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April 18, 2008 at 1:38 pm #27663
Welcome, Leigh Anne, to A Way to Garden.
I used to use bagged mulches, including cocoa hulls, many years ago. I have since switched to local materials I can have delivered in bulk, sans plastic bags (and minus all the fuel used in processing and trucking of bagged stuff across the nation to my local garden center). I think that environmentally, it’s important to buy locally when you can, especially with bulky items.
Cocoa hulls can be very high in potassium, which can be a problem for some plants in some soils, and as you noted, they may be toxic to pets if they are swallowed. So those factors added to the "buy local" environmental argument put them on my "no" list today.
However, they have many of the qualities I want in a mulch, which is probably why you like them: They are dark in color (I am a real fanatic about those hideous orangey dyed mulches, or against and dyed mulch in fact). They are fine textured so they look good on the beds; they are not going to sit there and never break down like those big hunks of bark (which I call "baked potato mulch" because they look like giant spuds sitting on the ground to me).
By the way, I agree cocoa hulls are hard to spread and either blow away or clump together if the bag got wet (sometimes they can be moldy in damp weather, too).
What I use is a composted stable bedding product–a local agricultural byproduct from horse or dairy farms that has been allowed to age. It’s simply wood shavings (not too fine, not too coarse) that farmers put on the floors of animal stalls to absorb manure and urine, and then muck out and compost. I expect you can find a local source via your county cooperative extension office; look at this website for a better sense of the kind of product I am talking about: http://sweetpeet.com/.
And for more details about pros and cons of different mulches, try the Cornell Cooperative Extension website (from NY State):
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