Gardening Tips and Tricks : What is Safe to Use For Mulch Or Compost in a Vegetable Garden?
As a gardening enthusiast, you should know the importance of mulch. Mulch is spread on top of the soil close to the plants or vegetables to prevent the soil drying up, erosion and the growth of weeds. Mulch can be made up of a variety of materials such as wood chips, sawdust, straw, dried leaves, twigs etc. Actually, whatever you use to make compost can generally be used as mulch. But the difference between mulch and compost is that mulch is spread on top of the soil whereas compost is better worked into the soil by digging because compost is your vegetables’ natural fertilizer. So for mulch, just spread them on top of the soil close to the vegetables and dampen them with water.
Almost all plant residue (pruning, cuttings, fallen leaves etc) can be used as mulch. But when it comes to Oleander, you need to be careful. The Oleander is an evergreen plant that can grow to heights of between 6 to 12 feet and up to 20 feet wide. It flowers between summer and early fall. The size of the flower is about 1 ½ inches in diameter. They can have single or double petals with colors like white, red, pink, rose, salmon or magenta. Found mainly in South Asia and the Mediterranean, every part of the Oleander is poisonous especially its milky sap. In fact, eating only a few leaves can kill a small child. The plant’s leaves are also coated with a certain kind of dust which can make you sick if you were to breathe it into your lungs or have contact with it on your skin. The dust is especially abundant in summer when it’s dry and hot. So if you want to prune or cut an Oleander plant, do so after a heavy rain. Also, protect yourself with gloves so as not to come into contact with the sap. So can the Oleander be used as mulch or compost?
Research shows that when Oleander is added into the compost heap, its toxin known as oleandrin depletes after 50 days. So when the compost is added to the soil, it does not harm the vegetables. Studies with lettuce (which are quick blooming vegetables) and tomatoes (which are slow in getting ripe for harvest) both do not detect Oleander’s toxic substances in them. But using Oleander as mulch is riskier because the Oleander parts are not as decomposed as in compost. Hence it is better to be safe than sorry. If you wish to use Oleander as mulch, use them on ornamental plants (like flowers) but not vegetables.
If you do add Oleander into your compost, leave the compost to mature beyond 50 days and make sure every part of the plant is decomposed and no longer visible in its original form before using the compost. Even then, always thoroughly wash the vegetables before cooking and eating them. This is a good practice anyway.
Taking these necessary precautions, you may use Oleander as mulch or compost.