Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Landscape faux pas & Cocoa Mulch

Fashion faux pas: Black socks with white sneakers

Fashion faux pas:
Black socks with white sneakers

Landscape faux pas: Black volcano mulch

Landscape faux pas: Black volcano mulch

Hello Fellow Readers,

I am grateful to all of you that came to the Springfest Garden Show and attended my lecture, along with Marty Carson of Three Seasons, on the Dos and Don’ts of Landscape & Garden Design. It was a lighthearted spin comparing garden don’ts to fashion blunders. I few of the dos and don’ts that got the greatest laughs: wearing shorts with black socks and white sneakers or socks with sandals; comparing these fashion faux pas to using dyed mulch.  And wearing the correct undergarments to avoid see-through and right sized clothes to avoid muffin tops; comparing to proper planting protocol to assure the health and beauty of your plants (digging planting holes twice the width and only the depth of the root ball and good soil preparation).

Improper root space for planting

Landscape faux pas:
Improper root space

Fashion faux pas: Muffin Top

Fashion faux pas:
Muffin Top


After our presentation a handful of great questions came from the group. One that I thought was critical to share was using cocoa mulch asked Debra of Sparta. I confessed that I wasn’t familiar with it and asked the audience.  Thankfully a quick reply from a kind soul shared that cocoa mulch is highly toxic to animals.

With further research I learned that the mulch material is leftover from the cocoa bean roasting process which is said to be more environmentally friendly than other mulches hence the appeal. Dr. Maureen McMichael, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital specializes in emergency and critical care says, “Cocoa mulch is significantly more toxic than milk chocolate or even baker’s chocolate because it has quite a bit more theobromine in it.” Theobromine is the toxic compound in most chocolates which is deadly to pets especially dogs. The clinical signs of chocolate or cocoa mulch toxicity include: hyperactivity, muscle tremors, fast heart rate, hyperthermia, and seizures which can cause death.

After time, the sweet smell of the cocoa mulch will subside and may be less appealing to your canine kid, but the toxicity does not go away.  So stay clear of cocoa mulch, especially if you have outdoor pets. Personally I’d be concerned for all wildlife. How much we are learning from each other!  Thank you for all of your questions.

Garden dilemmas?


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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