Landscaping with tanbark or mulch? Use caution!

Some Silicon Valley homeowners spruce up their yards and gardens in spring and summer with tanbark or mulch. While this is a very common practice, and often encouraged as a drought-friendly gardening option, it can be a bad idea if it is too close to the structure, especially the home’s foundation.

Tanbark is simply small bits of wood, and most common mulch is often no more than shredded wood. Why is that bad? Wood is food for termites and piles of tanbark or mulch can invite and hide them as well!

 

Tanbark or Mulch?

Beware Tanbark or Mulch by the foundation!Mulch is the more widely used term and it can cover a broad scope of materials, but the most common type you will find in stores (and in Bay Area gardens) is the woodchip mulch. If you ask for mulch at a hardware store, this is most likely what they will show you. In the local vernacular, we often refer to mulch as the fine, thin, or decomposed stuff – we have a different name for the larger bark and wood chips.

I learned only recently that tanbark is something of a local term that people from other parts of the state or country may not be familiar with. Here in the Bay Area we call the stuff you commonly see underfoot at playgrounds or piled thick on the planted berms around a shopping mall parking lot by the name of tanbark. Some people may reserve the name for the large chunky bark chips while others will call just about any wood chip substrate by that name. So tanbark is, in fact, a mulch.

Homeowners and sellers wanting their home to make a good first impression are often tempted to apply mulch or tanbark in otherwise bare patches around their yard, but you can wind up with far bigger (and more costly) problems if it’s too close to the foundation!

What Was That About Termites & tanbark or mulch?

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Mulches and Fire Danger

Tanbark or mulch in front of a San Jose home

Tanbark wood mulch separated by a dry creek bed, cement path, & brick retaining wall in a low-water San Jose yard.

May Day is a celebration of spring, but “April showers” were few and far between and it’s already starting to feel like summer! With another record-breaking hot year and the Bay Area in severe to extreme drought conditions homeowners concerned about water use and fire prevention are turning to gardening and landscaping for the solution. But a word of warning! Since updating my surprisingly popular post on mulch vs tanbark and the risk of termite infestation, I came across another reason to be cautious when applying it to your perimeter: fire.

Organic Mulches and Fire Hazard

Mulch can work wonders in a garden – it helps soil retain moisture, protects roots, reduces weeds, insulates the ground, can add nutrients and enrich the earth, adds visual appeal, and it’s affordable. It’s on every guide for landscaping water conservation (including Valley Water’s recommendations and San Jose Water’s tips)! Do a search and you’ll find it comes in a broad variety of materials. These can be divided into two groups: organic and inorganic. And organic matter can burn.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has published their (easy to read) findings from a study comparing the combustibility of various organic landscape mulches. I recommend reading the booklet, but here are some of the key points I found most interesting: (more…)

Avoid earth to wood contact

Earth to Wood Contact wood losesWhether you’re looking to buy your next home or a home owner now, it’s imperative to understand how bad moisture is for wood.  So many people assume that the worst thing that can happen to a house is termites, but most of the time, it’s water – and whatever brings water to the house, fence, deck, wooden retaining wall, mailbox post, etc.

This conduit for water includes soil   Earth touching wood will conduct water up to the wood, like a wick.

Often the earth to wood contact problems come in improperly installed or maintained fences, in which the posts should be put into a concrete base.  Have a look at the image on the right – the moisture from the ground has come up to the fence, damaging the wood and likely rotting it too.

Most properties in Silicon Valley have an abundance of wood elements.  It’s smart to check them periodically to make sure that they aren’t directly touching soil.  By keeping them apart, you’ll help to extend the life of that component.

 

 

 

Selling Your Silicon Valley Home? Photo Tips for Better Marketing

color-potsIf you want to sell your Silicon Valley home, you need a good amount of qualified traffic coming through your doors. That is, you want people who really do want to buy a home and who are capable of doing so to have a look at your condo, townhome or house inside as well as out.  Should the photos in the MLS and online be non-existent, scarce, or poor, those buyers may reject your home without ever seeing it.  It is imperative that your home’s photos nicely showcase your property so that buyers want to come and see more in person.

In this post I’ll share a few tips on how to make the front of  your home show well for the photos (and for in-person visits of real estate agents and home buyers), a few things to do or not to do.  This will help you even if someone else is in charge of taking the photos – you can properly set the stage before the photographer ever gets there.

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