After soil building, mulching is probably the number two topic for gardeners. Kerry Mendez, author of The Ultimate Gardener’s Top Ten Lists, talks about both these important topics in her talks and in her book.
There was also considerable discussion at the Trillium Workshop I attended on Sunday. I mulch all I can, and have stories to tell myself.
Last year our town left piles of wood chips all over town for us gardeners to use as we wish. The wood chips were one benefit of the historic ice storm in December 2008. I have used them over cardboard to make paths in my garden. They will break down as any mulch will, so they need to be refreshed from time to time.
I have also used a light layer of wood chips to mulch areas of my Lawn Beds which include shrubs and perennials. Some will say not to do this because wood chips eat up the nitrogen in the soil. Some new research says that only the very top layer of soil is affected in this way and that wood chips are not a danger to your perennials.
Some people like Jeff Farrell of Trillium, use hay as mulch, other says it makes ‘weeds’ come up all over the garden. Some say, well, you have to use really rotten hay as mulch. Daniel Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm says he uses rotten hay, and keeps piling it on so that any new weeds that germinate are quickly killed.
Jeff Farrell says that not only does he not have trouble using hay as mulch, he has gotten weeds using straw. I have used straw and not had weeds. What this means is that you pays your money and takes your chances — as so often in life. I think one of the reasons people have such different experiences is that we cannot know in these stories what else is going on. Our use of mulch or any other technique is rarely a scientific controlled expriment.
I liked using a light layer of grass clippings as mulch – until I realized I was planting dandelions all through my vegetable garden. I don’t mind dandelions in the lawn but I curse them in the veggie garden.
There are fancy mulches that you can buy buy the truckload or the bag. You can mulch with two or three inches of weedfree compost which looks great and is good for your soil. You can buy shredded bark , dyed or plain. Lisa Newman of Trillium warned us that cocoa hulls are very poisonous to dogs. They look great but can be deadly if you or your neighbors have dogs. She recommended buckwheat hulls which are equally handsome. You can even mulch with stones.
The one thing you and your landscaping company must not do is make mulch volcanoes, mound up mulch, around your trees. This can really harm your trees.
We are all busy, and all looking for ways to eliminate some gardening chores. Mulching can control weeds, conserve moisture and lighten our labor. There are many ways to do it, and we need to consider the particular situation.