En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
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 Soils Questions

Should shredded Ashe juniper be composted for mulch?
May 06, 2009 - Our neighbor shredded some Texas Hill Country cedar trees. Can we use it safely as mulch? Do we need to wait until it composts some?
view the full question and answer

Vine for full sun in Las Vegas NV
July 05, 2013 - Looking for vine to thrive in full sun in Las Vegas, NV. I tried Cape Honeysuckle and Star Jasmine and both died within 5 days. The leaves were burnt. What's your suggestion? Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Trees for Plum Grove, TX
October 05, 2013 - Sorry Mr. Smarty pants, my question is I live in Plum Grove Texas, I have 5 acres and NO TREES. What trees were on the property were either taken out by Ike, or the twisters that followed. I have boug...
view the full question and answer

Member of Taxus genus native to southern Illinois from Granite City IL
July 12, 2013 - Is there a native Southern Illinois similar to Taxus baccata? I live in Granite City IL and am looking for a native plant/scrub that stays green year round about 2-3 feet tall to it helps insulate the...
view the full question and answer

Habiturf installation after Take-All fungus
January 24, 2012 - Are other soil remedies needed (besides those listed in your Habiturf brochure) to install Habiturf on land which had a St. Augustine lawn which was decimated by take all patch.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center