Cocoa bean mulch offers an economical and attractive mulching material to add to all types of gardens, with the added benefit of a chocolate scent that lingers for several weeks after the mulch is added to the garden. Unfortunately, it's also highly toxic to pets. Learn the facts about this type of mulch and how to protect dogs and cats from its toxic effects.
About Cocoa Bean Mulch
Cocoa bean mulch is also called cocoa mulch, cocoa hull mulch, and chocolate hull mulch. It's made from the discarded shells of the cocoa bean. Cocoa beans grown on trees, and after harvest and processing, are shelled, with the beans processed further to make all sorts of chocolate products. The hulls are then packaged and sold as mulching material at major home and garden stores, large big box department and mass merchandise stores, and garden centers nationwide.
Benefits of Cocoa Hulls
According to the National Cocoa Hull Association, the shells that come off during the roasting process offer a weed-free and economical mulch product that's safe to use on all types of plants.
The benefits of using cocoa bean mulch include:
- Green product - It uses something that would simply be discarded during the manufacturing process, thus encouraging recycling and a 'green' or environmentally-friend product.
- All natural - Cocoa hulls are all natural.
- Economical - You need to use about one inch of cocoa hull mulch whereas other products require a deeper bed of mulch to produce the same effect.
- Attractive - Cocoa hulls are a medium brown color when fresh but darken with age to an attractive dark brown or even bronze color. Many homeowners like the look of cocoa hull mulch around their plants.
- Pleasant smell - When cocoa hull mulch is fresh, it actually smells like chocolate. The aroma fades in about three weeks but your garden will smell like a chocolate bar for a few weeks.
- Encourages soil bacteria - Cocoa hull mulch breaks down into the soil and encourages friendly soil bacteria, the kind that break down all plant material into nutrient-rich soil that encourages plant growth.
The Hershey's chocolate company states that cocoa mulch repels insects, but other gardening websites say that its effects are similar to other types of natural mulch products. Hershey's claims that its mulch repels slugs and snails. This makes sense if the hulls have sharp edges, which may act like diatomaceous earth or other products that have sharp edges that cut into the soft bodies of slugs and snails.
There are some drawbacks, some of which can be countered with simple steps:
- Lightweight - One of the benefits of cocoa hulls is that they're lightweight. It's easy for gardeners to lift sacks of mulch and carry them around the garden. However, that same benefit turns into a drawback when spreading the mulch on windy days. Wind can blow the hulls out of the garden quickly. To counter this drawback, do two things. First, spread cocoa hulls on calm days only. Second, water them after spreading them. Moisture makes the hulls curl and interlock, creating a kind of mat that holds them in place.
- Poisonous to pets - Cocoa hull mulch is toxic to dogs and cats. Unfortunately, it's also attractive to dogs and cats. Hulls contain two chemicals, caffeine and theobromine, which are toxic to dogs. The ASPCA's poison control center provides more information on the toxic effects of cocoa hull mulch if pets ingest it. Symptoms include excitability, muscle tremors and weakness. If you believe your pet may have eaten cocoa hull mulch, take him to a veterinarian immediately.
Unfortunately, there is no way to deter pets from investigating cocoa shell mulch. With their acute sense of smell, they can scent the yummy smell of chocolate even weeks after the odor fades to human noses. Puppies are particularly prone to investigating their world by eating or chewing everything in sight, and unfortunately may chew on the mulch. A sturdy fence to keep your dog out of the garden or another kind of mulch are necessary if you have pets and don't want them to get sick.
Where to Buy
You can purchase cocoa hull mulch at garden centers and mass retailers nationwide. Hershey's has a link to retailers carrying their brand of mulch on their website.