Is Cotton Burr Mulch Safe for Gardens?

Annamarie Ask CFC

A CFC friend recently wondered about using cotton burr mulch on gardens and whether it is safe. She went on to do some research of her own.

Answer: Cotton is so heavily sprayed with pesticides, one wonders why the plant nurseries tout cotton burr compost? There must be chemical residues from pesticides which carry over into cotton burr compost.

The product is being marketed as a great fertilizer, and some websites make negative comments about the environmentalists who are sounding an alarm and waging war against the product. At the same time, other sites indicate that farmers must find other controls besides neonicotinoids (systemic insecticides).

Our friend contacted an acquaintance who is an entomologist and highly placed in the Stem Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He suggests:

  • Go local; cotton isn't grown in Illinois!
  • Native plants thrive on native soils, often nutrient-poor soils.
  • Cotton is 4 pounds of pesticide for 1 pound of cotton. Most of that pesticide is petroleum based. The petroleum impact is exacerbated since the cotton burr compost is being shipped across the country.

Our CFC friend concludes, "I will be using our own compost and good old manure from now on!" We suggest you follow her lead. Homemade compost, shredded leaves, dry grass clippings, local wood chips, and straw are much safer alternatives to cotton bur mulch. In addition, they are much cheaper.