Contributor: Ruben Tapia
Photographer: Sarah Shreves
Mulching is an international practice used for conserving water, preventing erosion, and keeping weeds to a minimum. Though mulching has not always been the greenest of practices, eco-friendly mulching while keeping the advantages is possible.
So what is the current environmental problem we find in mulching? The answer: Cyprus deforestation. Cyprus trees ground down are amongst the most popular mulch available on the market. And with a loss of over three million acres a year, it is putting North American wetlands and forests, and the wildlife within them, at serious risk.
What is the alternative? There are many alternatives but the first thing to keep in mind when deciding on mulches is to think local. Southern California is thankfully on the leading edge of the socially conscious environmental movement, so with that comes more companies who provide eco-friendly organic mulches. With that in mind, a few specific mulch types that are known to be responsibly sourced choices are as follows:
Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus grows very quickly on plantations, and because it is not native to North America, deforestation of eucalyptus beyond the controlled amount contained on tree farms is not possible. Mulching an area too many times with Eucalyptus can cause excessive dryness, so it should be mixed or cycled with other types.
Pine Bark & Needles – Though not great for slopes, pine byproducts often go wasted in wood manufacturing and get bagged and thrown out from yards. The bark and needles on a base help prevent weeds from seeding.
Nut Shells – With the exception of hazelnuts—which provide minimal nutrient boosts to soil—nut shell mulches are also eco-friendly and sustainable. Most forms of shell mulches have a good balance of limiting weed growth while decomposing at a rate that is good for the plants being protected.
Melaleuca – An invasive species from Australia, the paperbark tea tree has begun to cause issues in the everglades where it is damaging the ecosystem. Though not as common as other mulch types, it is one to consider if it is available.
How do I prepare to mulch? It is dependent on the slope of ground, but most locations require digging up about 2 inches of topsoil then placing down whatever you choose to use to separate the ground from your mulch. Spreading shredded and moistened non-glossy newspaper is a solid biodegradable choice before adding mulch. For those with the intention to add decorative edging, such as stones, this is the time put those in places. Then your space should be ready to fill with organic mulch.
With the importance of water conservation in La Baja and southern California today, it is particularly important that we in the gardening community do our part to make water usage and erosion prevention more sustainable.