Posted by: ssorrrell | October 6, 2007

In Search of Mulch

This year I’m trying lots of mulches looking for the right price point and effectiveness.  There are many variables.  Particularly, the duration of the mulch, its effect on the soil, side effects (weed seeds), surface area covered per $, shipping cost, storage before it’s laid, and the work required to put it down.  And some variables have their own fluctuations like the multiple brands of the same type of mulch with different price points and different sources of mulch.

Carrying anything myself severely limits the reasonable quantity.  The El Camino can carry about 40 40 lb bags.  This is not a lot and it almost drags the ground.  So, you don’t want to go far.  A 2 cu ft bag is 20-50 lbs.  The loading and unloading take a while.  You’re not going to show up at the checkout stand with 40 bags of anything.

What I got so far leads me to think old, moldy, 1-2 yr straw from a local farmer is best.  It wins on both sides.  It’s not good to feed to cows and it makes horses sick.  All the weed seeds are germinated and it’s much better than fresh straw.  Deteriorates much quicker.  There are two types of straw; wheat, regular straw, and alfalfa, green and smelly.  Straw goes for $4-5 per bale at local feed stores for ~50 lbs.  9-10 bales will fit in the El camino.  The bales are tightly compressed.  This can’t be said of any bag mulch.  So, when you cut the strings there’s quite a bit to spread around.  At least I hope so.  Haven’t cut one yet.  Friday, I got 9 bales of alfala.  Hopefully, I’ll get 10 mouldy straw bales tomorrow.

The major plantings have been mulched with pine bark, pecan shells, and cypress.  There are some huge spots in the backyard where it’s not economical to pay $3 for 2 sq ft.  Pretty much half the back yard.  Say, 30′ X 40′ will be dirt before spring returns.  In half of it cool season grass came in early and then died from lack of water and excess heat.  Every time the lawn more runs over it the thin dried grass stems blow away.

The other half has been covered by low growing weeds that spread some feet from a central stem.  I think these weeds seek to improve the soil using taproot to obtain nutrients and water and cover the ground with dead plant material adding humus.  Hopefully a large quantity of plant material will negate the need for them next summer and I can have grass.  Without some action, half the backyard will be a dry, dusty, cracked landscape.  I even considered having a several tons of feedlot manure dumped on the backyard, but I don’t think they can get the truck back there and I don’t want the job of hauling 10 tons myself in a wheel barrow.

Here’s what I seen so far.

Pine bark has done relatively well.  From past experience, it will be gone in 2-3 months and you wont even remember putting it out.  It was $5 per bag with delivery.

Pecan Shells seem great.  The snails don’t like them.  There are a lot in a 2 cu ft bag.  The color is good and they are a regional product.  At $8 per bag with delivery they are an accent piece only.  Really just the front yard.

Cypress mulch was not a good idea after I looking it up on the Internet.  It comes from wetlands, very far from here, and those may be endangered.  It looks good, rather light colored.  Very light and fluffy.  This was $2.50 at Home Depot.

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