The pros and cons of using cedar mulch in gardens

Using cedar mulch in gardens is a great way to keep the plants, flowers and trees healthy. There are many benefits of using this type of mulching material, but there are also some downsides that you should be aware of before putting it down in your garden.

One of the things you may miss about cedar is its humble status as mulch, often found around the border of plants and other garden structures. It is common not just in rugged areas like forests but also in flower beds and pots.

Cedar mulch is not your average variety of mulch, and cannot be treated as such. In this article, we will discuss the differences between cedar mulch and other types of mulches; their benefits; the best uses for cedar mulch in landscaping. And lastly, we will examine some problematic issues to watch out for with cedar mulch.

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Table of Contents

What is cedar mulch?

Cedar mulch is most often made from cedar tree branches. It provides a unique type of insulation for plants and soil that can’t be found in other types of mulches.

The benefits to using cedar as your natural layer on top of the ground are:

  • It keeps weeds down,
  • Prevents erosion, doesn’t let water run through easily.
  • Attracts many insects like earthworms which help with the decomposition process.

It should not be treated as if it were typical wood chips or sawdust because its properties differ greatly when mixed into the dirt compared to these more common varieties.

wood chips

Why Do Gardeners Use Mulch?

The main reason people use mulch is to insulate the plants from extreme temperature changes. Mulching also helps with water retention in your soil, preventing erosion and keeping weeds at bay.

Let’s look at the big picture: why do you see mulch in flowerbeds, vegetable gardens and house planter pots? You may have noticed that mulching is becoming more and more popular.

The idea of using cedar mulch is simple: Nature covers the soil every time it can. Look around you, when the soil is bare, small plants will grow first (grasses, mosses and even algae).

Whenever soil is uncovered, it deteriorates. Wind, rain, dry conditions and even changes in temperature all impoverish the soil by depleting it of nutrients and organic matter. This process starts the cycle of desertification.

One shocking fact is that when you dig or borrow the land, it loses 10% of its carbon content in 24 hours. As part of the organic revolution, gardeners are now required to cover their soil with mulch to keep the soil fertile.

soil erosion

Why Mulching Is Good For Your Garden

  • Mulch helps retain the moisture in the soil. This is why many forward-looking organic gardens, even vegetable farms, use straw or other mulch as bedding for plants in hot and dry climates.
  • Mulch stabilizes soil temperature; by forming a barrier between the earth and the air, it keeps soil temperatures higher. In the soil, there are micro-organisms that work constantly, and they produce heat. If this heat does not disperse into the atmosphere plants’ roots will stay warmer and safer.
  • Mulch is a means of controlling weeds; grasses find it difficult to grow in the dark, so mulching is an inexpensive and long-lasting way to reduce unwanted green guests in your garden.
  • Mulch can help reduce soil loss by preserving its nutrients; the top layer of soil where microorganisms decompose organic matter needs protection from wind and humidity.
  • Cedar mulch is the most effective type of mulch when it comes to pest control. Not all other types of mulch, however, are equal in this regard.
  • Mulch is used for decorative purposes, as well.

Inert And And Non-Inert Mulch

The word “mulch” does not only refer to cedar bark or leaves: anything that forms a layer of protection on the ground could count as mulch, even stones, gravel, cardboard, an old carpet.

However, there are materials that have no interaction with the soil. Others, on the other hand, will interact with it at a low level. Stones are inert, for example, but bark is only partly inert. So why is this?

If fresh, cedar mulch will absorb nitrogen. However, it may also give nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. It is also important to check if the mulch changes the soil pH. Notoriously, pine needles are believed to turn the soil acidic, but this is only if they are green and are considered not good for gardens.

However, if the cedar mulch is aged and more than one year old the effect on the acidity of your soil will be negligible. Consider this when buying, or make your own.

soil retain moisture

Pros And Cons Of Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch has many advantages and disadvantages. Make sure you consider the long-term effects of everything as it will have a great influence on your garden.

Cedar mulch is actually a great mulching product for the simple reasons that it looks nice, smells good and does not blow away easily. However, when using cedar mulch as a ground cover, there can be some problems with its qualities…

The Advantages Of Using Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch lasts longer – it is highly durable when put into place, as it does not degrade quickly. This means that once you have placed it on the soil and began to incorporate it, it will last for about three years or even longer.

Cedar repels insects – this is the reason why it is popular with many gardeners. Insects hate the smell of cedar mulch, so they keep away from it and stay on their territory instead. Besides using them to mulch your ground down, this also means that you will have fewer pests around.

Cedar mulch provides good ground cover – this is a key quality of any type of mulch.

Cedar mulch has a natural colouring – both aesthetically and in colour. If you are using it in a decorative garden, its warmth is an added bonus.

wood mulches

The Disadvantages Of Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch also negatively affects pollinators and beneficial insects -the benefits of pest control come with some drawbacks. Cedar mulch is a poor choice for gardeners who are interested in fruit production, as it goes against the ecosystem’s natural process.

Cedar mulch is more expensive – than standard mulch, and that can be a deterrent.

Cedar mulch can release acetic acid – which could damage your plants; typically this only happens if the mulch has not been kept at an ideal storage height.

Cedar mulch has a slow breakdown rate – but the decomposition process also benefits soil. It releases nutrients into the ground that other materials will not and improves fertilizer.

Cedar mulch quickly loses its colour – this means the decorative impact will lessen soon enough.

Cedar mulch odour – can sometimes have an unpleasant smell.

Better to use natural or dyed cedar mulch?

We discussed the natural consequences to using dyed mulch as well as its benefits. You can get your cedar mulch in red, yellow, brown or black but there is a major disadvantage: it will leach chemicals into the ground and can even end up inside plants!

This is a bad choice because it harms the environment, and your plants – if you intend to harvest them for eating.

If you’re interested in health and the environment, consider using mulch that is not dyed. With most types of mulch prices rising steadily, this can be expensive when you have to buy higher-end cedar mulch dyed with natural pigments.

cedar mulch pros

Where can you use cedar mulch?

Cedar mulch can be used in a variety of ways. The best place for cedar mulch is on top of your garden bed, or as ground cover around the plants you’re growing.

Another popular option is mixing up some fresh cedar mulch with either compost or manure and using them together as fertilizer; many people believe that this mix works better than just one of the materials.

You can also place cedar mulch on top of your compost heap, or under fruit trees to protect them from soil-born pests and diseases.

Cedar mulch is not recommended for use in vegetable gardens because it contains chemicals that are harmful to pollinators and beneficial insects; these animals may consume some while they’re visiting flowering plants in the garden which will end up causing damage to their own health too.

It’s best to limit its usage strictly – only using it as ground cover around small plants like flowers or just a decorative item in the garden beds (either way make sure you avoid root contact).

When should you not use cedar mulch?

Cedar mulch should never be used on top of vegetable gardens, fruit trees, or around any type of flowers.

It’s also not recommended to use cedar mulch as a decoration in your garden beds – it can do more harm than good when placed near the root system because those chemicals will cause damage and may even end up inside plants being harvested for food.

If you’re using cedar mulch for ground cover then make sure that there is plenty of soil between the wood chips and roots of all your other plants; this way they’ll have better access to water which means no risk from dehydration.

weed growth

An important point about cedar mulch

But what should you do with cedar mulch once you purchase it? You can’t simply dump it on the ground willy-nilly. Here are your key guidelines for placing and maintaining cedar mulches in gardens:

  • First of all, calculate how much mulch you need to cover the desired area.
  • To calculate how much cedar mulch you will need for your garden, estimate 2.5 cubic feet of cedar mulch for every 10 square feet of soil that needs to be covered. If you want your mulch layer to be thicker, add more.
  • To prepare the soil for mulching, you should remove any unwanted plants. This must be done before laying down the mulch; otherwise, ridges will form as a result of drying out and nutrients will be lost to exposure. It is best if this planting occurs on the day that mulch is installed or at most one day prior.
  • After wetting the soil if it is dry, make sure to layer the mulch on when the soil is damp.
  • Lay down 3″ to 4″ of mulch. Do not build big piles of mulch, but rather spread it across a consistent layer. Spending this extra time will pay off in more than one way as you’ll find out later on.
  • To minimize the risks of using mulch in a garden, leave at least one foot between plants and any trace of mulch.

Can you use cedar mulch around trees?

Cedar mulch looks nice and can help conserve moisture for trees, but it has a significant downside–cedar mulch contains natural oil which is toxic to many insects. Toxic cedar oils are also found in various other products of the cedar tree such as shingles, furniture, mothballs and boxes where mothballs were stored.

mulch pros and cons

Cedar Mulch - myth and reality

Cedar mulch is an excellent type of mulch, but it may not be the best choice for all landscaping applications. The use of cedar mulch is unsuitable for many needs, including if you want to invite butterflies and bees into your garden or have the goal of regenerating the soil.

On the other hand, the long-held belief that cedar mulch damages plants are not entirely true; so you can breathe more easily now on this. For the most part, cedar mulch is a great option for paths and large flowerbeds or trees. Due to its price, you may also want to consider it as an element of decorative décor in your garden.

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Oliver Wright

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