Cocoa bean hulls provide a delicate texture as  mulch in flower beds. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Cocoa bean hulls provide a delicate texture as mulch in flower beds. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

When rain is forecast for days on end, it might seem that having mulch on a garden bed is of little importance.

It’s true that mulching lessens the need for watering by retaining moisture in the ground, but mulch also can prevent soil-borne diseases that might otherwise splash up on un-mulched plants from bare soil.

Add to that the attractive, “finished” appearance of a mulched bed, and my favorite: lessening the need for weeding, and mulching takes one of the top spots in important gardening tasks.

Mulch can take many forms, including shredded leaves, wood chips, grass clippings – make sure the grass is dry and not from a chemically treated lawn – and straw. A 2-inch layer of mulch will generally suffice.

I use a combination of newspapers topped with leaves for my tomato plants and during last year’s drought, only had to water the mulched plants two times. Mulch has the same effect for potted plants, so use mulch if you’d like to cut back on watering your pots.

When we moved into our home, the front bed was “mulched” with rocks, which are generally a bad idea, as rocks tend to heat up the plants too much in hot weather.

My favorite mulch for flower beds is cocoa bean hulls, made from the shells of cocoa beans. The hulls provide a delicate, dark red texture as opposed to wood chips or other bulkier types of mulch. They also add nutrients to the soil as they decompose and have a pleasant chocolate scent.

The only drawback is the risk it could pose to pets. I’ve asked garden centers that sell the product and have not heard of any problems from them, but still, I prefer to be cautious, especially with our long-term house guest that tends to ingest all kinds of things if we’re not careful.

I mulched one of my flower beds last week, with Pookie at my side. When she approached the bed, I’d give her a stern admonition, but telling a dog to stay away from chocolatey mulch is probably like the Eve/apple warning. I’m afraid it will only tempt her. So now, I keep my eye on Pookie when she goes in our backyard.

To read more about the cocoa bean effect on pets, see: