Mulch Dilemma

Cypress Trees

Cypress Trees

We had professional landscaping done in our yard about 7 years ago, and at the time they put down a truckload of cypress mulch.  We have always liked the look of it:  it has a warm, golden red color and soft, fluffy appearance that looks beautiful under our plants and with our house and retaining walls.  It’s supposed to be somewhat resistant to insects due to its aromatic oils.  Every year we buy a bunch of bags of the stuff and refresh the beds.  The new mulch replaces what’s decomposed in the past year, and with some fluffing up of the older mulch, it looks new again.  I always love to see the beds after such a renewal.

This week, in anticipation of the annual spring ritual, I went online to research prices.  To my astonishment and chagrin, I found all sorts of articles about why cypress should not be used as mulch.  These were from varied sources like the University of Florida Extension, Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, and organic gardening sites.  Unlike other wood mulches, cypress is not made from wood by-products of the lumber industry, but the trees are cut down specifically for mulching.  Cypress take decades to mature and live to over 100 years old.  The system is not sustainable and now young, immature trees are being used.  In addition to the environmental impact, many of the beneficial features of cypress mulch, such as resistance to insects and rot, require maturation to develop the oils in the wood, and are not even present in most of the mulch produced today from immature trees.  Many areas of Florida and Louisiana, the two primary sources of cypress, prohibit the sale and use of cypress mulch.  Organizations such as the Save Our Cypress Coalition have been trying to persuade large retailers such as Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart to stop selling cypress mulch, to no avail.

Sadly, we’ve decided we cannot in good conscience continue to use cypress mulch.  After some additional research, we have decided to use pure hardwood double-shredded bark.  It’s not going to have the beautiful warm color of the cypress, but it’s made from the bark cut off during lumbering and doesn’t require endangerment of the wetlands to be produced.  The bark is the most nutrient-rich part of a tree, so as it decomposes it will nourish the surrounding soil, and it doesn’t deplete nitrogen from the soil when it decomposes the way mulches made from the wood of a tree do.

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