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off-site mulch concerns & questions

 
pollinator
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Location: Colorado Plateau, New Mexico
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We will be pushing mulch this year, on the 5 acres around our house and outbuildings. We will need a lot of mulch. Ideally we would get mulch from our own site, but we have a challenged dryland mesa. Most of the deadwood is piñon die-off, and they recommend you burn it because of bark beetles. We do have some dead shrubbery we could probably use.

[We plan to use piñon logs for firewood, and the smaller bits for biochar. We do also plan to fill our septic drainfield trench with piñon branches and large woodchips (vermicompost septic http://www.vermicompostingtoilets.net/ ). We think under the earth cap and populated by all the good microbes they should be OK there. But we don't plan to spread them on the ground.]

So for the land we are planning to get free woodchip mulch from the area landfills, and maybe to use chopped straw mulch in some areas.

I have angst about bringing this stuff in. Does straw often have anything problematic in it? I see that there are folks on permies who do bring in wood chips from tree trimming services etc which dump for free... have any of you had problems yourselves from using these types of outside materials?

A fortunate thing about where we live is it is very rural and dry, so there aren't any "bright green lawn maintenance" issues to worry about with outsourced materials. An unfortunate thing about where we live is that it is hard to find things like organic straw.

Here is what we will be using the mulch & wood chips for:

wood chip berms on contour to decrease sheet erosion and slow water to encourage infiltration
wood chips on pathways to retain moisture and prevent wind erosion
wood chips in beds around newly planted shrubs and trees (natives and/or low-water except in greywater and septic infiltration beds)
straw mulch around smaller plantings (veg garden)
straw mulch or natural erosion cloth (woven coconut coir or sisal or something) to protect native seeding on some disturbed slopes

I'm interested in hearing any advice based on your experience!

[we have had one "official" say that it is OK to use piñon mulch if the tree has been dead a few years; everyone else has said you have to cut & burn... any solid info on that would be helpful too]

Thanks in advance!
 
pollinator
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Location: WNC 7b
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Good questions and concernes Kimi.
I have used off site mulch and straw/hay from our animals. So far I have no seen adverse effects. Tomatoes grow very well for us. Been growing in the this recent spot for 5 years. Perhaps not enough acumination of herbicides has set in to reduce our harvests.

I compost all straw/hay before use. Then it goes right to the garden.

On an interesting note, when i was an arborist they did a study on fresh woodchips around shrubs/trees and found not a significant decrease in nitrogen availability to plants. This was once a thought, that the composting woodchips we draw out nitrogen as they decompose. Bring on the fresh woodchips.

hopefully others will chime with more experience.
 
master steward
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I can't help by experience, but I found a reference about the bark beetle that may be of help: According to this Colorado bark beetle guide the beetles only feed on live wood, so chipping the dead trees will not affect their presence one way or another. Removing the dead trees seems to be more to do with tidiness and fire hazard avoidance, so if suitable I think you could chip any dead trees you have quite safely.

You could reduce the amount of mulch required by looking for stones for path mulching - they will be longer lasting. Although perhaps in an arid climate wood chips will last a long time for you?
 
author & steward
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I visit a lot of gardens while on book tours. The most common failure point that I observe is that people bring in chips or mulch from outside, then their plants die from symptoms looking like herbicide poisoning.
 
Kimi Iszikala
pollinator
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Location: Colorado Plateau, New Mexico
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Nancy Reading wrote:I can't help by experience, but I found a reference about the bark beetle that may be of help: According to this Colorado bark beetle guide the beetles only feed on live wood, so chipping the dead trees will not affect their presence one way or another.



Thank you so much for all of the quick and thorough replies! I appreciate all of you.
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