Thanks to a reputation for durability and low cost, cypress mulch has been a favorite with gardeners and landscapers for decades.
But is all the news about cypress mulch good, or should you consider other options for your landscape? Let’s take a closer look!
What Is Cypress Mulch?
Cypress mulch comes from the bark and wood fibers of two main types of cypress tree species:
- Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
- Pond cypress (Taxodium distichum var. nutans)
Cypress trees can live in a variety of climates. However, they are primarily native to the coastal regions of southeastern North America.
Cypress mulch comes in both chipped and shredded forms. The shredded variety tends to be a better choice since it costs less and composts quickly.
Cypress is but one of many mulch options out there. To learn more, hop on over to our Mulch Mastery guide!
Positive Aspects Of Cypress Mulch
When stacked up against other mulch materials like grass clippings or shredded newspaper, cypress has several benefits to offer.
Pleasant Color and Smell
When it’s freshly spread, cypress has a wonderful aroma, rich color and classic wood-chip texture. Over time, the natural wood color fades to a soft gray.
Cypress often costs less than many other types of organic mulch materials.
Adds Nutrients to the Soil
As a wood fiber, cypress releases helpful elements into the soil as it decomposes.
A few of these nutrients include:
- Carbon dioxide
Blocks Weeds and Pests
With no sunlight reaching them, weeds have a hard time taking root when covered with a layer of mulch. Additionally, pests also have to work harder to get to your plants.
Regulates Soil Moisture and Temperature
A layer of mulch acts as a blanket for your soil. As a result, your plants enjoy more vital moisture and fewer temperature fluctuations.
Negative Aspects Of Cypress Mulch
In addition to bringing several benefits, cypress also has some downsides. Unfortunately, a few of these drawbacks are pretty serious.
Can Become Water-Repellant
Over time, cypress tends to form a water-resistant crust that sheds moisture rather than allowing it through to the soil.
May Alter Soil Acidity
Cypress releases mild acidic properties as the wood fibers decompose. Especially if you mulch heavily with cypress, you may need to amend your soil to restore a proper pH balance.
May Cause Environmental Harm
Environmental concerns usually top the list of negative aspects to cypress mulch.
This issue is complex, so we’ll examine it further in its own section.
Environmental Concerns About Cypress Mulch
We’ve already mentioned that cypress is a native species to the coastal wetlands of the southeast. In this setting, cypress trees are an integral part of the local ecosystem.
According to the University of Florida, cypress trees have a remarkable root structure that benefits the ecosystem in many ways.
- Homes for wildlife
- Natural flood barriers
- Promote local water quality
Treehugger has provided an excellent article that takes an in-depth look at the cypress mulch controversy.
Should You Use Cypress Mulch?
Fortunately, much of the cypress mulch available at major retailers comes from sustainable practices. According to Treehugger, Lowe’s and Home Depot both require verification that their cypress suppliers harvest trees from approved locations.
Additionally, some mulch companies use other sustainable practices to make their cypress products. The inner layers, or heartwood, of cypress trees have rot-resistant properties that are desirable for lumber. Sawmills often have the outer wood layers and bark as leftovers, making the perfect mulch material.
Bottom line: Finding an alternative to cypress is probably a good idea. But if you must use it, you have a few good options available.
Alternatives To Cypress Mulch
The long-term effects of harvesting cypress for mulch are unclear. But other mulch materials can match or surpass cypress’s benefits with none of the potential environmental impacts.
What’s more, these alternative materials often cost less, too.
Here are a few options to consider in place of cypress.
Pine straw consists of the fallen pine needles.
North America has an abundance of pine trees that shed vast numbers of needles every year. Unsurprisingly, pine straw is affordable and readily accessible in most parts of the country.
You might be wondering, “Can cypress mulch be used in vegetable gardens?”
Yes, you could use it if you really wanted to. But cypress breaks down relatively slowly, so your veggies won’t get the nutrient boost they need right away.
Instead, using compost as garden mulch provides excellent plant nutrition and improves the condition of your soil.
If you have your own compost pile to draw from, compost can be an incredibly cost-effective mulch. However, you’ll be looking at a higher cost if you have to buy compost.
Do you live in an area with a high concentration of deciduous trees? Chopped or shredded leaves are a great material for mulching your garden in the fall.
Not only are leaves a free source of mulch, but you also avoid the risk of introducing plant diseases from other parts of the country.
Pine Bark or Chips
If you like the look of wood for your garden mulch, consider using pine bark in place of cypress.
Many species of pine grow rapidly, and they can thrive in almost any soil type. Thanks to these attributes, pine trees provide a sustainable and affordable mulch option.
- Providing soil insulation
- Preserving moisture
- Beautifying your landscape
- Deterring pests
- Temperature regulation