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My hamster recently died and I have lots of pine bedding left over. Is it possible to use unused pine bedding as mulch for the potted plants in my garden?

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No, I wouldn't recommend it either. It will serve no real useful purpose, and will steal available nitrogen in the process of rotting down - if they are fine pine shavings, they may not remain in place and blow about anyway. If you want to top your pots off with something, use decorative pebbles or grit, but they don't really need anything on the top. You could, though, spread it out and turn it into the soil in empty ground, adding nitrogen if you want to plant the area, or better yet, find someone else who may be able to use it for the originally intended purpose, i.e., animal bedding. Alternatively, compost it with nitrogen rich materials.

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Yes, it's possible. They won't really improve the soil for a long time though (they'll take some time to break down), but they should conserve moisture well in a good layer, and keep the soil temperature more even.

I'd say this would be better for use on beds than in pots, you don't generally have to mulch in containers. But it won't kill anything, and might even help when it's really hot and dry out.

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No. Undecomposed wood will rob the plants of Nitrogen and do nothing for the soil until the wood is completely decomposed. Then the mulch will add to your soil by feeding beneficial bacteria and organisms. Plants in a pot are TOTALLY dependent on what you give them and no expense spared. Even in my outdoor gardens I ONLY use decomposed organic matter as mulch. The only difference between 'good' soil and 'bad' soil is the amount of decomposed organic matter. Don't need to manually mix decomposed organic matter or mulch into the soil as the micro and macro-organisms will come up, feed (and they can only eat decomposed organic matter!)and then go back into your soil profile, poop it out and THEY do all the mixing for you...IF you put decomposed organic matter on top of the soil! Bark, raw wood, pine needles that are not decomposed will take time and the decomposers use lots of Nitrogen to do their work. Fine for large beds, gardens that already have lots of organic matter in the soil.

Make double sure you have used a good potting soil. Using garden soil in pots is a HUGE no-no. It needs to start out as sterilized. Lots of brands are finally putting bacteria and good fungus back into their soils after they've been sterilized. Try to find that on the labels. 'Doctor Earth' is but one brand that does this...

And make sure your pots have drainage holes, space between the bottom of the pot and whatever surface it sits upon and do not use anything except good potting soil in your pot. Do not use any gravel or rocks on the bottom under the soil. This will cause the soil to become saturated before the water will drain.

  • I find the excitement over adding some garden soil to indoor plants is overdone. A little clay will hold more nutrients and not break down as fast as a peat based mix. It's worked well for me. – kevinsky Jan 4 '15 at 1:36
  • If you know anything about plants and soils, you would never use garden soil for potted plants. You've been lucky, I guess. Plants in pots are totally dependent on what little they get from you and to put garden soil with not only beneficials but with disease, fungus and non-beneficial insects into a pot is just plain crazy. – stormy Jan 6 '15 at 20:04
  • J.Musser...you are correct. Decomposers are everywhere all of the time. We don't need to be 'feeding' them...I was of course talking about everything else in the soil that goes dormant if there is no decomposed organic matter to eat. – stormy Jan 6 '15 at 20:07
  • @stormy It's the undecomposed organic matter that they're eating. – J. Musser Jan 29 '15 at 18:29
  • Decomposers "eat" un-decomposed organic matter...no matter the conditions within our 'thin blue line' there are decomposers. There is a multitude of beneficial bacteria, fungi and other organisms/insects that will either go dormant or move where they can find food, better environmental conditions when supply of food for # of organisms present is out of balance...too low. They'll come back after the decomposers make enough sustenance to support a thriving community plants need in their soil. Why wait years to feed these organisms. Plants will suffer...they won't be healthy. – stormy Jan 29 '15 at 22:35

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