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The Garden Guru

Mulch Mania

Jim Boxberger Jr.
Posted 6/2/23

Doesn’t it drive you nuts when you go to the store to get an item to finish a recipe, like a sixteen ounce can of pumpkin, only to find out that the can is now twelve ounces, for the same price …

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The Garden Guru

Mulch Mania


Doesn’t it drive you nuts when you go to the store to get an item to finish a recipe, like a sixteen ounce can of pumpkin, only to find out that the can is now twelve ounces, for the same price of course. The recipe calls for sixteen ounces so you have to buy two cans to complete the recipe. 

Well the incredible shrinking package is happening to mulch this year. We have been selling a considerable amount of mulch this spring compared to other years, so I did a little research to find out why. As it turns out, some of the brand name mulches that the box stores sell have gone to a one and a half cubic foot size bag instead of the traditional two cubic foot, a twenty-five percent reduction in size and, of course, their price is the same as last year. So now when you buy ten of their bags to refresh your flowerbeds like you have done in the past, you’ll find that ten bags just won’t get the job done. 

The other thing that I found is that some national brands are using the term “mulch” very loosely. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Mulch as a protective covering (as of sawdust, compost, or paper) spread or left on the ground to reduce evaporation, maintain even soil temperature, prevent erosion, control weeds, enrich the soil, or keep fruit (such as strawberries) clean. In the lawn and garden industry, mulch is usually referred to as bark mulch as it was originally made from the bark scraps from the lumber industry that was then shredded and bagged as a mulch product. Mulch was also typically made from virgin wood like pine, cedar or cypress. 

Then in the mid two thousand’s, dyed bark mulch became all the rage. Colors included blue, green, red, orange and black. Today only red, black and dark brown are still around as well as natural, which is also brown. But dying mulch made it possible to do something else that many unsuspecting customers have no idea about and that is to introduce construction debris into the mulch. Mulch is NOT regulated, there is no law that says mulch has to be ALL NATURAL. 

The dictionary definition says it can be sawdust or paper, so why not some construction debris too. The New York State Department of weights and measure will come around from time to time to check that a bag labeled two cubic feet is just that, but as for the contents of the bag, mulch is what the company says it is. Construction debris shredded and dyed, looks almost just like one hundred percent cedar mulch, but there is one way to tell the difference every time, smell it. 

No, the construction debris mulch won’t smell bad at all, in fact it won’t have much smell at all and that is how you tell. Mulch made from virgin pine, cedar or cypress will smell like a fresh cut Christmas tree as even the dyed varieties still contain sap and have that pleasure forest aroma. Even in the plastic bags that mulch comes in there are tiny holes so that the product can breath and you should be able to smell a piney scent from natural mulch. There are even some hardwood mulches that are made from bark and roots of maples and oak that have a woody scent to them. 

If your mulch doesn’t have much of a scent, beware that it could be something other than virgin timber mulch. Packaging can be very misleading as two by four lumber is typically made from pine, so that if you grind them up you can call that pine mulch and there is no law against that. Nothing has to say where the pine came from. So next time you are looking for mulch, be like Toucan Sam and use your nose to find the best real deal.


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