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ThunderSRQ

Mulch nutritional value

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ThunderSRQ

Does anyone know if there has been a study done or if information is available that shows which type of mulch is best re: the amount and/or quality of nutritional value from the decomposing material? I would like to know if eucalyptus, melaleuca, cypress, pine, oak, etc., is best (although I don't use cypress).

Thanks...

Tim

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Wanderanwills

Hi Tim,

The more woody the pieces are in your mulch the more nitrogen it takes the break it down with microbial activity. This is called nitrogen drawdown. If you like to get technical it is to do with the Carbon/nitrogen ratio, if say woodchip has a high C/N ration it takes more nitrogen to break down and therefore lasts longer.

Straw or compost has a lower C/N ration which breaks down quicker but does not suck lots of nitrogen to break down.

There are so many mulches out there, often the better mulches break down quicker and are better for your plants generally. After a while the more organic material you have in the soil it has the capacity to hold more nutrients.

The main use for mulch is to help conserve moisture in your soil and suppress weeds, it is not really used to add nutritional value, so keep this in mind.

General rule; the woodier the mulch the more it is going to use up your expensive fertilizer to break down, your palms will miss out on some of it!

Hope this helps

Regards

Wanderanwills

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ixigena

Most of time. I use shredded dried bamboo leaf and pine needle to mulch palms, cycads, philodendron and clivia. Don't know the value of nutrition they got.

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ThunderSRQ

I appreciate that input -- I just recently switched to melaleuca mulch (as the "right thing to do" based upon the tremendous amount of this tree that is growing in Florida wetland areas) and it is less woody than the eucalyptus mulch I had been using (so it should be better in regard to not consuming as much fertilizer).

I also have a large pile of mostly pine mulch from some tree work I had done last year but that does have quite a bit of larger wood chunks, so I'll just use that for general use in my planted areas but not directly under around my palms.

The main reason for my inquiry was based upon some stuff I've seen re: mulch-only fertilizer programs for plants -- with the thought being that, within a reasonable amount of time, the regular use of mulch will provide ample nutrient value and no supplemental fertilizer would be needed.

Thanks...

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Ken Johnson

UF research has show that mulch is detrimental to the nutrients available to palms.

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Tyrone

It all depends what goes into your mulch as to it's nutritional value. To avoid nitrogen drawdown, use composted mulch, not something straight out the shredder. However trying to compare the NPK value of mulch to a synthetic fertiliser is actually missing the point of applying mulch. There's more to soil and nutrition than a big gob of synthetic fertiliser in your mix. That's like having a diet of vitamin pills and not eating real food. Mulch and composted organic matter applied to soil either as a top dress or mixed into the soil substrate will add beneficial fungi and bacteria that can not be rated in the same ways as synthetic fert is. Synthetic ferts will not build soil structure, they will, if no other organic matter is added, destroy soil structure. Organic supplements build soil structure, no matter what the original soil was.

Using mulch as a fertiliser will work, BUT, it's extremely slow release. The nitrogen drawdown thing is over rated. Nitrogen drawdown only happens in the first part of the mulch breaking down, as beneficial bacteria consume nitrogen to break down the organic matter. Carbon content is generally the brown materials in mulch and compost, but nitrogen is in the green matter added. When running a compost heap, the hotter it is when breaking down the more nitrogen has been put in the mix. Once it's cooled down, nitrogen draw down has virtually finished.

Palms tend to be heavy feeders, so having a self sustaining, self mulching/fertilising garden is probably not going to happen on a standard suburban block unless you have fairly lush soil. If you're on sand forget it. You will always have to put some nutrient input into the system to produce good growth, either by organic ferts, manures etc or synthetics. I use both. The mulches build soil quality, synthetics put a bang into the soil. You can't over do organics, but you can overdo synthetics. Mulching as much of the leaf fall as possible reduces how much nutrient is being removed from the system.

I hope that helps. Also there's nothing wrong with eucalyptus mulch. I have a Eucalyptus which has self mulched underneath it for 15 years and I have deep organic humus naturally occurring underneath it (I'm on deep sand) and everything loves growing in it. It's the best soil I have.

Best regards

Tyrone

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Tyrone

UF research has show that mulch is detrimental to the nutrients available to palms.

Was Monsanto behind that research? :blink:

That goes against everything I've learned and my own experiences.

Best regards

Tyrone

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ThunderSRQ

Palms tend to be heavy feeders, so having a self sustaining, self mulching/fertilising garden is probably not going to happen on a standard suburban block unless you have fairly lush soil. If you're on sand forget it. You will always have to put some nutrient input into the system to produce good growth, either by organic ferts, manures etc or synthetics. I use both. The mulches build soil quality, synthetics put a bang into the soil. You can't over do organics, but you can overdo synthetics. Mulching as much of the leaf fall as possible reduces how much nutrient is being removed from the system.

I hope that helps. Also there's nothing wrong with eucalyptus mulch. I have a Eucalyptus which has self mulched underneath it for 15 years and I have deep organic humus naturally occurring underneath it (I'm on deep sand) and everything loves growing in it. It's the best soil I have.

Best regards

Tyrone

Thanks for the additional input -- I have very sandy soil, in general, so there is a need for supplemental organic material. And I do try to recycle as much of the leaf-drop from my live oaks as possible -- the soil that has been under this canopy for years is typically the best-looking from anywhere in my yard. Re: the switch from euc. mulch -- it was primarily based upon wanting to use the product being produced from the removal of the melaleuca from Florida wetlands but the mel. mulch is both cheaper as well as a much finer consistency.

And Ken -- if you have a copy of that U. of F. study, please share as that sounds like some very interesting stuff.

Tim

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Ken Johnson

I am not sure where but peeps here have found those studies on line. I saw a presentation on it and it was very interesting. I like to ask loaded questions at these things like when the root guy was talking about the nitrogen fixing fungi in the roots. I asked if man made fertilizers were better at adding nitrogen and he said....why of coarse, fertilizers are the only real good way to get food to palms in Florida ... like I was a fool for asking. I knew already but wanted peeps to hear it from the horses mouth.

When I saw the mulch lecture it was much the same thing. He explained how microbes in the mulch stole most of the nutrients and that it was a good way to starve palms if they had no other source of food. Since there is no 'good" soil in Florida everything we grow here depends on the tiny bit of natural nutrients that are from sources other than the soil AND man made FERTILIZERS.

Yes you can grow without fertilizer at all. I hear people say this all the time but look at thier palms and compare them to ones on the best food money can buy and you will see a huge difference. If you mulch to keep down weeds (they grow in mulch too BTW) and to preserve moisture or build substrate, AND you fertilize you will be able to bypass some of the microbes but no mulch, no other plants growing around (including grass)

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joe_OC

A lot of the wood in the mulch here have been "nitrofied" so there isn't any "nitrogen drawdown". I use compost for mulching as it has gone through the breakdown process and does not rob the palms of nitrogen.

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Tyrone

I agree with you Ken, in that on most soil types unless you're growing plants which are very efficient in the roots anyway in absorbing nitrogen and phosphorus for example (many Australian natives are), mulch alone will not provide the nutrient load you're looking for in the garden especially with palms.

Slow leaf drop that naturally falls and creates mulch will absorb very little nitrogen. Just shredded uniform size tree waste dumped on any garden will cause nitrogen drawdown. What tree just drops small little bits and pieces all the same size? Uniformity doesn't exist much in nature. If you compost your mulch first you minimise any nutrient loss to the garden. However just adding synthetic fert to sandy soils is one way to destroy what little structure and microbial balances you may have. Also when it comes to synthetic fert such as Urea (46% N) a great deal of the nitrogen applied is released to the atmosphere in a small amount of time. A palm garden on sandy soil just fertilised by mulch will have many deficiencies and growth will definitely be poor. A balance between the two extremes of synthetics and organics will create dramatic growth IMO.

Best regards

Tyrone

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joe_OC

Good point, Tyrone. I agree that mulching alone will not provide enough nutrients to the palms. I also fertilize with fish emulsion/seaweed.

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Ken Johnson

I'm with you too Tyrone. Actually one way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone is to apply a nitrogen rich synthetic and then put mulch on top. The mulch may help to stop the evaporation of the nitrogen!

A note to whom ever may read this thread. When palms are grown at thier maximum and they have only soil above thier roots the roots will actually expose themselves to the air. Thats right, the third order root tips will emerge from the soil and be waiting for food like a dog begging. This will not happen if you have bugs in the garden. Bugs, like roaches, eat palm roots like we eat asperagus! Munch munch.

I wish we could have more discussion about palm roots here. They are the most poorly understood part of the plant because they are hidden and out of sight which means out of mind to many.

I will draw some pictures if anyone is interested.

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DoomsDave

Keep in mind that in Ken's 'hood, the "soil" is solid stone, and I'm not exaggerating. The Rock Horror show. Under conditions like that, well, you might have to use chemical ferts.

Here in the Land O La La, we have real soil, with, at worst, only pieces of stone, very different. My palms love the mulch, which decays slowly (including old leaves buried 'neath wood chips . . . ) . . .

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Zeeth

How bout mulch for Hawaii? Does their volcanic soil take up the amendments well?

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Central Floridave

I'm not too sure on the NPK of mulch, but some mulches are better than others to lower the PH of the soil. Most our florida sandy soil are high in PH. I'm a true believer in mulch. I use is obsesively. From oak dropping, to free landfill mulch, to big box bought mulch. I can't get enough of it. Its also ornamental. Its interesting to hear someone is anti-mulch. That amazes me. Unless you live in an area where drainage is poor, or you get plenty of water, I think mulch is very important. If you can keep your palms watered,then mulch isn't as important. I don't have a sprinkler system and have hundreds of palms/ornamentals/fruit trees. If I don't mulch then most of my plants would be dead in one of Florida's infamous droughts. It rains a lot here at times, but we can also go a couple of months with no rain.

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palmislandRandy

Great thread & very informative. I have about 4 inches of "top soil" then fine sand/muck & small rocks. I usually use synthetic fert & cover it with mulch. If I don't use mulch to anchor the fertilizer, it just washes away at the first rain. I've recently been supplimenting with seaweed & fish emulsion, so far so good!

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Wanderanwills

Very good discussion on mulches, I think everyone has covered most of the points relevant to mulch and nutrients.

Mulch is fantastic, use it when ever you can, it makes your soil healthy.

Regards

Wanderanwills

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Daryl

Worms love it too, not to mention it moderates the soil temperature, which in turn minimises moisture loss. The more contant moisture and temperature also increases microbial activity. Overall, soils under mulches are healthier. If you have plants with a high nutrient requirement, then feed them extra...

Daryl

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Lowey

Very good discussion on mulches, I think everyone has covered most of the points relevant to mulch and nutrients.

Mulch is fantastic, use it when ever you can, it makes your soil healthy.

Regards

Wanderanwills

I agree totally, mulch makes for better soil, and in relation to "nitrogen drawdown" soils without mulch lose larger amounts of nitrogen to the atmosphere due to direct sunlight contact.

:)

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sick1166

ummmm so do i put mulch around my palms?

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nomolos

I'm with you too Tyrone. Actually one way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone is to apply a nitrogen rich synthetic and then put mulch on top. The mulch may help to stop the evaporation of the nitrogen!

A note to whom ever may read this thread. When palms are grown at thier maximum and they have only soil above thier roots the roots will actually expose themselves to the air. Thats right, the third order root tips will emerge from the soil and be waiting for food like a dog begging. This will not happen if you have bugs in the garden. Bugs, like roaches, eat palm roots like we eat asperagus! Munch munch.

I wish we could have more discussion about palm roots here. They are the most poorly understood part of the plant because they are hidden and out of sight which means out of mind to many.

I will draw some pictures if anyone is interested.

Yes please :)

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Tyrone

I'm with you too Tyrone. Actually one way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone is to apply a nitrogen rich synthetic and then put mulch on top. The mulch may help to stop the evaporation of the nitrogen!

A note to whom ever may read this thread. When palms are grown at thier maximum and they have only soil above thier roots the roots will actually expose themselves to the air. Thats right, the third order root tips will emerge from the soil and be waiting for food like a dog begging. This will not happen if you have bugs in the garden. Bugs, like roaches, eat palm roots like we eat asperagus! Munch munch.

I wish we could have more discussion about palm roots here. They are the most poorly understood part of the plant because they are hidden and out of sight which means out of mind to many.

I will draw some pictures if anyone is interested.

Yes please :)

Yes, I would like to see too. :)

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BS Man about Palms

I guess its curtains for my yard then.....

Or then again, the FIRST mulching I did over a year ago, here is the first wave prior to spreading , pic taken moments ago...

post-27-12699933898477_thumb.jpg

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Ken Johnson

I will do some drawings of roots in a day or two. I have lots of stories about palm roots that are contrary to popular belief. Seeing is believing and I have seen lots in 26 years of transplanting on a commercial level. For example I know for sure that cut Sabal roots can heal and regenerate as opposed to dieing back to the trunk. (Sorry UF but your studies and reports are a bit missleading)

Here is an interesting observation. None of the comercial nurseries in this area use mulch. Part of the reason may be expence but they also tend to have irrigation or plant in wet areas. We have low lands that have "marl" soils which have no rock (or nutrients) and the best quality palms are heavily ferilized and insecticided.

Anyone around the world ever seen a large palm nursery with field grown material that is mulched?

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Shon

BS,can you bring up that thread Clayton did on mulch a few years back? It must be just a Cali and Aussie thing.

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BS Man about Palms

I know Darold is now a believer in mulch once he found his Lepidorachis ? died from nematodes which could have been solved by simple mulch addition.

I also think there is a wide difference in mulches. From recently ground up tree trimmings right up to "compost". I think the closer you get to compost, the less of a problem it is.

I'll also be the first to admit works in one area, may not work in another.

Didn't you look Shon?Heres a couple interesting threads..

http://www.palmtalk.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=11440&st=0&p=196861&hl=mulching&fromsearch=1&#entry196861

http://www.palmtalk.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=16050&st=0&p=271132&hl=mulching&fromsearch=1&#entry271132

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merrill

Upstream there are cautions about organic matter using up nitrogen nutrients. Generally, the Nitrogen should be applied under the O. M. Otherwise, just apply more N!

merrill

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Zeeth

How about this, using straight up compost as your mulch, and throw down some seaweed, fish emulsion, bone and blood meal, and some slow release ferts and mic it all up. I'm sure this mix wouldn't rob the plant of anything.

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Ken Johnson

How about this, using straight up compost as your mulch, and throw down some seaweed, fish emulsion, bone and blood meal, and some slow release ferts and mic it all up. I'm sure this mix wouldn't rob the plant of anything.

How about saving lots of time and money and just fertilizing with a compleat mix?

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Zeeth

How about this, using straight up compost as your mulch, and throw down some seaweed, fish emulsion, bone and blood meal, and some slow release ferts and mix it all up. I'm sure this mix wouldn't rob the plant of anything.

How about saving lots of time and money and just fertilizing with a compleat mix?

:mrlooney:

Isn't the discussion going on here that doing that is worse in the long run?

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Ken Johnson

How about this, using straight up compost as your mulch, and throw down some seaweed, fish emulsion, bone and blood meal, and some slow release ferts and mix it all up. I'm sure this mix wouldn't rob the plant of anything.

How about saving lots of time and money and just fertilizing with a compleat mix?

:mrlooney:

Isn't the discussion going on here that doing that is worse in the long run?

Not sure what you mean Z. Are you eluding to pollution? If so we have a LONG way to go when you consider farming on a commercial level in Florida. BTW farmers don't use mulch either. Just straigt synthetic fertilizer. The hay in the strawberry fields is to keep the workers knees from beeing hurt by the rocks!

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palmislandRandy

Well, I kinda have to use some sort of mulch due to the nasty appearance of my native soil. I'm growing a garden, not field growing palms for sale. I live in a HOA & can't let my place look like a farm. I tried using small river rock as "mulch" but it keeps getting mixed into the substrate. Ken, the future for your palms is to ultimately end up in someones home garden or maybe in a commercial setting. Do you advise your clients to leave bare soil? If you have to mulch should you add additional N? If so how much & whats the best source? :) Randy

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Ken Johnson

Well, I kinda have to use some sort of mulch due to the nasty appearance of my native soil. I'm growing a garden, not field growing palms for sale. I live in a HOA & can't let my place look like a farm. I tried using small river rock as "mulch" but it keeps getting mixed into the substrate. Ken, the future for your palms is to ultimately end up in someones home garden or maybe in a commercial setting. Do you advise your clients to leave bare soil? If you have to mulch should you add additional N? If so how much & whats the best source? :) Randy

Im with you Randy. I am just pointing out that the NUTRITIONAL value of mulch, which was the topic here, is more negative than positive and I am trying to show some examples of how you can grow very well without mulch.

If I could have any ground cover I wanted in an ornamental setting I would choose an inorganic one. I know it's way outside the box to say this but glass comes to mind. Ornamental beads like marbles are a cool look. Rocks are good but they do sink into the soil as you say. I have seen 'rubber" mulch, that's an option. Soil is ok too is it not? When you think about it mulch is a bunch of ground up crap leftover from some saw mill or something, yuck? Just look at BS Mans front yard above. Thats beautifull? (Sorry Bill)

Any other inorganic ground covers that anyone here can think of? I just remembered one. After hurricane Andrew lots of people used broken roof tiles to "mulch". Yep, outside the box!

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BS Man about Palms

Hey- I didn't say my yard was beautiful, but its better than the weeds...

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MattyB

I was always under the impression that mulch added nutritional value to the soil. In a thick layer of mulch, even just ground up wood chips, the bottom layer composts and is broken down by the microbes and worms turning it into a rich, highly nutritious black material with humic acids and good stuff for plants. Once that process is started, and the initial nitrogen draw down is over or mitigated by adding fertilizer, and you don't allow the bare dirt to become exposed again, you just add more mulch, composted or not, on top and because the mulch isn't touching the dirt it cannot draw nitrogen out of it. Starting with manure or compost on bottom is the best way to get this cycle started and avoid the nitrogen draw down. Wheather or not that whole idea is better nutritionally than lare dirt and fertilizer, I'm not sure. But I know for a fact that in a dry climate like inland Southern California the moisture retaining benefits of mulch is invaluable, and mulched palms do much better on average irrigation schedules than do palms left in bare dirt. Now, if someone wanted to water their bare dirt daily you might have an argument there, but that's not something that we can consider with our water situation. Ken, I'd like to see some of your drawings you're talking about. I suspect that what you're talking about only occurs in humid climates. Here, our adventituous roots often air prune if not given mulch, shade, or otherwise raising the humidity levels creating an optimum environment for them to form.

post-126-12700560571399_thumb.jpg

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Ken Johnson

Matt Dude,

Your pic shows what I was talking about. See the roots coming up from the sand?

Most palm growers never see the roots sticking up because of insects eating them and not so much "air prunning" I think.

If you wash away you layers of moisture retaining mulch and compost I bet you will see roots growing "up".

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MattyB

Weird. I didn't even notice those roots sticking up.

What if the palm is sticking up those roots so that bugs can eat them and then process and poop to make more food for the palm? Ahhhhh?

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Ken Johnson

Bug poop in general is not great fertilizer. Either is seaweed and fish oil BTW. Now crab poop, thats a diferent story. LOL

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MattyB

I think I had crab poop towards the end of our trip.

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