Red Cedar Mulch with Yellow Tulips

The Pros and Cons of Cedar Mulch

June 3, 2022
Adams Fairacre Farms

Cedar mulch is made from clippings and shavings of the bark of cedar trees. It is a byproduct of the wood industry, as these trees are sought after for their wood. They grow fast and they are fairly straight, which makes the wood and the mulch obtained from them renewable. The mulch itself can be natural or dyed; this is for aesthetic purposes; while the natural color is reddish brown, it is often died black, yellow, dark brown or red, which adds to the decorative value of flower beds and gardens when you use it.

It is used to cover the ground but it cannot be used at all times. In fact, its particular properties, including its insect-repellent smell and effects on the soil, make it excellent for some purposes, but counter indicated for others.

So, cedar mulch is not “any mulch” and you cannot use it as such. This is why we need to talk about its properties, its effects, its uses and also, of course, its drawbacks.

Why Do Gardeners Use Mulch?
The core idea is very simple: Nature covers the soil every time she can. Look around you, when the soil is bare, first come small plants (grasses, musk, even algae), then bigger ones and so forth.

When the soil is not covered it deteriorates. Rainfall, wind, dry conditions and even changes in temperature impoverish the soil, which loses nutrients and organic matter and this is the beginning of the process of desertification.

So, part of the organic revolution is the understanding that if you want fertile soil, you need covered soil.

Reasons Why Mulching Is Good For Your Garden
But let’s look at why mulching is good in detail:

  • Mulch keeps the moisture of the soil. This is why if you go to forward-looking organic gardens, even vegetable farms, you will find plants growing in beds of straw (mostly) or other mulch, especially in hot and dry countries.
  • Mulch keeps the soil temperature steady; as it forms a barrier between the earth and the air, it keeps the soil’s temperature higher. In the soil, there are microorganism that work all the time, and they produce heat. If the heat does not disperse into the atmosphere, your plants’ roots will be kept warmer and safer. Winter mulching is in fact very common with plants that do not tolerate low temperatures.
  • Mulch is a way of controlling weed; grasses find it hard to grow in the dark, and this blanket on top of the ground we call mulch is a cheap and permanent way of having fewer unwanted green guests in your garden.
  • Mulch preserves the nutrients in the soil; that very top layer of soil where microorganisms decompose organic matter needs protection from wind and dry weather and direct sunlight.
  • Mulch can act as a pest control method; not all mulch is equal at this, and cedar mulch is actually the best.
  • Mulch is also used for decorative purposes.

Pros Of Using Cedar Mulch
Cedar mulch has some very particular qualities that can be an advantage for your garden.

  • Cedar mulch lasts long: especially compared with other organic mulches (like straw, for example, but also other bark mulches, like pine mulch), cedar mulch does not deteriorate fast. This means that once you have put it on the soil, it will last even for years.
  • Cedar mulch is an insect repellant; this is possibly the reason why it is a favorite with many gardeners. Insects hate the smell of cedar mulch and they keep at a distance. So, as well as mulching your ground, it also keeps pests at bay.
  • Cedar mulch offers good ground cover; this, of course, is a key quality in any type of mulch.
  • Cedar mulch has a nice natural color; of course, if you are using it in a decorative garden, its warm red-brownish hue is added value.

Cons Of Cedar Mulch
But cedar mulch is by no means perfect; in fact, its downsides are enough to limit how you can use it in your garden:

  • Cedar mulch also repels pollinators and beneficial insects; this is the flip side of its pest control qualities: it will also affect the ecosystem negatively, and, especially if you want your plants to fruit or produce seeds, cedar mulch is not a good choice.
  • Cedar mulch can release acetic acid, which can hurt your plants; this is not a must, it only occurs if the mulch has not received enough oxygen when it is stored after production.
  • Cedar mulch decomposes slowly; hold on, wasn’t this an advantage? Yes, but it is also a disadvantage as in the advanced stages of decomposition, it seeps nutrients into the soil, improving it, and cedar mulch will have a negligible effect in improving soil nutritiousness, unlike other mulches.
  • Cedar mulch loses color fast; this means that the decorative effect will soon diminish.
  • Cedar mulch has a strong smell, which some people find unpleasant.

Natural Or Died Cedar Mulch?
We said that you can get cedar mulch in its natural color or dyed. While red, yellow, brown or black mulch can look great in your garden, it does have a major disadvantage: the dye uses chemicals that will end up in the ground and ultimately even inside your plants.

This is bad for the environment, of course, but also for your plants and, if you intend to harvest them to eat, for yourself and your family.

When To Use And Not To Use Cedar Mulch?
But how and where is cedar mulch used exactly?

  • Cedar mulch is used for paths and dog walks; this is arguably its best use. Because you do not need the soil to regenerate and because the mulch does not risk affecting your plants, this is a very safe use of cedar mulch.
  • Cedar mulch is also used to cover soil around plants and in flower beds. This is very common, but there is controversy about using it in flower beds. The reason is that some people believe that cedar mulch produces allelopathic substances, chemicals that plant roots do not like.
  • Cedar mulch can be used with well established plants; there is a degree of safety on this that, at this moment in time, can be trusted.
  • It is safer to avoid cedar mulch with seedlings, small plants and newly germinated plants.

Finally, A Very Important Point
Do not use cedar mulch if you want to invite pollinators and regenerate the ecosystem, especially in flower beds, but not just. Even a path can become a barrier to the natural corridors beneficial insects use to move from plant to plant.

As you can see, the actual uses of cedar mulch are restricted. With the wide range of mulches available, choose carefully according to your needs, your plans, your land and, naturally, your planting.

On the whole, the best use of cedar mulch is to cover paths and for large flower beds or trees; it is durable, it is pleasant to look at and, given its price, you may want to keep it for the most decorative elements of your garden.

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