Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mulch – Pro and Con

In previous posts we discussed benefits of mulch and after watching “Back to Eden” we acquired loads of wood chips from a local tree trimming company.  Well it has been over a year since we got the “Mulch Mountain” and this is our Pro and Con list.

  • Less Watering:  This has been the biggest benefit of the wood chips.  Simply digging down below the service one finds soil that is still moist, much longer than the bare soil after a rain.  Even now, in the middle of summer there is still moist wood chips below the surface of our wood chip pile.
  • Increased earthworm activity:  The cover seems to be beneficial for worms, as evidenced by the increased mole activity.
  • More nutrients equals richer soil:  As the wood chips break down, very slowly, there is added nutrients in the soil.

  • Difficulty in starting seeds:  We found that too much mulch, and almost any amount of wood chips is too much when starting seeds.  We needed to dig down to the soil and the chips would get in the way.  Especially with fine seeds like carrots.  Larger transplants were not as much of a problem though.
  • More pests.  This is a very negative unexpected consequence in our opinion.  The mulch not only protects the soil, it also protects and attracts insects, all sorts of insects.  Some of them not so nice.  One surprise was the pill or sow bug.  They actually cut down one of our tomato plants much like a cutworm would have.  The increased moisture could also encourage slugs, although not too big of a deal for us, I could see it exacerbating the problem for those already suffering from them.  The biggest issue in our mind though was the discovery of termites and carpenter ants!  Whether they came as cargo from the original trees, or migrated into the wood chip pile later we are not sure but this can be bad for our houses and any wooden structures we don’t want to decompose.  I wonder if turning the pile regularly would keep their population in check???

Sow / Pill Bug Damage on Tomato Plant

Felled Tomato Plant - Sow Bug Damage

So, after weighing the pros and cons at this point I might be tempted to use leaves or grass clippings for mulch instead of wood chips in the annual vegetable garden. Shannon still loves wood chips for mulch in her perennial flower gardens.  Let us know what works best for you!

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