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Into the Garden: Marketing, mulch -- everyone has an opinion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- And now, a word from my soapbox.

The gardening industry must do more to entice novices to the world of gardening. According to Target Marketing Magazine, the mail-order gardener's average age is 50. An article in the Baltimore Sun puts the average of gardeners buying supplies online between 40 and 44 years old.

So here are a few interesting consumer-directed products that I believe are aimed to gain new, younger gardening lovers.

First, Direct to Dirt, launched last year for Earth Day, features sustainably grown products with a rice hull pot that's fully plantable and biodegradable. Direct to Dirt comes in four-pack carriers that are colorful, easy to put into a shopping cart and easy to get home and plant.

Green Greetings is a great marketing tool that comes from research showing that there are 7 billion greeting cards purchased in the U.S. alone, and since it's hard to find a card for less than $3.99, why not add a plant? Green Greetings come in a special cup with a holiday message, and the four-inch plants cost less than $4. Home Depot and Walmart carried them at Valentine's Day as well as Mother's Day.

Breath of Fresh Air, launched in stores recently, is focused on educating consumers on houseplant benefits. Grower Delray Plants is promoting six-inch foliage varieties that purify the air.

Locally, some garden centers are using Facebook and emails to announce special sales and events. They could take that one step further with text messages.

One Utah plant grower worked with the local Home Depot to host "Containerfest," a one-day event where people would come with pots in hand and pick out spring annuals that the grower vendor would plant into a beautiful spring container for them. Doesn't that sound marvelous?

And another thing ...

Red mulch. Each year, I have several dedicated gardening friends who send me emails asking me to tell the Red Mulch Story. And each year, I do, because it needs to be told.

There's a lot of controversy about colored mulch, and red seems to be the color that's most controversial. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Those who hate it have stirred the debate by adding the arsenic scare.

Red wood mulch can be made from virgin wood, and the current dyes are not harmful to plants or animals. Some mulches using petrochemical dyes still do find their way into the market, and can be hazardous, particularly to vegetable gardens. Red wood mulch dyes can stain clothes, skin and concrete, but are generally safe.

It just doesn't look natural, in my opinion.

I think mulch should match the ground, and nature, not the brick on your home. (I also wouldn't buy a "sofa-sized painting" that matches my couch, but that's another story altogether.)

That said, there's red-dyed mulch that's made from waste wood from wooden shipping pallets and from the construction and demolition of buildings.

From www.ehow.com:

"Scientists at the Hinkley Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste have found that Chrominated Copper Arsenate treated waste wood mulches leach harmful chemicals, such as arsenic, into soil. Though CCA has been banned from consumer goods since 2004, CCA-treated wood salvaged from industrial, construction and demolition uses may still be illegally integrated into mulches."

Read more at www.ehow.com/facts_6141902_red-mulch-harmful_.html#ixzz1tjZYabvy.

To avoid CCA completely, look for red wood mulches made with virgin wood, made with other types of recycled wood (such as lumber scraps or Christmas trees) and/or that have been certified by the MSC.

Then there's the cypress/cedar debate. Cypress mulch is created from the leaves, limbs, bark and sometimes the entirety of cypress trees. A natural wetland tree that provides a habitat for animals in the Southern wetlands, cypress filters pollutants from water. In recent years, cypress mulch has come under scrutiny because of the limited number of these trees available and the destruction of natural habitats as a result of using the trees for mulch, according to eHow.com. Using mulch from cedar trees isn't a threat to the environment.

No matter what the color, the biggest problem with mulch is how it's applied around trees.

The Morton Arboretum cautions property owners about bad practices when applying mulches around trees. The proper method is to lay a three- to four-inch layer of mulch in a wide ring around the trunk, not letting the mulch directly contact the trunk and basal root flare. Avoid creating a conelike mound or "mulch volcano" around the tree's trunk. This excessive pile of mulch prevents air circulation and favors fungal rot. Once a tree is infested with rot, it's difficult to impossible to fully treat or correct. The pile of mulch also is a nook or habitat for insect pests to flourish. If the soil around the tree is always soggy and slow to drain, don't use too much mulch as slow drainage reduces oxygen in the soil.

Rose show canceled

The Charleston Rose Society has canceled its 88th annual rose show, scheduled for June 3 at the University of Charleston.

"Weather conditions last week with temperatures above 90 have caused most of our roses to suffer in size, quality and quantity, as well as being infested with thrips and even spider mites. We see these conditions in late July and August, not in late May," explained Lynda Grass, rose show chairwoman.

"While I think we may have a fair showing of miniature and miniflora blooms, the large roses have taken quite a hit. Since they comprise the bulk of our show, we would be doing ourselves, our judges and the public a disservice by putting on a show with little or no bloom."

For more information, contact Grass at 304-345-3634.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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