inside of the bale to the elements, this will cause any seed to germinate. Turning the hay over a few times will prevent them from taking root and they will wither and die. Once all the seed has been germinated and died it is good for mulching.
Lawn and grass clippings are high in nitrogen and another of the different types of mulch that would be the most readily available organic material the average home gardener has access to. It pays to be cautious if you are receiving any organic matter from other sources. Many lawn fertilizers have broad leaf herbicides mixed in.
Grass/lawn clipping are especially high in nitrogen during the new growth period in spring and also again in the autumn/fall. Don’t layer onto the garden too thick. Clipping are incredibly wet even in hot dry weather and tend to mat down, going slimy and stink.
If you have an excess available they can be spread out somewhere for a day or two to dry before adding to the garden preventing this to some extent. What a bonus it is in the fall/autumn period when there are plenty of leaves on the lawn, you can mow the lawns, shred the leaves, and put the whole mix straight down as perfect mulch.
Dry leaves are mostly carbon, low in nitrogen but rich in minerals, while living green leaves contain abundant nitrogen. The fallen leaves from most trees make excellent mulch and we will deal here only with leaves fallen in the autumn/fall. Green leaves are covered in the shrub and tree pruning section further down in this list of different types of mulch.
Of the types of mulch that gardeners have, leaves are often the second most available source of home grown organic matter. Unfortunately, this is usually a famine or feast situation.
Excess leaves can be bagged or binned up for use over the next spring, summer growing period. Shredding also helps immensely, leaves will pack much tighter into bags or any storage container than whole leaves will. Very little composting takes place even over a long period, tending more towards leaf-mold, which is one of the best home grown types of mulch you can use.
LEAVES TO EXCLUDE FROM MULCHING
click this link to take you to a page to check out leaves of different trees that either requires some special attention or exclusion from the list of different types of mulch for any composting method.
MUSHROOM COMPOST- SPENT
Mushroom compost is not a suitable mulch. It is however an acceptable soil conditioner but shouldn't be considered as compost. In the process of growing mushrooms the mushroom compost is treated to eliminate any soil bacteria and fungi that would compete with the mushrooms. By the time it reaches your garden it has been sterilized to death, containing little soil bacteria life or nutrients.
Although it has little nutrition value mushroom compost, like good quality compost, doesn't fulfill the obligations of a mulch. This is because both these composts act like bare soil, and are no more capable of suppressing weeds than the average soil. They also present an attractive growing medium for any weed seed in the vicinity.
In the list of types of mulch for your vegetable garden newspapers are pretty close to the top. If using newspaper for compost they need to be shredded other wise they will compress and stifle the heap. But for mulching the vegetable garden this smothering effect is exactly what we want in a mulch. Newspapers, spread out thick, are the best weed barrier available. If you don't like the sight of newspapers in your garden cover them with a prettier mulch.
The colored ink in newspapers we have been told is ok to include because although some colored inks do contain heavy metals, these are not used on newsprint. However defiantly don’t use the glossy pages.
Look into vermi-composting as an alternative use for newspapers, they love the stuff.
your types of mulch list would be incomplete without this excellent organic material. Perennial peanut hay is very high in nitrogen. The perennial peanut is a different plant to the peanut vines that grow what we know as peanuts. It is a high quality persistent tropical forage legume which doesn’t produce peanuts and has very similar qualities to alfalfa. For this reason it has been duded Florida's alfalfa by those in Florida’s agriculture circles.
From a gardener’s point of view it has several advantages. One being that it requires little or no intervention as far as pest control. Also with low fertilizer requirements it makes getting chemical free organic material a lot easier. Better than excellent as a mulch.
PEAT – MUCK PEAT
Muck peat falls into the carbon category. It is formed from well decomposed plant material that once thrived in swamps such as cattails, reeds, sedges and other water plants. Muck peat is usually neutral to slightly alkaline, is well decomposed and is dark brown or black with almost no fibers. It is fine in texture, dries quickly and can be blown away by the wind which makes it a usable but of marginal benefit in the best types of mulch list.
Dry pine needles are all carbon. Fresh pine needles are covered with a thick, waxy coating which breaks down with a little aging. It was once believed that pine needles acidify the soil. This gardening myth is just that, a myth and like all myths are very hard to dispel.
Pine needles make the list for excellent types of mulch for both flower and vegetable gardens. There is some truth in the acidic quality of fresh pine needles, however once they have turned that lovely brown color that makes them so attractive, their is little if any acidity left .
So the short answer to using pine needles as a mulch is yes but make sure you leave fresh green pine needles for a month or so to weather. If you are still not convinced use them on your paths and walk ways until they have composted down before you adding to the garden mulch.
Pine cones need to be chopped or shredded, the older open cones are dry and more like wood chip which makes them better off on the pathways and long tern mulch areas rather than the vegetable garden itself.
Rice hulls are very much the same as Buck wheat hulls
Check out sawdust under Wood products
Shrub and tree pruning has good amounts of nitrogen depending on the age since cutting. They can add good nutrients to the garden as a mulch, however they will need to be shredded. The shredder needs to get then down to chip size. Its not one of the better types of mulch for the growing area but you can treat the material as slightly better than wood chips.
SPHAGNUM PEAT MOSS
Sphagnum peat moss comes from mosses (sphagnum,hypnum, etc.) and contains long fibers which resist decomposition. Sphagnum peat moss is usually quite acidic is better used as liners for hanging baskets but if you have a good supply it is welcomed addition to your compost heap or mixed with other mulches.
STABLE or BARN BEDDING
the nutrients supplied to the garden from these mulches is way off the charts. They are more of a fertilizer than mulch but depending on the bedding material are very useful mulches. Stable or barn bedding materials should not be applied to the garden if they contain fresh manure, they will need to be weathered for two to three weeks at least.
For a more detailed article on the use of manures as one of the best types of mulch and fertilizer available click this link
Straw is mostly carbon and as a material is similar to, but with less nutrients than grass hay. It is right up there as one of the most often types of mulch used. Straw and hay, for different reasons need to be treated much the same way
Straw from grain harvest is extremely dry and if used as is will cause a few problems in some situations. The main problems gardeners find with straw are; its light and fluffy nature causes straw to blows away quickly. Dry straw will suck moisture rather than conserve it, and it can become an excellent home for field mice and the like over winter.
These little hiccups can be cured with the simple method of weathering the dry straw. done in a similar fashion as for hay but not because of the seed problem but to make the straw more manageable. This is done best by leaving the straw in the bale form but can also be done with the straw in a heap.
Find the wettest and shadiest part of the garden, wet thoroughly and keep wet. If you have more than a few bales in the pile rotate them around so the outside ones go into the middle and vise versa, almost like turning a compost pile. Allow the bales to partially decompose or weather over a period of about three to four weeks. Once the straw has begun to break down it become less attractive to critters for a warm home and will act as it should in moisture conservation and weed control.
Many stables and feed lots use straw as a bedding material. Straw that has undergone this treatment is mixed in with manure and breaks down more quickly. For a more detailed article on the different types of mulch stable and barn bedding create, including straw mulches click this link
All wood products belong in similar types of mulch category. Because they are very low in nitrogen and dense in nature most organic materials in the wood products list are not very good for the immediate vegetable garden growing area. Any wood product from broadleaved/deciduous trees, which are usually soft wood will break down quicker in an active compost heap than hard woods, coniferous and the like. Because of the different types of wood products and their varying properties they will be dealt with separately.
Do not use, in any form, wood products from any sort of chemical wood treatment, you could be adding toxin's like arsenic to your garden if you do. Pressure treated wood, which usually has a greenish tint to it contains arsenic, chromium and copper all are highly toxic element. Creosote is another treatment that is common in some places.
WOOD - BARK
Sometimes mother nature tries to trip us up this is one of those times. Softwood bark is hard and hardwood bark is soft, making hardwood bark easier to decompose than softwood. They also differ in pH slightly too; hardwood bark is slightly alkaline where as softwood bark is acidic.
Both softwood bark and hardwood bark are carbon and require plenty of both nitrogen and time to properly decompose. excellent for paths and non growing areas.
WOOD - CHIP
The wood chips of hardwood and softwood are true to name unlike the bark. Although the chunkiness of this material can help aerate the garden this advantage is lost by their super slow decomposition. It is really best to use wood chips as mulch in areas other than the actual veggie gardens, because it will rob nitrogen from the soil for a long time to help it to breakdown. Like bark and other types of mulch in the wood products category it is really good for paths in heavy traffic areas of the garden.
WOOD - SHAVINGS
Wood shavings are not as prone to compacting as sawdust is. This is mostly because of the shape of shavings rather than the properties of the wood. They will fluff up allowing good oxygenation. Once they have weathered they will preserve moisture but need to be quite thick, 3-4 inches,7-10 cm before they are effective in weed suppression. Because of this, although shaving decompose quicker than wood chips, they are of limited use in the growing area.
WOOD - SAWDUST
Sawdust is actually one of the few types of mulch in this category that if used correctly has a good place in the veggie garden mulching armory. There are precautions you need to follow. Proper distribute is needed especially with very fine sawdust, do not layer it to thickly as it will compact and form a water barrier that is pretty impenetrable.
If large quantities of sawdust are available it is better used as a soil conditioner and dug into the vegetable garden along with bone meal or similar rather than mulch. excellent for mulching on pathways and non growing areas or long turn mulch area added to other mulching materials.
WOOD - WASTE
It is good to see that recycling is becoming more widespread in our world today. It is now possible to get shredded wood waste as a commercial product. Again best in non growing areas of the veggie garden, not in the better types of mulch list for the veggie garden but does have a place alone side the others.
PLANTS AND LEAVES TO EXCLUDE OR USE CAUTION WITH
For details click this link
OTHER PAGES ON COMPOST
How to Compost
types of mulch
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