Cocoa bean mulch is a garden mulch made from the hulls of cocoa beans. The hulls are removed when the beans are processed to make chocolate products. They make excellent mulch because they retain moisture well and deliver lots of useful nutrients to the soil, and many garden supply stores carry cocoa bean mulch for their customers, or can order it by request. People who live near a facility where whole cocoa beans are processed can also ask about taking the hulls for mulch, as some chocolate companies are happy to give their hulls away.
Mulch is used to help condition the soil while encouraging it to stay moist, keeping weeds down, and protecting the roots of plants from harsh weather. A number of different materials can be used for mulching, including straw, wood chips, and leaves. Some mulches are not suitable for all plants, or have an appearance which is not desirable to gardeners, and these are important considerations when selecting mulch.
In the case of cocoa bean mulch, the hulls can be used on any type of plants. The mulch is dark brown to black, and it will darken with age, rather than fading, as some mulches do. Cocoa bean mulch can be spread very thinly, and it has a chocolate aroma which will linger for a few weeks after it is laid down. Some gardeners find this an enjoyable side benefit, while others impatiently wait for the smell to dissipate, and it is something to think about, as it can be quite strong. The sharp hulls will also deter animal visitors and snails.
This mulch will naturally mold or mildew a bit in some climates, and this is not a cause for concern. It also tends to break down very quickly. Some gardeners report that cocoa bean mulch breaks down after a single season, while others get a year of use out of it; it really depends on the individual conditions in the garden. It also needs to be watered after it is spread so that the light hulls do not float away.
There is an additional note of caution about cocoa bean mulch which pet owners should be aware of when selecting mulch. Cocoa hulls contain theobromine, a chemical compound which is toxic to dogs and cats. If pets eat the mulch, they may become sick. Very few reported deaths have been associated with cocoa bean mulch, but it is a risk. If pet owners want to use this mulch, they may want to seek out a treated theobromine-free product which will be safer for their animals and pets in the neighborhood.