Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Thursday - July 01, 2010

From: Springfield, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Soils
Title: What is composted mulch from Springfield IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I love the look of hard wood mulch. It is my understanding that this wood mulch that is so readily available in bulk and bags is not "composted mulch". I have been told that this type of mulch pulls iron away from my plants causing them to look yellow. What exactly is composted mulch? Is there such a thing as composted wood mulch? I want the look that wood mulch adds to my trees and perennial beds. Thank you for your time.

ANSWER:

We agree, the look of shredded hardwood mulch is very attractive. It is of greatest benefit in that it protects the roots of your plants from heat and cold. When you put it into your garden, it will begin to decompose "in place" and become an enriching amendment to the soil. This is why you usually need to replenish mulch about once a year or so.

We can remember some discussion a few years ago about mulches pulling nutrients from the soil, but I think that was referring to chipped wood from tree trimmers. It is slow to decompose and does need some help from the material in the soil. We have personally nurtured a compost pile of mostly fallen oak leaves, of which we had a lot, adding water and cottonseed meal for nitrogen and stirring the pile for oxidation. It took at least a year to achieve the level of composting we liked, but we certainly used it as mulch. If you don't have the room or the inclination for a compost pile, you would be better to use the composted mulch you can purchase. However, we have also put 2 to 3 inches of commercial shredded hardwood bark on gardens with good soil and not felt any need to supplement the nutrients. 

This is one of those things that is as much personal taste in gardening as anything else. Read these two articles and form your own opinion. 

Agresource Using Compost as Mulch to Increase Soil Nutrient Level, Microbacterial Activity and Plant Growth. 

Bear Path Farm Compost as Mulch

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Why all the acorns from Austin
November 03, 2010 - What's the explanation for the huge crop of acorns falling from my live oak trees this fall. Do you recommend I dump them in my composter or just throw them in the flower beds? Thanking you in adv...
view the full question and answer

Pine bark on non-native St. Augustine grass in Kingwood TX
May 12, 2010 - I had two large Pine trees cut down. In the process of cutting the trees down there is a lot of pine bark from the tree on my St Augustine grass. Will this affect the growth of my grass?
view the full question and answer

Possibility of replacing Bermudagrass with native grasses and wildflowers
November 24, 2008 - Are there any native grasses and wildflowers that can compete with bermuda grass to make a nativ-y wild area without removing the bermuda?
view the full question and answer

Yellowing leaves on yaupon in Ft. Worth
April 23, 2009 - I planted a Pride of Houston Yaupon Holly in January in full sun. It is blooming little white flowers right now for spring, but a lot of leaves are turning yellow. Do you know what is causing this? ...
view the full question and answer

Fungus Spots on Native Bush Honeysuckle
December 03, 2010 - My native bush honeysuckle plants that I have along my back fence have leaves that are turning yellow with spots. It appears to be a type of fungus, but not powdery mildew. Any suggestions as to what ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.