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<  Composting, Mulch, and Soils  ~  Cedar Hog Fuel used as Landscaping Mulch

PostPosted: Thu Sep 23, 2010 2:51 pm
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2008 10:08 pmPosts: 187Location: Zone 5
Alright folks... I'd really like some input on this... as it seems I've opened a can of worms around my neighborhood. I've used hog fuel for mulch for decades, but there are professional landscapers coming down on cedar mulch pretty hard. However, not for the usual reasons.

Here's the story. I did a small landscaping project recently that had no landscaping except for a 3 year old cedar hedge across the front of the property. Because of the lateness of the season, I didn't want to spend too much time in preparation before getting the plants in the ground. Additionally, the soil is very sandy, so I didn't want to lift the sod and remove what little top soil there was.

With that in mind, we dug holes through the sod and placed the plants. We soaked in the plants and surrounding ground and then laid down soaked cardboard and newspaper to smother the grass. For a more permanent and attractive mulch we covered that with a thick 6-8 inch layer (which will settle to 4 to 6 inches) of cedar hog fuel... something I've been doing for decades without any difficulties.

However, some people are claiming that hog fuel, since it's not actually cedar bark mulch will kill the plants, including the cedar trees.

Subsequently, phone calls were made to a number of professionals to get their take on this and while for the most part they don't think there will be any serious harm done, I was surprised that one of them said that the cardboard and cedar would kill all the new plants and would even kill the 3 yr old cedar trees.

There were 3 various reasons given for these concerns.

1. Cedar mulch may acidify the soil. (From what I've read that theory has been pretty much officially debunked, so they were probably just not up to date.)

2. Cedar mulch may use up so much nitrogen while breaking down that it would deprive the plants of their needs and thus eventually kill the plant. Anyone had experience with this?? I never have, but there could be a couple of reasons for that. The mulch I've always used is very coarse so it doesn't break down very quickly. And it is never turned into the soil so even that which does break down is on the surface only. Additionally, plants can be fertilized to make up for this if it is an issue. Does my reasoning make sense?

3. Cedar mulch contains chemicals that act as fungicides which could leach into the soil near the plants. I've never experienced any harm from this, but the theory is that 'some' plants are sensitive to these chemicals. Anyone have any idea which plants might fall into this category?

As to the cedar trees themselves, I can't for the life of me figure out how cedar mulch could be harmful to an established planting of, well, uh, cedar trees. Am I missing something here?

Would appreciate comments as I do NOT want to kill any plants, either new or established.

Thanks!



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PostPosted: Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:40 pm
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2008 10:08 pmPosts: 187Location: Zone 5
Rats. I was hoping someone maybe knew something I didn't. :(

But so far, all the plants are fine. :)



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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 11:20 am
Joined: Wed Feb 08, 2006 6:02 pmPosts: 1927Location: PNW
I doubt you have anything to worry about, especially the nitrogen usage since it sits on top of the soil, as you already suspected.

I have some chipped cedar from a tree that went down and I'm sure it will have all kinds of weeds sprouting in it next spring. I have various plants growing under a big cedar and the only problem some of them have is water competition, but they all grow fine in the cedar debris.

If you've used it successfully for decades, then you know you have nothing to worry about, so maybe you'll teach them a thing or 2.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 11:15 pm
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2008 10:08 pmPosts: 187Location: Zone 5
Hi Luv,

Yes, I'm not terribly worried, but the strong opinions of some shook my confidence a little. It's certainly true about the water competition under cedars. And I think the same could be said about the fertilizer. I don't think it's the cedar debris that's causing it, though, just the shallow root system of cedars competing for nourishment just like it does for water.

The only unwanted seedlings I ever had in my mulch were plants with tap roots. Seems if it's moist enough for the root to get down into the soil under the mulch before the summer heat fries them, then it'll do just fine. For example, my neighbor lets her lupins all go to seed - couldn't believe the numbers of them I had to pull from the mulch this year. Otherwise there's very little problem. A plus is that weeds that do get going in thick mulch are super easy to pull!

I suspect it won't be hard to convince people that cedar's getting a bad rap once I've had a season to show them that all is well. We're new in this area, so no one really knows that I've been building and maintaining landscapes for years. Just need to be patient I guess. :)


Thanks for your comments. Will post here if ever there are any developments of interest.



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PostPosted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:55 pm
Joined: Wed Feb 08, 2006 6:02 pmPosts: 1927Location: PNW
I hope people in your area will learn from you once they see there's no problem.

All big conifers are competition to anything growing near them. We have one big fir that I've tried growing various things near by. It drinks a lot of water! I finally resorted to some some succulents and they're doing fine with very little care. I have a lilac near it that does ok too, with some supplemental water.

I get a variety of weeds in any mulch I use, plus the squirrels love it for storing hazlenuts, so I always have several trees sprouting in the spring. But, as you said, it makes pulling them easier.


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