Use wood mulch ... save the planet?

Wood mulch
CC BY 2.0 Rowan Adams/Wikimedia Commons

New research shows that using wood mulch has a notable effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What if there was a way to reduce water consumption, boost soil health, deter pests and scare away weeds – and at the same time cut reduce greenhouse gas emissions? You know where I’m going with this, given the spoiler in the title. There is a way! Hello, wood mulch.

People who grow things already know of the benefits of using mulch. TreeHugger’s self-proclaimed “lazivore gardener" writer, Sami, says that if you do one thing for your vegetable garden, make it mulching.

But now researchers from the University of British Columbia have conducted a study in apple orchards and vineyards, concluding that using mulch in agriculture can cut nitrous oxide emissions up to 28 percent.

"In addition to saving water, improving soil, combatting pests and stopping weeds, wood mulch actually reduces the release of a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide," says Craig Nichol, senior instructor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at UBC's Okanagan campus. "Provided you are not driving great distances to obtain the mulch, it would appear that mulch could be a powerful tool in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly if used in these agricultural systems."

Nitrous oxide emitted from soil accounts for at least half of agriculture emissions that contribute to global warming.

The two-year long study used small emissions-recording chambers to take the measurements – and in addition to reduced levels of nitrous oxide emissions, they found that areas covered in wood mulch also showed a 74 per cent drop in soil nitrates. Nitrates are where the nitrous oxide emissions come from, they can also leach into groundwater.

While the research has broader implications when applied to commercial agriculture than home gardening, mulch still has so many benefits for gardens. Add in snipping a bit of nitrous oxide emissions from your plot of earth, and what have you got to lose?

The research was published in the journal Agricultural Water Management.

Tags: Agriculture | Gardening | Global Climate Change

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