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What is phytotoxicity?

Healthy, properly prepared mulch in San Diego CA will smell like freshly cut wood when you put your nose into it. Unhealthy or poorly prepared mulch will smell like sulfur or ammonia or vinegar. This sour smell is known as toxicity, and it happens when the decomposing material has too much nitrogen content in it. This is caused by the failure of the mulch producer to adequately rotate the material during the mulching process and pockets are formed of increased decomposition. Oxygen needs to get into the mulch.

When toxicity occurs in the mulch in San Diego CA, the process can turn anaerobic (without oxygen) and can turn the materials phytotoxic. The problem can be solved by reintroducing oxygen back into the mulch but it can take a long time for the toxicity to dissipate and some plants could be irreparably damaged or killed by then. Plants that grow low to the earth or ones recently planted are the most susceptible to being damaged or killed.

If you accidentally use a mulch in San Diego CA that is sour, the best remedy is to water the mulch heavily as water dilutes the chemicals quickly and helps to refresh the ailing plants. Removing the sour mulch is generally ineffective as by the time you notice a plant dying, the toxicity from the sour mulch has already dissipated.

You can check the ph balance of the soil. If you find the ph to be in the area of 3.8 to 5.6 rather than a healthy 6.0 to 7.2, then you know the soil is acidic. You could use some of the questionable mulch in another area of your garden to determine if any other plants begin to struggle. If they do not, chances are your mulch in San Diego CA is not phytotoxic.

Gardeners and landscapers use mulch for a variety of reasons and they use a variety of mulch products. Some mulches can be made from bark chips and are meant for permanent use while others can be produced from plastic sheets that is laid across acres of soil to keep moisture in the ground for commercial agriculture. Either way, mulch plays an important role in the use and management of the land, and responsible farming and landscaping practices goes a long way to helping the environment.

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