Mulch Madness

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(HOST) You say you don’t know mulch? Well Commentator Charlie Nardozzi joins us today with some great advice about mulch and our gardens.

(NARDOZZI) The Internet is a great source of information for gardeners, but sometimes it can turn around and bite you in the butt. As the old saying goes, “don’t believe everything you read.” While there is tons of good gardening information on the Internet, but sometimes rumors start and take on a life of their own. A good example is the story of termite-infested mulch supposedly being shipped around the country from Louisiana.

Here’s the story. Because of all the storm damage to the gulf coast from Hurricane Katrina, there is a lot of mulch being made from downed trees. Unfortunately, the mulch is potentially infested with Formosa termites. This mulch is supposedly being shipped around the country through discount chains and therefore spreading this nasty insect. Some people are hesitant to mulch this year because of it. But the story is just not true.

After the hurricanes hit the gulf coast last fall the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry quarantined all movement of wood products and debris out of the state and had inspectors on the ground enforcing the ban. Now there may be a few unscrupulous wood product dealers who could have side stepped the ban, but for the most part, none of the wood debris from the hurricane damage is leaving the gulf coast.

Even if the termites got into the mulch, experts don’t think they’d survive the shredding and bagging process. Plus, the Vermont weather probably would do them in. So mulch away this spring, but do so wisely. Mulching not only looks attractive, it maintains soil moisture, prevents weeds from growing and creates a barrier between the tree trunk and your lawn mower. String trimmers and lawn mowers accidentally scarring tree trunks is a leading cause of tree decline and disease.

Buy mulch made locally from trees such as hemlock, cedar and pine. Remove the old mulch from around the trees and lay down a three to four inch thick layer of new mulch, but don’t let it touch the trunk. Spread the mulch out in about a two to three foot diameter circle around the tree. Don’t just add the new mulch to the old mulch or you’ll create mulch volcanoes. These are the pyramid-like mounds you see around the base of some trees. By building up mulch against the tree trunk you’ve inviting rot diseases to attack the trunk and crown eventually killing the tree.

The best mulch for trees, shrubs and roses is shredded bark or bark chips. Save the grass clippings, leaves and sawdust for mulching other plants such as vegetables, raspberries and perennial flowers. I’d also avoid those brightly colored bark mulches on the market. Some how it just doesn’t seem right using bright orange, yellow or blue dyed mulch in my landscape. I guess I’m just a natural guy at heart. This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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