Can You Compost Dyed Mulch? (Is It Safe for Plants?)

Everyone wishes to have a healthy garden with a dash of beauty. Though plants have their own aesthetic, complimenting them with some dyed mulch might seem a nice idea. Mulch is an excellent nutrient blanket for your plants, and so is dyed mulch if natural dyes are used in it. But can you compost dyed mulch? Let’s find out!

Yes, you can compost dyed mulch with the proviso that the source of the dye and wood is natural and untreated. Rake wood chips into the compost pile and add Nitrogen fertilizer to accelerate composting. However, avoid artificially dyed mulch as they contain toxic chemicals harmful to the soil.

But before peering into dyed mulch compost, let’s understand what dyed mulch is.

What is Dyed Mulch?

Dyed Mulch is the mulch that is colored. It is made by grinding the dry wood waste into chips. The chips are dyed with a water-based solution to impart color. Examples are old pellets, old decks, or crates.

Colored or dyed old mulch is either made of harmless organic dyes or toxic chemicals, and the latter must be avoided while composting.

Harmless Dyes for Wood Mulch Include:

1. Iron Oxide Dyes: It is used to make red mulch. 

2. Carbon Dyes: It is used to make black mulch or impart dark brown color to mulch. This black dyed mulch helps to suppress weeds.

Black Dyed Mulch

3. Vegetable-Based Dyes: Organic dyes that are used to impart color.

Since the composition of dyes is organic, it still does not guarantee that the dyed mulch is entirely safe for plants. So here comes the wood in action.

According to the University of Massachusetts, most of the red-dyed or black-dyed mulch is wood that is recycled. However, it is essential to know if the recycled wood is treated with any chemicals or used for a purpose that involves chemicals.

Caution: Some dyed mulches might contain CAA (chromated copper arsenate), which raises the level of arsenic in the soil. It was banned in 2002 but is still used in some mulches.

Mulch is mainly applied on the soil’s surface to protect the plants’ base and roots. But if you have a healthy mulch free from toxins, how can you compost it?

How to Compost Dyed Mulch?

Since a nutritious dyed mulch devoid of harmful toxins is as good as regular mulch, composting dyed mulch can be similar to that of standard mulch.

Steps to Compost Dyed Mulch:

Composting Black Dyed Mulch

Step 1: Start a Pile

Build a separate pile for composting dyed mulch. Gather the required material, i.e., dyed mulch, brown material, green material, shovel or pitchfork, etc.

Step 2: Apply a Layer of Branches

According to the University of Missouri, branches facilitate air circulation through the base of the compost pile. However, their decomposition rate is comparatively slower than other materials.

Step 3: Add a Layer of Browns

Apply a layer of Carbon-rich brown materials like sawdust, shredded paper or cardboard, yard waste, pine needles, etc.

Step 4: Add a Layer of Greens

Apply a layer of Nitrogen-rich green organic materials, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc.

Step 5: Maintain the Moisture

Wet the layers to make the pile moist. This also helps in maintaining the moisture level of the pile and the soil temperature.

Note: Make sure not to add too much or too less water. Add enough water to make the compost pile moist and not soggy.

Step 6: Add Dyed Mulch

Add dyed fresh mulch and wood chips into the pile.

Note: Consider the source of colored mulch. Make sure it is natural or organic since artificial or treated wood mulch might do more harm than good.

Step 7: Add Source of Nitrogen

Add Nitrogen fertilizer to the pile. This will accelerate the composting process.

Step 8: Repeat the Layers

Add green and brown material alternatively, and sprinkle water.

Step 9: Add Finished Compost

While this is optional, an additional layer of finished compost can increase the advantageous microorganisms in a pile, accelerating the composting process.

Step 10: Mix the Materials and Turn

Mix the greens, browns, dyed mulch, fertilizer, and finished compost, and turn the pile. You must turn the pile every two weeks to fasten the decomposition.

Note: Decrease the frequency of turning the pile in winter months as the heat can escape and slow the composting process.

Step 11: Add Organic Material as Mulch

Adding additional organic material as a mulch layer will increase the nutrients in a pile.

So this is how you can compost dyed mulch. However, before moving forward with the process, it is essential to know the advantages and disadvantages of composting dyed mulch and whether it is worth the time and energy.

Benefits of Composting Dyed Mulch

Adding Mulch to Compost Pile
  • Provide Nutrients: Composting dyed mulch will provide essential nutrients to the soil. However, that is only true if the dyed mulch does not contain construction or demolition materials.

Note: Construction and demolition recycled materials will contain CAA, which is unsuitable for compost. 

  • Retain Soil Moisture: Dyed mulch helps maintain the soil moisture, enhancing the soil’s water infiltration and water retention capacity.
  • Improve Soil Structure: Colored mulch improves the soil structure and avoids soil erosion.

Disadvantages of Composting Dyed Mulch

  • Kill Beneficial Microorganisms: Certain chemicals in colored mulch might pose a threat to good soil bacteria, fungi, insects, and earthworms.
  • Slow Break Down: Composting dyed mulch might take a long time since the decomposition rate is slow.

Quick Tip: Alternatively, you can use pine straw, cedar mulch, cypress mulch, pine bark, or double/triple shredded bark mulch. Bark mulch is also excellent for controlling weed growth.

  • Soil Contamination: Toxins and chemicals in dyed mulch leach into the soil while composting and hamper plant growth. Even the dyed mulch, which doesn’t have long-lasting chemicals, can still affect young plants.
  • Water Contamination: Composting dyed mulch with harmful chemicals can seep into the ground, contaminate groundwater, or threaten aquatic life if it runs off into the water. 
  • Expensive: The actually beneficial and organic dyed mulch will be heavy on the pocket as cheap dyed mulch will have a very high chance of containing heavy metals like chromium and copper, which are not at all advantageous for plants.

Clearly, the disadvantages take the upper hand, and colored mulch might not be the best mulch; therefore, it is recommended to compost organic mulch instead of dyed mulch.

But how is natural mulch different from dyed mulch?

Difference Between Natural Mulch and Dyed Mulch

Dyed Mulch vs Natural Mulch
Natural MulchDyed Mulch
Made directly from trees (like cedar pines)Made from recycled wood (like crates, decks, demolition, and construction materials)
Blends subtly into natural surroundings.Attractive but provides an artificial look.
Over time, it loses color and turns gray.Holds color longer than natural mulch.
Pocket-friendly.Expensive.
Healthy for plants and surroundings.Might be toxic to plants, animals, and humans.

Well, now you can judge which type of mulch will be better, right?

And if you still have your eyes set on dyed mulch, here are certain precautions you should take.

Quick Tip: One of the ways to ensure the dyed mulch is safe is to look for the MSC Logo (Mulch and Soil Council) on the bag of dyed mulch.

Precautions To Take While Composting Dyed Mulch

  • Wear Hand Gloves While Using Dyed Mulch: As a precautionary measure, wear hand gloves while handling dyed mulch. If the mulch contains toxic chemicals, you can protect yourself from coming in direct contact with it.
  • Keep Your Pets Away: Our pets are naive enough not to know what to stay away from. Therefore, it is crucial to keep them away from the area of application of dyed mulch, as they can inhale or ingest the chemicals present. 
  • Avoid Using Dyed Mulch for Edible Plants: Though not all dyed mulch contains harmful chemicals, however, as a precaution, avoid using them for edible plants.

Hence, knowing the pros and cons will help you make the best decision for your garden. After all, happy plants make a happy you!

How to use dyed mulch for plants?

You can compost dyed mulch or apply it as mulch directly on the topsoil.

Can we use dyed mulch in a vegetable garden?

It is not recommended to use dyed mulch for edible plants since colored mulch might contain toxic chemicals which are harmful to consume.

Is colored mulch toxic to plants?

Colored mulch can be toxic if natural dyes are not used or the wood is treated with harmful chemicals.

Can we use rubber mulch instead of dyed mulch to make the garden attractive?

Rubber mulch can also contribute to enhancing the beauty of the garden. Therefore, you can use rubber mulch instead of dyed mulch for aesthetic appeal. However, rubber mulch is a form of inorganic mulch.

Now, you thoroughly understand the process of composting dyed mulch. So what are you waiting for? Apply those skills, and make some healthy compost for your garden. However, if you’re planning to plant directly into compost, you mustn’t miss some concerns.