Learn / Ask The Landscape Professional
Every year I worry about using colored mulch, is it safe?
My short answer is definitely do not use
dyed mulches. There are too many unknowns
to be certain they are OK. No one, including
the people who sell them, can be absolutely
certain of what chemicals and ingredients are
in the dyes, so that is unsettling. The real worry
however, is the safety of the wood used in the
dyed mulch and the possibility of contamination
with toxic substances. The wood source for
a majority of dyed mulch is ground-up wood
pallets, packing crates, waste wood, wood from
demolished buildings and wood diverted from landfills. Some of the recycled waste
wood used for making dyed mulch is contaminated with various chemicals, such as
creosote and CCA (chromated copper arsenate). CCA contains arsenic as a major
ingredient and was used in pressure-treated wood up until 2003. Even though you
cannot buy pressure-treated wood with CCA today, there is most certainly still some
in the waste stream. Consumers also worry whether the recycled wood was previously
painted with lead-based paint or if anything toxic leaked onto the chopped up
packing crates and pallets.
Another issue with dyed mulches, according to Ohio State Professor Emeritus
Dr. Harry Hoitink, is that dyed mulch is especially deadly when used around young
plants or in brand new landscapes because it takes nitrogen right out of the soil,
out-competing the nitrogen-needy plants. The wood in these old pallets - chipped up
and sprayed with dye - is the worst type for use around plants.
So what do you do? Use natural ground bark mulch that has no dyes. You can
easily tell the natural mulches because they have non-uniform coloring, i.e., various
shades of brown, and they smell pleasant - like wood. If mulch has an odd smell or
stains your hands, stay away from it.
Sprigs & Twigs sells non-dyed brown hemlock blend organic mulch in bulk deliveries
of 10 yards or more. Call the office at (860) 235-0752 for details.
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About Linda Lillie
Linda K. Lillie is the President of Sprigs & Twigs, Inc, the premier
landscape design and maintenance, tree care, lawn care, stonework, and carpentry
service provider in southeastern Connecticut since 1997. She is a graduate of
Connecticut College in Botany, a Connecticut Master Gardener and a national
award winning landscape designer for her landscape design and landscape installation work.