This Spring Beware of Toxic Mulch

Have you ever spread out new mulch on your garden only to later find some of your plants have turned brown or died? We explain  explains why some mulch is toxic and how to identify it before you buy it.

All Year Gardening Care

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Mulching beds has become extremely popular these days, and mulch is so beneficial to your plants and the soil, but there are things you need to look out for.

When you open a bag of new mulch or if you are making your own there are five critical signs to watch

  1. Does the mulch smell sweet, perhaps of soil or grass clippings?
  2. Is there a sour smell?
  3. Can you smell vinegar?
  4. Is there a bad odor such as rotten eggs or nail polish?
  5. Does the mulch have a low pH, lower than 5.6

Toxic mulch results from poorly managed mulch often due to insufficient aeration and build up of toxic substances that you can smell, even take your breath away

All Year Gardening prevention is better than cure however if you have added the toxic mulch to your soil, remove as much as you can and then give the plants a good watering.

There is no need to throw the toxic mulch away. You just need to add air to the mix, so spread out on a mat and after a couple of days it will be good to use. First, take the precaution and do a pH test or give it a pleasant smell.

The pH level of the soil refers to its acidity or alkalinity, and each plant has its preferred value range. You can do a test pH with kitchen ingredients or buy a soil tester.

Here are a couple of videos to help you decide the type of testing that will work for you.

Kitchen Ingredient Testing

Testing soil with a pH meter, the right way.

The pH of your soil will also affect its fertility. Each plant has its own preferred pH value range. Learning how to test your soil is a good gardening habit to learn to understand your soil for the most suitable nourishment of your plants.

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Soil Basics – Creating Fertile, Healthy Soil

Have you ever looked at the soil in your garden and considered it as anything more than soil?  There is a lot more there than meets the eye.

All life on earth is dependant on it either directly and indirectly. This includes the plant life in your garden. All of your plants depend on soil to hold them in place and to hold nutrients and water that the plant needs. Soil also supports other types of life as well. Microorganisms and insects live in the soil, and they in turn aid plant life by helping to decay organic material and adding structure to the soil.


What is Soil Made of?

The four major components of soil are mineral matter, organic matter (humus), water and air. Mineral matter refers to the stones, gravel and makes up to 40%-60% of its volume. Organic matter (humus) is the decayed remains and waste products of plants and animals and has a great effect on the chemical properties of the soil, e.g., availability of nutrients. Almost 40%-60% of a soil’s volume can be space, and this is occupied by water and air.

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Different Types of Soil Texture

The following are the most common classes of soil texture:

Clay soil
Contains a high percentage of clay particles and feels lumpy to the touch. The small size of the clay particles means that they clump together quite readily and there is less room for air spaces. Consequently, clay soils have poor drainage and do not hold nutrients very well. This is a heavy soil and is sticky when wet making it hard to work with. As much as possible you should take steps to improve the drainage of this type of soil. You will learn how later on in this article.

Silty Soil
Contains a high percentage of silt particles and feels smooth to the touch. This soil is a well-drained soil due to the size of the particles allowing space for water to permeate. This soil holds nutrients more readily than clay soil due to the spaces. It is easy to cultivate but can be compacted quite easily.

Sandy soil
Contains a high percentage of sand particles and feels gritty to the touch, Allows for quite a lot of space in between particles and as a result is very free draining. This has its disadvantages however as it does not hold water and essential nutrients can get washed away.

Loamy Soil
This is the best type of soil texture you can have in your garden, its a mixture of equal parts of clay, silt, and sand. It is well drained but does not loose water too quickly as is the case with sandy and sometimes silty soils. The fact that it retains water means it also retains nutrients for your plants to use. It has a great structure and is easy to cultivate.

A soil that retains nutrients and allows water and air to permeate it will be beneficial for the life of your plants.

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How to Create Healthy Soil For Your All Year Gardening Pleasure

No matter what type of soil you have the addition of organic matter will work wonders for its health. Organic matter is plant and animal residues in varying forms of decomposition.

It will replenish the nutrients in your soil and improve its texture. You may have heard countless times about adding your leftovers and glass clippings to a compost heap. This is a great idea as your compost is the best form of organic matter. Compost in an advanced stage of decomposition (dark and without the smell) is magic for your soil.


It encourages microorganism activity causing soil particles to clump together and form aggregates. The aggregates allow for spaces in the soil, therefore, increasing its drainage. This is especially beneficial for clay soils, which have poor drainage. Other forms of organic matter are animal manure and peat moss.

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For the “How To” on Composting, click here for steps, explanation videos and more. 

Adding organic matter on a regular basis is probably one of the most important things we can do. Adding compost, cover crops and animal manure can do many things:

  • increases the soil’s capability to hold nutrients
  • makes food available to plants over a longer period
  • lessen the number of nutrients lost by erosion or leaching
  • provides micro-nutrients that are needed by plants in small amounts
  • release soil nutrients for beneficial microorganisms
  • increases the water-holding capacity for sandy soils
  • increase the drainage of clay soils
  • saves money

The application of mulch usually occurs around the start of each growing season. During the early stages of germination, helping plants and seedlings and seed to grow quickly and strong.Gardening

If your soil is lacking in nutrients and you don’t have access to a compost heap you have a choice of using inorganic or organic fertilizers.

Inorganic fertilizers (inorganic salts, manufactured chemically) can be purchased at your local garden and are applied in a dry form that is raked lightly at the base of a plant or in a liquid form.

While inorganic fertilizers will work fine they have some disadvantages: they release their nutrients too quickly, and there is some evidence to show that plants develop resistance to inorganic fertilizer methods over time, requiring more and more to achieve the same effect.

Organic fertilizers are more in tune with nature because they are created from the remains or by-product of an organism. They act slower but they ‘amend’ the soil rather than the quick ‘feeding’ it like inorganic fertilizers.

Do not apply fertilizer to lawns until we get a good soaking rain, and for the best, safest, long-lasting results use organic fertilizers. The wet soil puts the nutrients into a solution and helps distribute the nutrients to the plant roots to be absorbed.

Soil like a lot of things in the garden requires maintenance. We have learned about the different types of soil texture, what constitutes a fertile, healthy soil and how to create it if it does not exist. The next step is to step out into your garden, take a look at your soil and help your plants out if your soil is of poor quality.

All gardeners are to be custodians of the soil; we need to treat it like we want to be treated, not like dirt.


For the “How To” on Composting, click here for steps, explanation videos and more.