By Al Duby

Mulching, nowadays, has become popular, because of the benefits it brings to the plants and soil in your garden beds. Nevertheless, in certain parts of the country you do need to be careful. That's due to the main ingredient of a widespread type of mulch in these parts being a shredded sawmill waste product, hardwood bark. Before cutting the logs, they are debarked, and the bark was once a big problem for the mills.

The lumber mills may now get rid of the bark as mulch, however, there is still a problem. The lumber mills heap the bark up high to save lots of space, and with little demand for the mulch in winter the piles get really high. The front end loaders drive up on the piles concentrating the pile, which compacts the mulch too tightly, which can end up causing a big problem for your garden. The bark matter will not decompose unless it's supplied with oxygen, and time, which is achieved by air passing through it. If it's excessively compacted there isn't any air flow, causing the mulch to become extremely hot as it decomposes, even to the point of bursting into flames.

The mulch can become toxic on account of the build-up of the hot gases which cannot escape. Aside from the unpleasant smell when you dig into it, there is also a threat to your plants when spreading it around. Your plants could be burn-damaged through the hot, poisonous gas which escapes from the mulch. Spreading this stuff around your plants could cause them to go brown in as little as few minutes. If you happen to get a mulch stack like this and it gets put on your yard it could turn the grass brown. Unfortunately you will only know that the mulch was toxic when you discover the undesirable "browning of the green."

You cannot easily tell bad mulch by the smell, because while it has a strong smell when you dig into it, so does good mulch, and it's not that dissimilar. It might be a little darker in color, so if you suspect a problem, take a couple of shovels full, and set them around your least important plant, and see what happens. Take mulch from much deeper inside the pile for this function, not from the outside. Examine the plant just after at least 24 hours; if perhaps no damage has taken place the mulch can be used with confidence.

This probably is not that significant of a problem, but when it happens to you, you probably would have liked to know about it. Think about putting mulch around your plants with the best of intentions, only to discover they had been burned. Avoid toxic mulch by purchasing from a place you trust and who can give you some type of guarantee or assurance - you do, after all, want to get the benefits of mulching.

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