Baled mulch is just as easy to use as bagged mulch, but it creates less waste and reduces fuel use and emissions related to shipping.
Bales of wood chip mulch are a little smaller than your average bale of straw but are otherwise similar. Instead of wire or twine, mulch bales are held together by two thick plastic straps. Since the wood chips are compressed into a smaller package, a delivery truck can haul double the amount of mulch when carrying bales instead of bags. Customers will also be able to haul twice as much in one trip, ideally reducing fuel usage and emissions from transporting multiple loads.
I am still a big supporter of purchasing mulch from local tree care companies or from bulk bins at garden centers and garden supply stores. However, even I know those purchases are not always practical. Last weekend I wanted to mulch some trees that were planted in my neighborhood by volunteers, but I really did not need a truckload. Plus, I would have to cart the mulch a long distance from where I could park. Without a truck, I could get the mulch delivered to my house, but it would be even farther to push the wheelbarrow.
Bagged mulch is fine for occasions like these, but I am always left with a guilty feeling when I carry the empty plastic bags to the trash. The do-good of mulching trees and plants is somewhat ruined by the contribution to the landfill.
I was still wondering how easy the bales really were to use, so I picked up a few to try. The bales have small divots around the straps to allow easy handling, and a pair of gloves makes carrying the bales more comfortable. After cutting the straps (a good cutting tool is necessary), the bales separate in chunks that crumble into loose material. If you are careful not to drop the chunks, they are easily transported to another tree or area even after cutting the straps.
My mulching expedition required only gloves, a knife, one trip to the garden center and one trip to the recycle bin. I know the trees are happy. Mulching reduces temperature and moisture fluctuations in the soil and helps with weed control. Organic mulches (derived from natural materials like shredded wood, pine needles, straw, etc.) also improve the soil as it breaks down.
There are several different wood varieties and colors of baled mulch. Check with your favorite garden center for availability.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent – Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058.