Hold The Mulch Please

Toolshed Wall with Garden ToolsMulch is ubiquitous these days. It seems that every commercial property and practically every professional maintained residential property are landscaped with layers and layers of neatly packed color treated mulch. Mulch can be found in mounds underneath manicured trees and perfectly spread across the garden borders that line the never-ending chemically sprayed, perfectly green, weed-free lawns.

These mulch laden patches anything but environmentally friendly and are – simply lawns and gardens on steroids. Surprisingly, mulch is a prime accessory to this on-going environmental crime. The smell of mulch has now become a smell signifying the arrival of spring.

But, how friendly or unfriendly is mulch? Candidly, it is just another by-product, that at one time was in surplus and has been woven into our modern day basic necessities. Some say mulch is the garden equivalent cigarettes of gardening. You need it to be cool!

Mulch hasn’t been around that long, just a few decades. It was an outgrowth of the lumber industry that began stripping the tree of its bark before cutting it at the sawmills because the bark slowed and dulled the blades. A few clever executives figured out that if it was prepped and marketed well, people would pay to take this by-product off their hands.

Sure, mulch is said to keep down the weeds, mitigate erosion, and retain moisture, but is it really commensurate with the amount of energy expended in harvesting, processing, and distributing it? A quick assessment, says probably not. It’s chopped up by diesel engines, transported great distances, and colored and processed into nifty plastic bags.

Unless you’re using chips from tree trimmings from by your local power company to cover a car pull-off around instead of paving it over with cement or asphalt, then you’re probably expanding your carbon footprint by applying mulch every year. One way to wean yourself off this annual fix is to skip it one year and plan on transitioning to an every other year pattern.

If you’re looking to take another step in greening your life and reducing your carbon footprint – hold the mulch please! But read on to these other points of view….

Mulch plays into people’s need for order. Trees and bushes lined with mulch make us feel that the tree is properly cared for and everything is in ship-shape.

Bethesda magazine recently ran an article about mulch and how one gardener was going to reduce her consumption of mulch and go natural.

Next time you are considering purchasing mulch, think about all the embodied energy that went into the harvesting, manufacturing, distribution, and finally either your lawn contractor or yourself in spreading the product. Envision that noisy particle-spewing diesel engine that harvested the tree, ripped off its limbs in one quick motion, and hauled the log to the sawmill. Add to that another CO2-spewing diesel that chipped and processing it and then the delivery to your driveway.

If you’re looking around your lawn for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, consider either skipping a year in applying the mulch or reduce the amount you apply – even if it is only by a few bag or so.

Every bag you avoid is a baby-step in reducing your annual footprint – instead of a bag of mulch, figure that by every bag of mulch that you forego its about 2-3 bags of CO2 !

Plus, you can use the time, energy, and money you would have spent purchasing and spreading the mulch for something more rewarding, like discovering a new area on your bike or preparing a really sensation garden salad.

So, hold the mulch please and shrink your carbon footprint.


About the author

Eda North

Eda recently joined the Green Blizzard writing team and is our expert about how not to unknowingly expand your carbon footprint while gardening. With today's manicured lawn, dyed mulch, and highly fertilized gardens, our steams and waterways are choking with nitrogen and other chemical runoffs.