Is Dyed Mulch Bad For Plants? Yes or No?

The trend of using dyed mulch in your garden landscape, especially in beds, not only helps create a healthy garden but also provides an aesthetic value.

Dyed brown, red and black mulches have become the most favorite colors in shrub and flower beds of many gardeners today.

Many homeowners prefer to use dyed mulches because they can hold color much longer than natural wood mulch products.


Question: Are Dyed Mulches Bad For Plants?

 A heap of dyed mulch in black, red, brown and yellow color.From gardeners wanting to promote the health of our ecosystem as well as wanting to be environmentally-friendly, recycled materials have become a popular use for the world of mulching.

These materials are dyed with colorants to improve their aesthetic value, yet many people are concerned whether or not they are harmful to plants, animals and humans.

Many gardeners are worried about the controversy surrounding the negative impact of dyes used on mulches like woodchip and pine straw. However, it is actually the source of wood chips and the likelihood of contamination of harmful chemicals in these wood chips that we must be mindful of and not the dye itself.

Most recycled woods are the choice of dyed mulch manufacturers because these materials are quite dry and can absorb dyes quickly.

Recycled woods are also cheap and easily obtainable. So, these materials are often dyed to make them attractive and marketable.

Most of the reclaimed woods, particularly from demolition, contain lead-based paints that can leach into the soil and can cause harm, not only to plants but also to the gardener.

Dyed mulches are usually made out of scrap wood, causing it to be the basis of why people may regard these materials as damaging when recycled for further use.

While recycling scrap wood such as old pallets, demolition and construction products might seem like helping our environment, most of these materials are treated with chemicals like chromated copper arsenate. (CCA)

Pallets are the most common materials people love to recycle, particularly as mulch and bins in composting. However, they are the most exposed to various harmful chemicals. Treated lumber can contain creosote, and some toxic chemicals to preserve.

On the other hand, natural wood products like wood chips and bark are rarely dyed. They are already more attractive than recycled wood, so they are likely to be left in their natural state.

If the mulch is natural and made out of bark and wood chips, there is less possibility of toxic substances than ones made out of recycled wood.

Generally, when it comes to the controversy of using dyed mulch, the bottom line is that dyes are perhaps harmless, and the source of wood is what matters.


What Is Mulch Dye Made Of?

Ornamental garden bed with black mulch and stone border beside the street.

Most reputable dyed mulch manufacturers produce non-toxic products both to plants and animals. But, some people prefer to use cheap dyes that contain harmful chemicals.

But this is uncommon, and often it is the wood itself made into toxic mulches that are harmful to humans and animals and not dyes.

Not all dyed mulches are contaminated and can leach arsenic into the soil. However, if you are considering using dyed mulch, you need to be familiar with the supplier and the source of wood to ensure the quality of mulch you are getting.

There are two types of dyes used in coloring wood mulch, the carbon-based dyes and iron oxide-based dyes.

The iron oxide is a compound of iron and oxygen which is the most used to dye mulch. This compound is often used in the floriculture industry to dye flowers.

There are some dyed mulches available in the market produced from untreated wood, and it is best to get mulch certified by the Mulch and Soil Council (MSC) to ensure quality.

All certified products are manufactured out of high standard requirements and pass from various testing, including chemical testing for CCA-treated wood contaminants.

The studies have shown dyes have no harmful effect on plants or soil. Dyes are just a pigment widely used in making inks and paints and considered safe even in contact with food.

But because compliance to standards is voluntary, it only guarantees the mulch is free from harmful chemicals and won’t cause any harm to your plants, to you, and the environment.


Is Dyed Mulch Safe Around Dogs?

White husky sleeping on the heap of brown mulch.

Spreading mulch is a method plant growers use to reduce soil water loss, suppress weed growth and protect plants against extremely warm or cold temperatures.

Most mulches do not seem attractive to most of the pets, but there is always a likelihood that some will. Knowing what type of mulch is safe for your pets can save them from the possibility of being hurt.

While mulch serves a lot of purposes in your home landscape, they come in many forms and different shades. You can get any of your choices, depending on your budget and needs.

However, if you are a pet owner of curious dogs, and these fur babies love to spend a fair amount of time without supervision outside, you need to pick a mulch marked as pet-safe.

Dogs love to nibble on things by nature, particularly puppies. Sometimes, you will find your fur baby chewing woods and different things, and often, it happens when they are bored and curious.

Mulches To Avoid Around Your Pets

White Golden retriever nibbling on a piece of wood.

While mulches help enhance the overall look of your home landscape, some mulches were found to be dangerous to dogs.

When ingested, they are likely to suffer from allergies and gastrointestinal obstruction. In severe cases, they may get poisoned to death.

  • Cocoa mulch

Cocoa mulch smells like chocolate that contains some of the same compounds in chocolate, which is poisonous to dogs, and it might be tempting for your dogs to ingest it.

Signs of cocoa mulch poisoning include:

  • Not eating
  • Drooling/hyper salivating
  • Constant panting
  • A racing heart rate
  • Hyperactivity
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Dark red gums
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

The severity of cocoa mulch poisoning will depend on how much was ingested.

Generally, licking or a bite won’t cause a problem. Regardless, ensure to keep your dog from associating with mulch, particularly in the first few weeks of laying them.

The sun, heat, and rain exposure lessens the likelihood of poisoning as the smell of chocolate disappears over time. Until then, ensure the safety of your fur babies.

  • Pine needle mulch

Pine needle mulch is also considered dangerous to your dogs. When ingested, this type of mulch can damage the stomach lining of your pet.

Dogs sometimes get nauseous, and when they feel sick, they try to seek grass and ingest in mouthfuls, trying to stimulate themselves to vomit.

Their behavior of eating grass when feeling sick is much different when leisurely nibbling just because they are bored.

Dogs that are not feeling well chew grass in urgency without knowing some are rough and have indigestible cellulose, which is dangerous to their stomach.

Mulches That Are Safe Around Dogs

Brown golden retriever digging a hole in the mulch.
Image by: goodhousekeeping.com

When considering getting a dyed mulch because it accommodates well to the kind of plants you have, to the area’s humidity and to make your garden visually appealing, you also need to consider the safety of your dogs when playing outside in your backyard.

  • Untreated wood mulch

If you are mulching a vegetable garden, you want any material that is safe and as much as possible, less expensive. Untreated mulch both meet these expectations.

There are so many pet-friendly natural mulches you can choose to use. Untreated mulches decompose fast and do not cause harm to your pets when they happen to ingest it.

However, there is a primary concern when opting to use untreated mulch. It likely draws termites into your yard.

This is an issue if you prefer to pick a bark mulch near the wooden foundation or siding of your house. These materials are both susceptible to termite damage.

Therefore, keeping a 6-inch barrier of stone or other inorganic materials between your house and untreated mulch is essential.

Termites are naturally attracted to moisture, and keeping natural mulch 3-inches deep in an area prone to termite infestation will help you prevent such occurrence. Three inches deep is too shallow to promote soil moisture.

  • Cedar mulch

Cedar mulch is the most popular choice in many garden landscaping, particularly among pet owners. These types of mulches are natural and are often finely shredded, making the dog safe to digest when ingested. It is non-toxic to dogs and has excellent bug repelling properties.


How Long Does It Take For Mulch To Fade?

Brown mulch in a girl's hand

Adding dyed mulch to your garden beds can make your yard look tidy, and mulches help protect your plants from dehydration. However, most mulches are manufactured out of organic materials and decompose over time, which also means they will need replacing.

All mulches will fade over time, particularly without carrying some maintenance.

However, the extent of a dyed natural mulch turning dull depends heavily on how much rain, sun, and extreme weathering it receives year-round.

Sun exposure among the three can make the color of your mulch fade fast naturally, no matter what you do.

Generally, mulches need very minimal attention to function, and some can even last up to 10 years or longer before needing to be replaced.

Undyed mulches can turn grayish naturally in a month or two. However, dyed mulches, especially brown and black, often keep their color for a year and sometimes even longer.

The simplest way to address your fading mulch is by adding a thin layer, or an inch of fresh mulch to cover up the old gray mulch.

But, before adding a new layer of mulch, examine how long it has been since you’ve first replaced the existing mulch, and evaluate if it is already soggy and nearly decomposed.

If you find the old mulch rotting, you have to replace it altogether. But if your budget is lacking and you are not ready yet to replace the volume of mulch your garden requires, try to remove as much as you can before adding a new layer. Unnecessary layers could potentially kill your plants.

Despite mulch’s ability to suppress weeds, there are a few pesky weeds that manage to emerge and grow along with the mulch making your landscape look untidy.

If you noticed a few weed growths from your existing mulch, it also means it is now time to add a new layer of mulch about two inches deep to block sunlight and prohibit them from growing.

Coarse chips or shredded bark are preferably best when it comes to mulching. These types of mulch decompose slowly and are less likely to be blown away.


Reapplying Color To Your Fading Mulch

Mulch paint is a dye you can spray on your existing mulch that is turning dull and grayish. This concentrated dye can make your old mulch look fresh and tidy.

Painting your mulch will bring back the look of the freshly dyed mulch, without all the back-breaking work of hauling and spreading the new ones.

How to Apply Mulch Dye

You’ll need:

  1. Garden sprayer
  2. Mulch Dye
  3. Water
  • The mixing ratio of the concentrated dyes varies whether the mulch was previously colored.
  • Covering dull and faded dyed mulch requires a stronger mix compared to coloring mulch for the first time.
  • Spray the garden mulch with dye solution using hand sprayer for a smaller garden. Hold the end of the sprayer and spray evenly over the existing mulch.
  • Choose a sunny day with little to no wind when you consider spraying your mulch.
  • Spray on dry mulch and allow about six hours after application to dry your mulch.
  • The coverage per gallon varies on the brand. Always refer to the package to determine how much dye your garden mulch needs.

The Dangers of Using Chemically Treated Materials

Red mulch in an ornamental garden landscape with concrete curbing.
Image by: escapelandscaping.net

Most freshly mulched gardens are visually appealing, particularly when the color matches your garden’s theme.

Mulch offers a lot of benefits in which every gardener can take advantage of. You can utilize them to grace your home landscaping or as a perennial border.

Getting the right mulches that match your garden theme can help boost the overall look of your garden and help improve your plant and soil health over time.

On the other hand, using the wrong type of mulch can possibly damage your plants and your garden.

Dyed mulch manufacturers usually produce a wide range of colors, and you can choose shades that suit your taste. Colors like black, brown, red, and many others are readily available in the market.

Looking at how bright and attractive they are can be tempting to pick dyed mulch for your garden. But it is best to check out these possible considerations before choosing to know which mulch is right for you.

Most of the dyed mulches are from recycled materials, which sounds like an eco-friendly idea. However, these products contain harmful chemicals and should not be utilized as mulch.

Many scraps of lumber contain various heavy metals, like chromium, aluminum, arsenic, lead, formaldehyde and copper.

Toxicity Can Contaminate Soil

The toxic contaminants these woods contain will gradually leach into the soil when the mulch starts to break down over time, particularly when the water washes over it.

These toxic chemicals remain in the soil for a long time, causing problems for your plant’s growth.

Water Contamination

Adding dyed mulch made out of materials containing harmful contaminants can possibly seep into groundwater.

Additionally, they can run off into the surface water and cause undesirable aquatic issues resulting in fish contamination.

Toxicity to the Soil Ecosystem

Associating with dyed mulches are not only harmful to plants, animals, and people, but they can also damage the beneficial community under the soil.

The beneficial community of microorganisms composed of bacteria, fungi, insects and worms help give nutrients like nitrogen to the plants.

It also provides soil structure and proper aeration for plant roots to infiltrate deep down in the soil, and benefits adequate water absorption.

Damaging this ecosystem, along with the beneficial microorganisms under the soil, can produce poor quality soil resulting in unproductive crops.


Safe Colored Mulches

Garden in front of the house with brown mulch.
Image by: cranebrooktree.com

If you want to improve the aesthetic value of your garden and are considering getting the vibrant shade of red, brown, or black dyed mulch, it is necessary to look for mulch produced out of untreated materials that won’t damage your soil.

Look for certified mulch from the Mulch and Soil Council in the US. An MSC approval is provided on any mulch products that don’t include recycled woods treated with harmful chemicals.

Mulch and Soil Council certified product logo.
Image by: growingagreenerworld.com

You can also get a mulch made out of cedar. This type of mulch has a natural attractive red color and can be an excellent alternative to red-dyed mulch.

However, do not toss cedar mulch too close to the base of your edible plants, especially to the newly transplanted seedlings and freshly planted shrubs. This mulch contains lots of natural chemicals that can inhibit potential plant growth.


Final Thoughts Whether Dyed Mulches are Bad For Plants

Mulches are known as an excellent blanket for planting beds that make your landscape look clean and tidy. They also help retain soil moisture, keep soil temperatures more consistent, and are excellent for suppressing weeds.

Organic mulches also help create a favorable environment for soil organisms that are essential to plant’s health. But the use of dyed mulch in many landscapes has been a controversy for many years now.

Usually, the dyes used in most shredded woods are food safe that is harmless to plants, animals, and people. What makes dyed mulch toxic and harmful is the wood itself the mulch is made from.

Mulches produce from wood products like pallets and pressure-treated lumber headed to the landfill are toxic and dangerous.

These products are not ideal to use in ornamental and edible plantings and are harmful if ingested by pets or children.

Untreated mulch fades and turns to a dull gray naturally after a month or two, which is why property owners and landscape managers try to extend the look of a freshly mulched property by using dyed mulches.

Dyed mulches usually keep their color longer than undyed alternatives, yet many are still hesitant if they will utilize dyed mulch to enhance the look of their garden or not.

Mulches come in a wide variety of shades, but people usually like to pick red, brown, and black to improve the aesthetic value of their backyard landscape.

Have you decided on what type of mulch you would like to get for your garden beds? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts by writing them down in the comment section below.

About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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