About Gardening: Mold and Mulch

by Mira Dessy

Dear Mira,
I have obtained some free mulch from our local city department that picks up trees and makes wood chips out of it. I have a couple of concerns about this mulch that I hope you can answer for me. My first concern is that this mulch is full of pine needles that are starting to mold, am I still able to use this and if I can still use this are there any potential problems that I should be looking for. My other concern is that I just put this flower garden in last year and I am putting a new flower garden in this year, should I add some kind of fertilizer to my plants after or before mulching the old garden. Is nitrogen loss a concern? Last but not least, could this mulch possibly burn my plants? I know that I am asking for a lot of information, but any information that you can give me I will be very grateful for. Thank you

Dear Bosch,
My personal opinion is that if there is any mold in the mulch I am using I prefer to put it in the compost heap. This way it gets broken down and the pile gets hot enough that I believe it will kill the bacteria. I don't think it's worth the risk of introducing potentially harmful bacteria into my plants beds to introduce any sort of mold.

Any time you take fresh mulch and place it on a garden you need to be concerned about nitrogen loss. You can try putting the mulch down and making sure that it does not touch any plants that are currently poking through but you run the risk of losing some. In my shade garden I do use a fresh mulch each year, but I put it on very early in the season (before the frost free date) and I make sure that it is cleared around those plants that I know the location of. I have not lost anything yet, but I have had some less that great growth years especially with my bleeding heart. Hope this helps.

If you have a question for Mira, send it to mdessy@together.net. She's able to answer many of them personally.

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