Are you looking to add some mulch to your landscape to make the yard and garden look more attractive? If so, you are probably considering cedar mulch as one option.
So, is cedar mulch better than regular mulch? Cedar mulch has several advantages over regular mulch. Cedar mulch repels some types of bugs, including moths, ants, termites, and cockroaches. Cedar mulch also lasts longer because it takes more time to break down than pine and other types of wood. Best of all, cedar mulch will not harm existing plants in your garden or landscape.
Of course, repelling insects and lasting a long time are great benefits, but cedar mulch has much more to offer.
In this article, we’ll look at cedar mulch and its benefits. We’ll also answer some questions about cedar mulch and mention some alternatives.
Let’s get going.
Is Cedar Mulch Better Than Regular Mulch?
Cedar mulch is better than regular mulch, since it does have some advantages over regular mulch, such as:
- Cedar mulch lasts longer than other mulches (you won’t have to replace it as often, which reduces the work needed for your garden).
- Cedar repels some insects (including moths, ants, termites, and cockroaches).
- Cedar mulch does not harm other plants (so you can use it in landscaping or gardening).
Often, when we hear “mulch”, we think of chipped or shredded wood from pine, oak, or other types of trees. However, cedar is an attractive alternative when mulching in your yard.
Using cedar mulch in your landscaping makes for easier maintenance, since it does not need to be replaced as often as other types of mulch.
This is because cedar decays slower than these other types of wood. This is due to the fact that cedar contains natural oils that preserve the wood and help it to resist the elements.
Cedrol is one natural oil found in cedar that helps it to resist rotting. Cedrol also acts as an antiseptic and insecticide.
The natural oils in cedar mulch repel a variety of insects, including:
- Carpet beetles
Cedar also has a pleasant aroma, which is another benefit of using it as a mulch.
With all of these benefits comes one drawback: cedar mulch is more expensive than other types of mulch.
Does Cedar Mulch Keep Bugs Away?
Cedar mulch can help to keep bugs away due to the oil cedrol, which is a natural insecticide. To keep bugs away from your yard, garden, or house, create a perimeter around the area you want to protect.
Unlike some other types of wood, cedar mulch does not attract bugs. In fact, according to Penn State University, cedar is one type of plant that has been proven as an insect repellent.
So, if you have termite problems in or around your home, use fresh cedar wood chips to landscape near your house.
In your garden, avoid using cardboard or keeping it outside near the house. Cardboard is softer and much easier for termites to eat than wood, and as a result, it is a much more tempting food for them.
In general, mulch will not attract bugs, but cedar mulch actively discourages many insect pests.
Does Cedar Mulch Break Down?
Cedar will break down eventually, just like any other wood. However, the decomposition process will take much longer than it does for other types of wood.
The same natural oils that repel insects also work to preserve cedar and protect it from decay due to the elements.
As with most materials, cedar mulch will break down faster if it is in smaller pieces. Thin shavings will break down the fastest, chips will decompose slower than shavings, and large chunks will last the longest of all.
“Wood chips are usually completely decomposed within 2 years.”https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/mulch/
However, cedar will probably last longer than this.
If you want your cedar wood chips to last longer, keep them above the surface of the soil that they cover. If you mix cedar wood chips into the soil, they will break down faster.
“Chipped mixed woods will break down faster, especially if leaves are mixed in. These mulches should be applied to a depth of 2 to 3 inches on the perennial vegetables.”https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/select_the_right_vegetable_garden_mulch
In addition, using mulch made from bark nuggets instead of wood chips will usually make your mulch last longer. According to the Oregon State University Extension:
“Wood chips (Figure 8) are made from the heartwood of a tree, as opposed to its bark … Wood chips generally break down faster than bark nuggets of similar size.”https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1629/html
Unfortunately, time will eventually take its toll, and cedar will fade from its natural red to gray, even if it is painted or dyed before you buy it. According to the Oregon State University Extension:
“Wood chips have a very light color but turn gray as they age.”https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1629/html
However, wood chips may not always age and turn color at the same rate.
Does Cedar Mulch Change Color?
Cedar is naturally red in color, and fresh cedar mulch will have the same color. However, cedar and other wood chips are sometimes dyed or painted to give them brighter or more striking colors, such as:
- Bright red
These dyes and paints add colors that make for a more appealing landscape. They also let the mulch keep its color for a longer time before fading.
Over time, the color from these dyes will eventually fade due to the effects of UV radiation from sunlight.
Some of these dyes and paints are environmentally safe, but perhaps not all of them. For a garden or edible landscape, it is best to get mulch without dye (unless you are sure that it is safe).
“Some of the wood mulches are painted for appearance. If you are growing vegetables organically avoid these products.”https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/select_the_right_vegetable_garden_mulch
Does Cedar Mulch Change Soil pH?
Cedar mulch will not change soil pH, as long as you do not mix it into the soil. The mulch itself may change in pH as it decomposes, but this pH change will not occur in the soil below.
“In field situations it is difficult to significantly alter soil pH without the addition of chemicals. Temporary changes in pH may be found in the decomposing mulch layer itself, but these have little effect on underlying soils. Significant changes in soil pH can only occur after decades or centuries of mulch use.”https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2
Although wood mulches can have a pH as low as 4 (which is fairly acidic), they usually will not have a large effect on soil pH (the exception is very sandy soil). According to the Oregon State University, soil pH is buffered and is difficult to change with mulch alone.
The bottom line is this: don’t worry about changing soil pH when using mulch.
Just keep in mind that mixing wood chips or sawdust into your soil can tie up nitrogen (due to the high carbon content in wood). Leave mulch above the soil where it belongs!
If you need to add organic material to your soil, use compost and aged manure instead.
Does Cedar Mulch Get Mold Or Fungus?
It is possible that cedar mulch (and other mulches) will get mold or fungus. After all, mulch contains organic material for mold to feed on, and mold multiplies faster in moist soil and humid air.
Of course, fungus in mulch is not necessarily a bad thing. Fungus plays a part in decomposing wood chips and other organic materials, and this process adds nutrients to the soil.
“Fungal communities found in wood chip mulches are generally decomposers, not pathogens. Under healthy soil conditions, beneficial and harmless fungi (Figure 4) can outcompete pathogens for space on plant roots that grow into mulch layers.”https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2
Does Cedar Mulch Hurt Plants?
Cedar mulch cannot hurt established plants. However, cedar mulch may prevent seed germination or injure young seedlings.
“Many living, growing woody plants contain allelopathic chemicals, which can prevent seeds from germinating or kill young seedlings. Most compounds have no effect upon established plants. Cedars (Thuja spp.) have not been found to have this ability. Even Juglans nigra (black walnut), the best known allelopathic species, has not been shown to have negative effects when wood chips are used as a mulch.”https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2
So, as long as you are using cedar mulch on large, established plants, you do not need to worry about hurting them (as long as you don’t bury them too deep!)
In addition, there is very little chance of diseases from mulch moving into trees if you mulch around them. According to Washington State University:
“Most studies indicate that diseased mulch cannot transmit pathogens to the roots of healthy trees.”https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/5262/FS160E.pdf?sequence=2
Keep mulch 12 to 18 inches from the base of the tree, and avoid “volcano” mulching (piling up soil at the base of a tree).
Is Cedar Mulch Organic?
Cedar mulch is considered organic, as long as either:
- The cedar mulch is not painted or dyed, or
- The dye or paint used to color the mulch is organic (derived from natural compounds).
If in doubt, use mulch that is not dyed or painted! For example, this cedar mulch from Coast of Maine is organic.
Does Cedar Mulch Prevent Weeds?
Cedar and other wood mulches can help to prevent weeds by keeping their seeds from germinating. A deeper layer of mulch provides more protection against weeds, but more mulch is more expensive.
Washington State University suggests using a layer of mulch that is 4 to 6 inches deep for landscaping and decorative purposes. On the other hand, a layer 8 to 12 inches deep might be necessary in an area with severe and recurring weeds.
You can also put down a layer of mulch to smother existing weeds. However, you should pull out large weeds before laying down mulch.
Otherwise, you risk leaving seeds under the mulch, where they will wait for years until the time is right to sprout!
Alternatives To Cedar Mulch
Maybe you don’t think the extra cost of cedar mulch is worth the benefits it brings. In that case, here are some alternatives to cedar mulch that you can consider:
- Pine bark – this mulch breaks down quickly, so needs to be replaced often. It is a good option if you need to add lots of organic material to soil over time while also preventing weeds.
- Gravel – small rocks or pebbles offer an attractive landscape feature and will prevent weeds from gaining a foothold in your yard. However, they will not add any nutrients or organic material to the soil.
- Rubber – this material will not biodegrade, so you won’t need to replace it often (if ever). However, rubber does not decompose, so it will not add nutrients or organic material to the soil.
- Cardboard – this is a cheap and easy way to prevent weeds. Just crush cardboard boxes flat and lay them over any part of your garden where you want to prevent weeds. Cardboard will decompose in a short time and add both nutrients and organic material to soil.
- Leaves, pine needles, or grass – these organic materials will prevent weed growth in the short term. They will also decompose to provide nutrients for the soil.
Now you know what advantages cedar has over regular mulch. You also have some alternatives to cedar if you are not impressed by these advantages.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.
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