Where can a gardener find safe mulch… for free… in this crazy world?
Long-time reader Wendy asks where to find safe mulch for her gardens:
“Good Morning, David!
Do you have any resources for getting free mulch delivered to your house from tree trimmers or someplace else? What do you think about that idea?
Diseased trees, lead, other toxins, allelopathic trees/plants concern me somewhat.
I want to use wood chips for:
1. huge compost heap to let break down into soil for later to use in annual vegetable beds
2. mulch for perennial edible beds
3. path cover (over cardboard) between raised beds and other beds
I’ve used free mulch from the city (st. petersburg, fl) and it was ok but there is a fair amount of rocks, concrete, soda tabs, large-ish wood chunks, palm branch bits, and some glass in there. And I don’t know what kind of unwanted residues (pesticides, lead, herbicides from grass clippings) are in there, if any. http://www.pinellascounty.org/solidwaste/mulch.htm
I spent a little time trying to google if allelopathic trees are common in my area to see if it’d be a concern in free mulch I may find. I didn’t find much information.
Do you have any experience with abouttrees.com? That seems cool if it works and is not a scam 🙂
Have a lovely Thursday!
Wendy in St. Petersburg”
Where To Find Free Mulch
First I’ll cover where to get free mulch.
City mulch supplies are a mixed bag for sure.
When I lived in the town of Smyrna, TN (may it be consumed by a volcano and/or swarms of demonic locusts), I got an entire dump truck load of mulch delivered from the municipal waste facility in the neighboring city of Murfreesboro. There was some trash in it we had to pick out, but overall it was great stuff and the gardens thrived on it.
That was almost ten years ago, however, and before the scourge of aminopyralid
Diseases and invasive species can also find their way to your property via municipal mulch supplies.
The main reason is because lots of people contribute to the municipal yard waste recycling program… and some of those people are less careful than others. When raking and bagging your yard, it’s easy enough to end up with the occasional beer can in the pile of pine needles… or some candy wrappers… or a Budweiser bottle.
And that’s just the inorganic stuff. It’s a pain (sometimes literally) to find shards of metal or glass in your garden, but it’s not a big deal compared to some of the chemicals you may encounter.
I tend to be pretty lax with the organic material I allow into my garden. I’m not that scared of invasive species or plant diseases, since I garden in an anarchistic and very dense manner. There are lots of checks and balances in the ecosystems I create, so if something finds its way, it’s not likely to overrun everything.
What I am scared of are persistent herbicides. After my nasty run-in with Grazon(TM) a few years ago, I look sideways at anything that might contain that nasty plant-destroying poison. Fortunately, it’s most common in manure, hay and straw, which are not typically components of yard waste.
“The weedkillers (phenoxy herbicides) used in weed ‘n feed products are persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances linked to cancers and to reproductive, immunological and neurological problems. Some of the herbicides in chemical weed ‘n feeds—especially 2, 4-D—have been linked to increased rates of cancer in people and dogs.”
Yeah, I don’t like that kind of thing. Lawns are pretty toxic places in America.
My Favorite Source of Safe Mulch
I’ve found the best source for mulch is the tree companies that prune along the powerlines. That’s where I got about six loads of good stuff for my food forest, and I knew exactly what was in it.
Pines, oaks, hickory, cabbage palms, wild grape vines – all the wild stuff that grew along the edge of the road – and no grass clippings!
As a side benefit, mushrooms love turning that tree mulch into soil.
My Second Favorite Source of Mulch
The second source I’ve found for mulch is more of a pain to gather, but worth it.
Leaves and yard waste that haven’t been picked up by the city yet but are beside the road = fair game!
I’ll look in the tops of bagged leaves to see if the bags contain grass clippings. If they don’t, I nab them.
Just a couple of days ago I also dragged a green yard waste bin into my Dad’s backyard to add the contents around the fruit trees in the food forest. It was filled with pine needles, some hardwood leaves and some pine cones. Good stuff, once I picked out a few pieces of trash from the bottom.
When I see neighbors trimming their trees, I ask for the logs and the leaves. Though they break down slowly and aren’t great for mulching, they are excellent sources of long-term fertility for the garden. I put random chunks of logs right around fruit trees and buried into garden beds as moisture/mineral sources and fungi repositories.
I’ve even had good luck with leaving a big pile of rough sticks and leaves in my yard to rot, them stomping it down into usable mulch a couple years later after it rotted enough to become brittle.
Allelopathic Trees In Mulch
I’ve mixed a bunch of different species together into my compost piles without paying much attention and have never seen any issues. I didn’t add black walnut, granted, but I’ve read that some of the species that grow in my neighborhood and were in the mulch dropped on my food forest were allelopathic
… but again, it was a big mix of stuff. Nature sorted it out for me. I have a feeling that small to moderate amounts of allelopathic trees won’t make much difference in your gardening. It might even be good for it. Plant homeopathy?
seems like a good idea if it works. I haven’t had any experience with them, but it doesn’t look like a scam so far as I can tell.
The creator writes:
“Mark is an arborist that REALLY love tinkering with computers too! For the past fifteen years he wasted thousands of gallons of fuel hauling wood chip mulch, a valuable byproduct of his business, across the city only to dump it in landfills.
Neighbors would often come up to him requesting it, but many times he would have to knock on doors to see who wanted it.(Mark really didn’t like that part…)On hot Georgia days, covered in sweat and sawdust and breathing the fumes of that non-air conditioned chipper truck, Mark had plenty of time to think how much fuel he was wasting to get those loads of mulch to the dump. Even worse was that he knew that there were people close by that would want it but he didn’t know who they were because he only had access to his own list of wood chip requests, and not the list of other tree services.And even more frustrating was when he finally was working in an area where people had called in to request mulch, the majority of times they already had their request filled by a someone else.He felt there had to be a better way. He finally saw real the problem. MULTIPLE LISTS!He saw that tree services maintaining their own separate list was a HUGE waste of time, not only for the tree services, but also for the client who had to make tons of phone calls to tons of tree services for only one single delivery.
So he decided to trade his hardhat for his website development hat. (Well, actually it was his project manager hat because Mark hates coding!)
He found the best Atlanta Ruby Developers and the result is our free mulch app!”
The problem with ideas like this is getting enough people to sign on. Why not try and see? It seems like a rather elaborate and niche to be scam – I can’t imagine the benefit to the scammer.
Unless he’s a psycho-killer who really has a thing against organic gardeners.
Tomorrow I’ll be back with some great photos from Wendy’s garden in St. Petersburg. It’s beautiful and you’re going to love it.