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Monday, February 6, 2012

Almost All Plants Like Wood Mulch - Even Desert Plants

Roses don't like rock mulch
Q. I heard it is best to move rock away from my shrubs and replace it with mulch.  What is your recommendation?

A. Rock can also be a “mulch” and we call it that in our desert landscapes; rock mulch. We have three categories of mulches; organic, inorganic and living. In the organic category are wood mulches. In the inorganic category we have rock mulches. All mulches are important but organic mulches, like wood mulch, give extra benefits to plants that rock mulches cannot.

            Our desert creates its own rock mulch and that’s why plants that originate from desert environments can “tolerate” rock mulches. It is not that they grow better in rock mulch but rather that they survive better in it.

            Nearly all plants grow better with organic mulch rather than rock mulch when grown in our desert soils. Plants like most of our fruit trees, roses, iris, lilies and those which are not true desert plants, perform better with wood mulch.

Mockorange yellowing in rock mulch
            Those that come from desert climates like mesquites, acacias, desert bird of paradise, agaves, cacti, etc. will tolerate rock mulch better than nondesert plants. But in most cases they still perform better surrounded by wood mulch.

            Newly planted trees and shrubs should have wood mulch kept away from them a distance of about one foot the first few years of their life. After that they usually tolerate wood mulch in contact with their trunk. This is because the wood mulch keeps the soil too moist and can cause the trunk to rot when they're young.


  1. From a Reader sent by email

    I have gardened in California for more than 30 years where you throw something on the ground and it grows, had an avocado grove in Fallbrook (San Diego Co.) So it's been quite a challenge to garden here, but I am an avid reader of your columns (you seem to always hit on what problem I'm having) and bought Lynn Mills book Gardening in Nevada. With this advice and trial and error I have quite a Paradise, with lots of roses (except the ones that were stolen by a thief I caught with a shovel in my garden one Sunday afternoon- he took 5), fruit trees, lots of bulbs, even a camelia and hydrangeas. When I first heard that you wanted me to cover everything with 4" of mulch, I thought, no way, it is expensive and the cheaper bigger bags are very heavy, but I have to say, through years of adding purchased and my own mulch (I compost), it's the best thing that I could do for my plants! With vegetables I'm having more trouble, probably because I may not have enough sun with so many trees. For the potatoes, however, I seem to have done everything you suggest, I planted them from seed, in March or beginning of April, and I have been adding soil as you mentioned. I guess I'll have to keep this in mind for next year. Thank you very much for all your help!

  2. I have used free mulch from the tree trimmers, and it has made a huge difference in my trees and bushes, that before getting treated, didn't do well at all. But now, I also used fresh tree trimmings, dead twigs and broken up branches for mulch on other plants that didn't get the original delivered mulch. I "weave" the branches, twigs and leaves around the base, quite thickly. Looks like a huge wreath. I find enough mulch materials in my own yard now, without having to buy anything. In fact, I have too much. My bushes are now growing like crazy, and I have to keep trimming them back, giving me more "mulch" for the plants. I lay them down green, and let nature take it's course. A wonderful way to get rid of weeds, and the twig mulch looks nice, too.