crusted mulch

Charlotte, NC

I have recently applied hardwood mulch to my flower gardens. It seems to have formed a hard crust. It certainly stops the weeds but the flowers seem to be suffering. I also noticed there are no earthworms now and there were tons of them when I planted the flowers. Has anyone experienced this? Is there anytihing I might mix in to ammend the mulch and keep it broken up? I hate to have to remove all of the mulch. Thank you Marian

Selma, NC(Zone 7b)

Try spreading used coffee grounds and adding some Plant-tone. That will help it break down faster and counter any nitrogen deficiency it may be causing. You will still probably need to fluff it up from time to time to allow better water penetration. I used it last year this way with no ill effects.

Jackson, SC(Zone 8a)

i use itt in my yard and make sure i leave about an in or two away from the plants so water can get to them and air also. i never put anything up close to them including the mulch.

i have a few that are suffering but its due to our high weather temps. my yard is even looking bad due to lack of water.

i also fluff mine up now and agian just to let more air in.

Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

mpszz, I'm not sure what you did you "apply" the mulch?

If it is on top of the soil it should be protecting the soil and keeping it from becoming a hard crust.

How much mulch did you apply? A handfull? One inch thickness? Two inches thick, etc?...

Did you turn the mulch into the soil (tilling it in) or did you apply it to the top surface?

Just curious.

As for adding coffee ground and Plant-tone in an effort to break down the mulch...I'm just not sure why someone would do that. The mulch is there to be used as a mulch and its goal is to not be broken down quickly. "Mulch" is something applied to the top of the soil and seldom has an affect on N deficiency. However, you're on the right track, Chamthy, if Marian incorporated it into her soil then yes, definitely, it would not only be stealing N from the plants but would also be heating up the ground as it decomposes.

Marian, could you give us a little more info so we can give you more precise answers for your particular situation.

And by the way, a hearty WELCOME TO DG! Hope to see you around the site!


Charlotte, NC

Thank all of you for your help. I am so glad to have found this site. I applied approx 2" of hardwood mulch on top of the soil. I have used hardwood mulch before with no problem. I did not till it into the soil. In order to dig a hole, I first have to break through the crusted mulch to get to the soil. I can not scrape away the mulch with my hand. I did notice the mulch had a very unpleasant odor. Could I have gotten bad mulch? It was bagged mulch. The vinca is turning yellow and other plants don't seem to be doing well. Thank you for your help. marian

Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

Well, personally, I've never seen mulch crust up. I keep wondering if there was something mixed in with it. I'm sorry this is happening to you, or rather to your plants. However, is there a chance you can remember the brand name/bag name of the "mulch"? It really seems very much out of the ordinary.

Or, on the other hand, if you can't even scrape away the mulch, is there a chance it wasn't mulch to begin with? After all, bagged "mulch" is usually just chipped bark. (My goodness, I 'm thinking you should go back to the store where you bought it and complain.)

As for your vinca turning yellow...if there is a chance the bark chips/mulch was applied too thickly you may be suffocating the plants. Can you try some quick relief by applying some fish emulsion (foliar) or the like to help revive the plants? And, by they way, if you applied 2 inches of hardwood mulch, how big were the plants when you applied it? That info would help.

Also, what is the soil like where you planted? Clay? Moist? Dry? Near a house foundation? In a new garden bed? Did you amend it with anything..fertilizer, compost, etc? Have the plants gotten ample rainfall/watering? Have the temps been warm at nite as well as during the day?
In other words, it may be something other than the mulch that is coming into play here.


Cullowhee, NC(Zone 6b)

I would be very worried about what's in that mulch.

Vegas,NV Filbert, SC(Zone 7b)

Crunchy mulch from a bag is very common here. Usually it is old mulch from the previous season that the store is trying to get rid of. It dried out and for some reason it doesn't seem to allow water to penetrate it afterwards. Have had it happen to me only with a couple bags but found that tilling it in gets rid of the crusty layer and just adds to the volume in the bed which still requires a mulching cover. Tested it the first time and it held NO nutrients according to the extention service here. They did take the name of the store I purchased it from and said they would keep an eye on it.

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