Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers

Louisiana's Save Our Cypress Coalition has been busy, and it looks like their hard work is starting to pay off. Last year the coalition's leaders sent letters to Wal-Mart, Lowe's, and Home Depot urging them to stop their sales of cypress mulch. So far, only Wal-Mart has taken truly definitive action. Effective January 1, 2008, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. will stop buying or selling cypress mulch coming out of Louisiana.

In a recent press release Mark Ford, executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, noted, "It's a tremendous step that Wal-Mart has recognized that cypress sustainability is a serious concern. . . . and [The Save Our Cypress Coalition] will continue to work to completely end the sale of unsustainable cypress mulch."

Considering many old-school gardeners still believe that cypress mulch repels insects and lasts longer than other wood mulches, that's going to be a tall order. And what about all the logging that goes on in Mississippi, Florida, and the other Gulf states? Keeping the pressure on loggers and retailers is a great start, but eco-conscious gardeners can hold sway, too.

How? By voting with our dollars. For instance, instead of buying bags of hardwood mulch from the nearest big box store, we can look for good mulching prospects closer to home -- saving time, money, and fossil fuels. I've heard that used coffee grounds, ground-up corncobs, peanut and cocoa bean hulls, and shredded coconut husks also make great mulch. The next time you're at the farmer's market or your favorite microbrewery, explore the local mulch possibilities. You just might be able to take some byproducts -- think clean, weed-free straw or spent brewery hops -- off their hands for them.

In my case, I use a patchwork of things I already happen to have. I've found that newspaper, grass clippings, shredded leaves, and compost work really well to keep weed growth down, protect my plants' roots, and lock in soil moisture. And so what if the mulch in my butterfly garden bed doesn't match the stuff around my pond? My gardens aren't likely to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens anytime soon, but I can live with that.