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
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - August 31, 2013

From: Driftwood, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Meadow Gardens, Compost and Mulch, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Use of cedar/juniper mulch in wildflower meadows
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

What to do with freshly shredded cedar/juniper mulch? We have a pile of freshly ground cedar mulch that we can either keep in a large pile until it has composted(but the neighbors are complaining), or we can spread it across our lot. There are no plants there because we had the cedar removed and mulched two weeks ago. Eventually (hopefully this October) I want to plant a meadow garden per your instructions. Will the cedar mulch be unfavorable for the wildflower seeds to propagate given the "newness" of the mulch? I saw your answer below under a similar question but am not sure if it applies to my situation: ".. The freshly shredded wood chips would not be suitable for use as mulch or a soil additive until they had been thoroughly composted, but for paths and areas you wanted to shade to avoid weeds coming up, they would work very well."

ANSWER:

The most important factor in establishing a meadow garden is good contact of the plant seeds with the mineral soil.  The seeds need this to have the maximum access to soil moisture during germination.  If mulch of any sort is thick on the ground surface some of the seeds will be trapped in the mulch fibers and not get the moisture they need.  So you would be wise to refrain from spreading any kind of mulch until after sowing your seeds.  However, after the seeds are sown, spreading a light application of mulch will help retain the moisture needed for germination. The mulch layer should not be so thick as to prevent light from penetrating to the level of the seeds, some of which need light for germination.

Freshly shredded cedar retains some of the soluble metabolites, such as sugars and amino acids, that were its nutrients when living.  When this metabolite-rich woody material begins to decompose, bacteria and fungi colonize it and can draw nitrogen from the soil, depleting the levels needed by your seedlings to thrive. Generally, this is only a problem when the products are tilled into the soil. For this reason, avoid using cedar chips where they might be incorporated into the soil layers, and save it for plantings where it can remain on the soil surface. After a couple of fall rains most of the soluble metabolites will be leached from the mulch and it will be safer to spread over the planted areas.

This article from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center web site gives more information on mulching.  And tips on wildflower planting can be found here. October is, as you plan, an excellent time to plant seeds, anticipating fall rains.

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Holding bare soil before sowing native grasses in spring.
November 03, 2009 - I want to try your buffalo/bluegrama/curly mesquite. Right now my yard is ploughed. What should I do until spring? I assume I should add living compost to the top 3", plant bluegrass for now, and ...
view the full question and answer

Native grass mix suitable for Houston
December 10, 2009 - Do you have a native grass mix that is appropriate to the Houston area- or will the one you have developed to this point work as well here as it does in Central Texas? If not, when will you begin to ...
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

How to make a lawn into a prairie in Arlington, Texas
September 15, 2010 - I am removing lawn grasses in order to start a native prairie meadow. After grass removal, I'll put down 1/2" of compost. I will broadcast wildflower seeds on the compost. If I mulch after broadcas...
view the full question and answer

Source for pecan mulch used at Wildflower Center from Austin
November 11, 2011 - Hello Mr. Smarty Pants I was recently at the Wildflower Center. I saw all the pecan shell mulch and was wondering where you get it from. I noticed awhile back that it is one of the recommended mu...
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