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Does creosote bush / chaparral compost and mulch well  RSS feed

 
Dan alan
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Location: Tyler Texas
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forest garden greening the desert
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Does creosote bush decompose ok? Can it be used for mulch and compost?

In our part of the Chihuahua desert that is about the only thing in abundance besides dry heat. If I put a thick layer of creosote bush leaves on the swale will it break down ok? How about the wood?

 
John Elliott
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Creosote breaks down just like anything else; the only problem is there is very little water to aid that decomposition process. The bacteria and fungi that do the decomposition sporulate (go dormant) when it gets too dry for them. So they may be open for business for a few weeks during the rainy season. The take the rest of the year off and so the creosote leaves and twigs and the other chaparral just sit there. Maybe the UV of the hot desert sun breaks them down a little -- but not much.

If you bury it, that might keeps it moist longer, shortening the decay time. The other thing you can do is water right after sundown. But you are never going to be able to replace what transpires during the day.

Maybe the better thing to do with your creosote twigs and other brush is to turn it into biochar. The advantage biochar has over organic mulch materials is that the mulches will decompose quickly (when the water is available), but the biochar won't, and it still can retain water in the soil.
 
shauna carr
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Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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I know that the roots of the creosote seem to be allelopathic, so wherever it's growing, you're going to have trouble growing other plants in the same area (a small comment on this: http://mojavedesert.net/plants/shrubs/creosote.html )


- creosote leaves have a waxy coating, so it will take longer to break down. Shredding seems to help waxy leaves break down faster, I understand.

- the creosote is used pretty commonly by local people for medicinal purposes and is considered a relatively good antibacterial and anti fungal. But with that as a property of the leaves (not the bark or wood), I wonder if there might be some inhibition of bacteria and fungal growth in mulch with too many creosote leaves, potentially?

- creosote oil is also used as a termite deterrent on wood, so it might have some effect on insect populations in the mulch, as well. I don't know much about this; I just thought it might be one avenue that could use research before using a lot of creosote leaves for compost, you know? There are warnings about not using creosote treated wood for mulch, as well, but I believe there is an intensity issue with that more than simply creosote itself. Not entirely sure, though

 
John Elliott
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shauna carr wrote:I know that the roots of the creosote seem to be allelopathic



The keyword there is seem. There is some difference of opinion on that, several researchers holding to the thesis that creosote is just so good at sucking up any available moisture after a rain that it seems like nothing else can grow around it. Actually, creosote seems to grow very well along with the bursage, Ambrosia dumosa, with the bursage first colonizing a patch of ground and then the creosote using it as a nurse plant and evicting it later. No problem for the bursage, because it is a short-lived plant, but the creosote can go on to live for thousands of years in a ring of clone plants.

Another thing to point out here is that "creosote" originally meant the tarry stuff you find up chimneys, i.e., wood tar and later coal tar, both of which were used to preserve wood. Somehow, someone who first encountered the waxy leaves of Larrea tridentata was reminded of creosote tar and started calling the plant "creosote bush" and the name stuck. You probably could extract wood tar from heating up Larrea twigs and catching the smoke, but it probably would not be a very productive effort and you would be better off looking for some pine branches. I can generate a lot of creosote tar when I put pine refuse in my biochar cooker.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Loving the responses so far.

Just adding this note. In his online PDC, geoff lawton talked about "chop and drop" in drylands. Basically he said you had to time your trimming with the rains (kinda tricky where we don't get much rain!) This will provide needed moisture for decomposition. Also, cutting things up small will help as will mixing in something juicier like kitchen waste. It is hard to get things to decompose in the desert - that's for sure!
 
John Polk
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As has been brought up several times in this thread, the big keys to breakdown are moisture & fineness.

A log, in a tropical rainforest will break down much quicker than it would in the same temperatures in a desert.
That same log, run through a chipper/shredder, would break down probably 10:1 quicker in either environment.

Many people on this forum don't like chipper/shredders (including Paul).
I, personally, look at them as great time savers.
I can break down material in 1/10th the time it would take Mother Nature to do the same thing.
Also, if I am transporting material from off site (or even on site,) I can transport 10X the amount of material in any given trip.


In the tropics, where things break down quickly, chopping is not so much needed.
In an arid region, I think that chipping/shredding is almost a necessity.

 
shauna carr
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I wonder in some instances, in arid regions, if taking advantage of insect populations for breaking down wood might be able to be utilized effectively, especially if chopping things into fine pieces is more difficult for whatever reason.

Termites around here are great at breaking down the wood quickly and loosening up the soil - I've accidentally left wooden stakes in the ground and had them eaten through in a few months, in my yard. I know these are not populations we want around wooden framed houses, but away from the house, it might also be a useful tool in breaking down wood.

 
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