Beware bark chippings!

Last month we planted a new hedge of  variegated griselinia. We bough the plants online from Hedges Direct, and were very pleased with the quality and condition. The hedge seemed to settle in and be doing well, with plenty of rain.

About a week ago we put a mulch of bark chippings (Verve, from B&Q) around them to suppress weeds.  The chippings seemed a bit damp and a little mouldy in parts, but when we had done, the hedge looked great.  Then couple of days ago we gave it all a good watering with the hose, as it hasn't rained a lot.

Today we noticed that most of the young leaves on the new shoots had gone dark and soft. I rang Hedges Direct, who said that bark chippings can cause problems, as the wood may have been treated with various chemicals, which get absorbed by the plants.

So we have spent the whole afternoon doing as thye suggested:  removing the bark, trimming back the damaged shoots, applying some bonemeal feed, and watering it well to flush through any bad stuff. We don't know if this will work. If we lose the hedge I'll be devastated.

Has anyone else had an experience like this? We have used bark chippings before, but probably not on young, newly planted shrubs.  I will take the remaining bark back to the store and complain, but we have spent many hours applying and then removing it, with nothing to show for our efforts except a sickly hedge.


  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 14,112

    are you sure the young growth hasn't just succumbed to chilly weather?

  • Does it not depend on where you are sited ?  Griselinas aren't always the hardiest.

    I would agree with Verdun that the bark chippings aren't likely to be toxic - any such problem would have been highlighted a long time ago considering how much bark chippings are sold.image

  • There has been no problem in similar temperatures for weeks now. And I think it is significant that some of the worst damage is on shoots that are low down on the plants and well shelltered by a fence; the most exposed top shoots have got off relatively lightly. The damage came straight after the watering, which also supports the "toxic mulch" theory, as this would be when the plants absorbed the toxins.

    I have now found a couple of US websites discussing "toxic mulch" (google it). It seems to happen when mulch is badly stored, and these compacted packs of wood chippings are a particular risk when they are damp, as ours were.

  • Thanks, Verdun, we'll consider that. I have just checked four spare plants that the supplier sent, which we  planted in a rather wild part of the garden, just in case any of the others didn't take. They are all fine, with no sign of similar damage, so the evidence is  mounting.

  • RedwingRedwing Posts: 829

    I feel really sorry for you GM.  Planting a hedge is quite a big undertaking. Have you got email correspondence from the plants supplier to quote to B&Q?  Quite a warning for anyone buying bark chippings from B &Q. 

  • That's a useful idea, Redwing. I don't think we'll get anything done until after the B Hol weekend, and perhaps we'll know by then how the hedge is doing. I'll.try tomorrow to get something in writing from the supplier.

    We have watered the hedge again tonight,  but I expect it may get worse before it gets better. I draped fleece over a couple of plants just to rule out frost damage, but we're in Devon, and these plants are suppose to tolerate between 5 and 10 degrees of frost. Even if it goes down to 2 tonight as predicted, the temperature shouldn't be a problem.

  • KornoKorno Posts: 99

    Keep in mind that bark isn't always very good for young new plants as it can deprive it of some nutrients from the ground soil ... Bark works well for established plants.

  • KornoKorno Posts: 99

    Maybe this thread should be called 'beware of over watering plants'.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,695

    I'm also a bit concerned at the possibility of over watering ...

    A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in - Greek proverb 
  • Overwatering? Our climate is such that  Devon would be barren by now if too much water was a problem. I am too lazy to be guilty of over watering, and anyway  a new hedge needs regular water.

    I am happy to report that after a second watering, followed by one the coldest nights since the plants went in, they look fine this morning, with little or so fresh damage. So fingers crossed....    I am convinced now that the weather and the water are not to blame, although I doubt if I can prove anything to B&Q.

    I wouldn't rubbish all their products either. Following advice from Which? I amusing their Verve MP compost for sowing as well as potting this year, with excellent results But if I want woodchip again, I will approach our local tree surgeon, who regularly creates and dumps chippings.

  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,754

    ...and how exactly do you amuse the compost, pray? image

    Good idea to get chippings from a tree surgeon - my friends do, for paths, around the beehives & elsewhere.  And firewood!

  • image I am sure the compost is tittering at our comments!

  • irene26irene26 Posts: 10

    Just a comment - B&Q's Verve seed and potting compost worked ok for me but caused  sneezing for a few hours after using it. This happened 3 times at which point I used Westland and had no further problems

  • Andy LeedsAndy Leeds Posts: 487
    You need to repeat using the bark and see if it goes downhill again (or use on the other area you mentioned). Then there may be more 'evidence'. Removing the original bark and the plant recovering could be coincidence. If it does go downhill, keep the bark, get it tested (no idea where??).
  • Green MagpieGreen Magpie Posts: 665

    Update on the above: I have now, cautiously, replaced the bark on a couple of test plants, and then on the rest. They are fine. Before I did this, I spread the bark out in a wheelbarrow to expose it to the air for a couple of days,  as one theory is that toxic gases build up in the pack.

    So .....  my conclusion is that somehow the combination of freshly opened chippings, cool winds and lots of water have combined to cause the problem. Perhaps the watering  caused the new shoots to sprout just as the winds cooled, and the bark was stressing the plants???   Each of the variables (cool weather, water, and bark) individually seemed to be tolerated.I don't suppose we'll ever know for sure, but the good news is that my hedge looks like surviving.

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