CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Betty Ray recently reminded me of another type of mulch. I listed shredded bark, pine straw, cypress mulch and wood chips in a column about building a better bed.
Betty uses cocoa shell mulch bought at Green's Feed and Seed, but she said to get it fast -- they often run out.
I love the scent of cocoa shell mulch, also known as cocoa bean mulch or cocoa hull mulch. It is simply the shell of the cocoa bean, which comes off during the roasting process.
According to www.nationalcocoashell.com, it lasts longer, smells better and gets darker with age. It retains moisture better than regular mulch, and the aroma lasts two to three weeks.
The only drawback is that in some cases, when the weather is hot and humid, a harmless mold may appear. The cocoa shell contains protein that aids in decomposition, which stimulates beneficial soil bacteria. This is a sign of the protein at work. Rain or watering will wash away this natural mold formation, or an organic fungicide can be used to prevent formation of mold spores.
The mulch is very lightweight, so you need to water it well once it is spread. The shells will curl and interlock, creating a honeycomb effect, making carpetlike bed of mulch.
A note of caution: Cocoa hull mulch is potentially hazardous to pets. Most people know that chocolate contains compounds that can be toxic to dogs, and mulch made from cocoa beans contains similarly harmful compounds. The smell and taste of this innocent-looking mulch is very appealing to pets, yet it can be deadly because it contains theobromine. Avoid using this type of garden mulch if you have pets.
Betty sent a second note to let me know she's using pine straw (or pine needle mulch) under her blueberry bushes. Another wonderful mulch. Thanks, Betty.
Zeb Wright, a well-known gardener here in Charleston, sent an interesting article about rhododendrons. "Wondered what 'PJM' means?" Zeb wrote at the top. He's referring to the popular PJM rhododendrons, which are wildly flowering, hardy and adaptable and, therefore, quite popular.
The name comes from the initials of Peter J. Mezitt, founder of Weston Nurseries in Massachusetts. According to the article, by David C. Zlesak, extension educator at the University of Minnesota, the PJM is a cross between two rhododendron species: Rhododendron carolinianum and Rhododendron dauricum. It performs well in partial shade to full sun and has a wide tolerance to soil conditions, although, like most rhododendrons and azaleas, it prefers cool, acidic, well-draining soils high in organic matter.
Marcia Graves called to ask about her climbing hydrangea. It's a couple of years old, green as can be, but no blooms. Well, these can take up to five years to bloom. Patience, Marcia. It will be worth it!
At 6 p.m. April 28, you can enjoy a discussion with Dr. John Jett, WVU Extension consumer horticulture specialist, as he explains a greener approach to lawn and garden care. Learn about sustainable lawn care, plant species selection and how to escape excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides.