dyedmulchThis week, I have a little follow-up to my rant/diatribe/soapbox-moment from Sunday's GardenLine broadcast about the excessive use of black-dyed mulch in, of all places, The Woodlands.

Ironically, The Woodlands homeowners associations try very hard to control what can and can't be done there to keep things "woodsy" and natural. So, how and why have they allowed so much unnatural dyed mulch to dominate new home construction?

If you're one of my thousands of subscribers living in The Woodlands, print copies of this page and share it with as many neighbors, friends and families as you can. And be sure to include your landscaper, because they seem to be contributing to the problem.

The point is — and it's not just the opinion of a local gardening show blabbermouth (me) — "Wood mulches can slow the growth of established plants and just plain starve new ones to death by 'tying up' the available food in your soil, a process known as "nitrogen immobilization." Those are the exact words of one of the nation's leading experts on mulch — Dr. Harry Hoitink, revered soil scientist and professor emeritus at The Ohio State University.

"Wood is carbon, and carbon always looks for nitrogen to bond with so it can break down into new soil," Hoitink says. "That's the principle behind composting. Wood mulches take that nitrogen right out of the soil, out-competing your nitrogen-needy plants. And dyed mulches ARE THE ABSOLUTE WORST offenders. The wood in these old pallets, chipped up and sprayed with dye, is the worst type of mulch for use around new landscapes ... especially on smaller shrubbery, annuals, perennials and just smaller plants."

BAM!!!! (And THUD! He drops the microphone and walks away!)

I have to give credit where credit is due. I could spend a whole 15-minute segment on the radio trying to explain what Dr. Hoitink compressed into one paragraph.

texasnativemulchHowever, you also need to understand some differences. The double-shredded hardwood mulches I recommend are composed of finely shredded wood mixed with compost. Dyed mulches are nothing more than chips and chunks of wood — neither mixed with anything organic nor shredded at all. You can see the difference in the pictures. Also, I worry about the dye that is obviously leaching into the soil. But since that's hard to see, I'll save that rant for another day. At least I know gardeners can see the sick plants that are almost always brought on by nitrogen immobilization.

Back to the rant. Why are there scores of professional landscapers who don't know this? I can only surmise is that they are just "uneducated!" Well, now that you are educated, please cease the use of black-dyed mulch forever. And remember that the mulches I've recommended for years are Texas-native varieties that also include ample compost, which is beneficial to the soil, not harmful.

A deeper problem is that some landscapers who actually know this stuff are just too lazy to re-educate homeowners ... they don't take the time to explain to customers why dyed mulches should never be used. A homeowner says they want black, and instead of running the risk of losing business, the landscaper simply puts down black mulch. There may also be some just shady enough to know that, after the deadly mulch kills the homeowner's plants, they'll pick up some future replanting business. And there are the major unscrupulous landscapers who know that black-dyed mulch loses its color quickly, so they can count on re-applications throughout the year for a customer who wants a consistent "black look."

Finally, there are landscapers who are, in my opinion, just flat-out idiots. They think it looks good! I'm sorry to tell you, but with 31 years of agricultural/horticultural/landscaping experience in Texas, I don't think it looks classy at all. I say it looks unnatural and inelegant.

The Woodlands is not the only development suffering from this stupidity, but the ultimate insult by those uneducated, lazy, shady, unscrupulous and idiotic landscapers using black-dyed mulch there is that several varieties of the best-looking and au naturel mulches are immediately available right in their own backyard — at Nature's Way Resources (just east of Interstate 45 at FM 1488 - stay on Sherbrook Drive and cross the railroad tracks) and Living Earth Technology (on the eastside feeder of Interstate 45 just south of Highway 242). To make sure you're getting the right stuff at any soil or mulch yard, just ask for their best Texas native mulch.

Oh, and if you're a real estate agent, and you encourage people to use black-dyed mulch to stage a house, shame on you too! Tell them to get a fresh application of Texas native mulch for curb appeal.

Art in the Garden Party

This Saturday we celebrate Arbor Gate's annual Art in the Garden Party.

If you've never been to this event, there are several reasons you should stop by 15635 FM 2920 in Tomball.

First, Mother's Day is Sunday, and you couldn't find a better selection of stuff Mom really wants. You'll discover the works of several local artists there, in addition to nationally recognized talents like Houston Llew. We have several of his spiritiles at the Lemmon house.

I'll have some samples of great GardenLine products to give away. I'll also become part of the Arbor Gate staff the second I get off the air, to walk around and talk with you and answer all your questions. And if I'm tied up with someone, anyone on the staff can help you with tips, suggestions and answers.

They are loaded to the gills with citrus and avocado trees, but probably won't be after this weekend - catch my drift?

They'll have their famous frozen Bellini concoction for everyone to try. I'll have seven, please!

The always-quirky, but wonderfully inspirational Felder Rushing will be there to talk about pass-along plants and "slow gardening."

And don't forget they have every imaginable herb and vegetable you can use to start your garden, plus their one-of-a-kind rose house featuring mostly Earth Kind and native Texas roses. That sorta makes them Texas native plant, rose and herb specialists.

Also note that this will be the last GardenLine event until June 14, which will mark the final GardenLine road trip until fall. So, if you've always wanted to come see us do our thing, or get a signed copy of my book "1001 GardenLine Questions," or if you've finally decided to get a look at this extraordinary garden center that I'm always touting, I expect to see you Saturday morning. The live broadcast is 6-10 a.m., and the doors open at 9. But since you're a GardenLine Insider, tell them at the front gate "I found my green thumb," and they'll let you in as early as 8.

And rest assured, the Arbor Gate doesn't have any dyed mulches for sale.


I just dropped my microphone and walked away, too!