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For the last several years, I've been getting mulch from the city (for free!). It's been great for the soil and super cheap (obviously). But, it seems to fade really quickly in the hot Oklahoma sun. This year, I was considering buying bagged mulch because I assumed that it would retain its color longer. So, a couple of questions:

  1. Will bagged mulch retain its color longer?
  2. Will bagged mulch offer the soil benefits that the city compost facility's' mulch offers?
  3. Are there any disadvantages (or advantages) of one over the other?
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Dark color is not necessarily a sign of healthy compost/mulch. If it's dyed, the color is from chemicals, not humus. Not so healthy. Bagged mulch must tell you if it's dyed or not, so read the bag. If there's no mention of dye, you're good.

Now, because the (undyed) color doesn't affect the health of the product, using the city mulch is still a good idea, unless you want color for aesthetic purposes. So:

  1. Bagged mulch if dyed will retain it's color much longer, and if undyed, most likely still a good bit longer, because bagged mulch is a much higher quality product than free city mulch. But remember, for soil health, it's not all about the color.

  2. Yes, undyed bagged mulch will be at least as good for the soil as the city stuff. If dyed, you will be adding that much chemical dye to your soil.

  3. Yes. Here are a few:

    • Bagged Mulch (undyed)

      • (+) is much more consistent in texture and quality
      • (+) is not going to contain as many possible contaminates like chipped black walnut limbs (a common issue with city mulch)
      • (+) the color usually lasts fairly well, even when not dyed, because of proper 'cooking' methods and a more decomposed state
      • (-) is much more expensive (obviously), which tends to limit the amount applied, which can (in some cases) decrease the rate at which your soil is improved
    • City Mulch

      • (+) It's available in bulk, so you can supply your garden with as much as necessary without running up a big bill
      • (+) Usually, the stuff is good enough for use in garden beds, some cities are more careful than others, though
      • (-) The texture can be extremely uneven, and will break down irregularly, because of the many various species that went into it.
      • (-) color fades fast, especially if the mulch hasn't decomposed for long. This is only aesthetic.
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Bagged mulch is likely to be dyed, city compost not. The fading is a natural process whereby exposed wood becomes silvered and protects the wood underneath, usually anyway...since its on the ground it's going to be consumed quickly anyway.

  • So...I gather from your answer the following: (1) bagged mulch and city compost are the same, except bagged is more rotted and dyed? (2) Fading is unavoidable in either case and it's good for the soil? Thanks! – dfife Apr 6 '15 at 17:57
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    Well no, mulch is mulch just like water is water, but no it's not all the same, I just assessed his specific concerns based on his question visa vie fading. City mulch can have anything in it. There are some people who can't use it because they are organic certified, and city mulch couldn't possibly be compliant. – Escoce Apr 6 '15 at 18:48
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    If by "city mulch" you mean the mulch created by the shredding of trees from the city, which comes in a large stockpile and is usually free for the taking ... the largest problem with this type of mulch is pests. Not saying all of it has pests, but most bagged mulch comes sanitized and is supposedly "pest free" ... not all, but most. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Apr 7 '15 at 0:38
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    Well city mulch is usually heaped in giant piles which makes it get pretty hot. Pests aren't the issue I would be concerned about, but more the source of the feedstock. It comes from anywhere and everywhere the city has chipped and/or composted materials, including rubbish in many cases. I wouldn't trust it for any land I wished to keep organic in principle. – Escoce Apr 7 '15 at 15:00

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