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PALM - Does it make GOOD MULCH?

Palms make excellent water saving mulch, rough, course irregular particles that don't break down quickly. If you are having a palm removed make sure you keep the mulch.

This picture was sent in by a very disgruntled client, very upset from having "this crap" dropped on his verge. Yes, it can look very rough and I don't encourage Tree Contractors to deliver this mulch simply because most chippers have trouble processing the tough stringy palm fronds and the mulch can look terrible. However, it is because of these features that the product works so well.

Rough course mulch that locks together is excellent for areas prone to wind & water erosion and palm mulch fits the bill.

FEED THE SOIL- NOT THE PLANT - The perfect "slow release" fertilizer

All plants have a wonderful feature called a root system. These roots sometimes spend years extracting out of the soil all the micro & macro nutrients that they need to grow. Mulching with recycled tree pruning's, mulch that contain the fruit, bark, leaves & flowers, where all the nutrients are, will feed your soil with exactly the right mix.

You will be recycling all the macro & micro nutrients that your plant has extracted from the soil back into your landscape.

Mulch ado about something

The West Australian Newspaper - HABITAT Friday October 18th 2002

John Colwill

Most gardeners are aware that mulching is an excellent practice. Good mulches spread between plants in garden beds will keep weeds down, shade the soil, help control wind and water erosion, look good and most importantly save water, lots of water. There is everything to gain from mulching and nothing to lose.

The key word here is GOOD mulches. At first thought it may seem that any cover on the soil would save water but that is not the case. Not all mulches are equal and not all save water despite what may be said on the bag or in the advertising.

To understand why some mulches are better than others, it is necessary to explain what makes a good mulch work. You need to imagine or have on hand a glass of water with a clear drinking straw in it.

When the sun shines on the soil, surface water is evaporated. If that is all that happened, there would be no need for mulches but it is not. The structure of soil is such that a series of tubes are formed by spaces between soil particles. The water in the soil is "sucked up" through these tubes by capillary action in the same way that water rises to a higher level in the straw than in the rest of the water in the glass.

By this action, water is brought up from within the soil to the surface where it is evaporated. The process continues until gravity overpowers the capillary pull. In the meantime, the soil has been dried to several centimeters deep.

If the tubes can be "broken" by making the holes much bigger, as in the surface of the glass, capillary action ceases and the moisture stays in the soil. In order to do this, the mulch should consist of large coarse particles of irregular shape which have big gaps between.

The mulch will be even better at saving water if it is non-absorbent and allows water to pass straight through and into the soil below. The mulch itself will then quickly dry off which discourages bacterial action that may otherwise result in nitrogen being taken from the soil.

A Good mulch can reduce moisture loss from the soil surface by up to 70 per cent. By contrast, mulches which have lots of fine particles and therefore a similar structure to the soil do not stop the capillary action.

Even worse, when mulches such as rotted organic material, manure's, compost or crushed plant material with added peat or straw are used, they will absorb water rather than let it through to the plant's roots below and then simply allow it to evaporate off through the surface by capillary action.

The retained moisture in these mulches also encourages bacterial action which may pull nitrogen from the soil, will allow weeds seeds to germinate and increase the risk of collar rot when material is placed against the stem of plants.

Different materials:

  • The best mulch and the cheapest is chopped-up tree prunings, either home made or obtained from your local authority or tree pruner. The disease risk from using such material is insignificant.
  • Another good water-saving mulch is crushed brick or gravel with a layer of weed-control mat under it to prevent mixing with the soil.
  • Wood chips and pine bark are acceptable but not stable in exposed situations.
  • Animal manure's, pea straw, mushroom compost and seaweed are all great soil conditioners but they make lousy mulches. In addition to not stopping the capillary action, organic matter in these soft materials is quickly oxidized and wasted when exposed to the sun. These materials should either be dug into the soil before planting or spread out and then covered with, and protected by, a decent layer of good mulch. However, soft mulches can be used in the veggie patch and dug in when the crops are harvested.
  • Newspaper is not a good mulch unless it is in a part of the garden that is watered regularly, such as the veggie garden. Newspapers laid several sheets thick quickly dries out and becomes water-repellent.
  • Lawn clipping are a bad mulch. They should be used for making compost.

Mulch myths:

Q: Eucalyptus, bottlebrush and other native plant material does not break down and should not be used as mulch?
A: It is true that most native plant material takes longer to break down but that is an advantage as far as a mulch is concerned. So to are the natural oils these materials contain which make the mulch non-absorbent

Q: Mulches are only necessary in summer?
A: Not so. Mulches are advantageous throughout the year and should be left undisturbed to continue their good work.

Q: Rose are special plants and should not be mulched?
A: Roses may produce special blooms but their is nothing special about the way they grow. Rose plants benefit from a good mulch, growing better and healthier on less water with a reduced incidence of the black spot fungal disease.

Q: Freshly chipped plant material should be composted before use to avoid nitrogen draw-down?
A: This is not normally necessary. Nitrogen draw-down is uncommon and far more likely to occur with partly decomposed material that hold water. Where draw-down does occur, it is simply corrected by applying nitrogen.

Q: A little mulch is better than nothing?
A: Possibly, but not much better than nothing. To be effective, a mulch should be at least 50 mm deep, preferably 75mm. Organic mulches break down over time so it is normally necessary to top up the level once or twice a year.

Q: Mulch has to be scraped aside before fertilizer is applied?
A: A good mulch with an open texture will allow water to pass, dissolve the fertilizer and take them into the soil.

Q: Mulches make the soil water-repellent?
A: Well, some mulches might, in fact some mulches are them selves water-repellent. A good coarse mulch slows down the development of water repellency.

Is it a good mulch?

  1. Spread a layer of mulch 50 mm thick over a square metre of dry ground
  2. Add a little soil-wetting agent to nine litres of water and pour over the area.
  3. Leave an hour or two before checking.

If it is a good mulch, the surface and most of the mulch should be dry. The soil, where the plants roots are, should be wet to at least 10 cm deep. If the mulch is still wet and most of the soil is dry, that mulch is unlikely to save any water. It may even waste it.

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