Playing in the (recycled) mulch!

TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR MULCH AND GARDENING THIS SPRING

Playing in the recycled mulch!

I just LOVE playing in the dirt or the recycled mulch as the case may be. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. No one told me way back then that there were rules to playing in the dirt. Of course, in those days, I was more into mud pies than gardening or landscaping. Later on, my transgressions turned to lessons. My grandmother’s idea of punishment for poor behavior? Weeding the garden, and there I learned the difference between flowers and weeds. I could have gotten out of that hateful duty if my grandmother had had some nice recycled mulch in those seemingly endless rows.

Springtime is here! The urge to go play in the dirt again is strong! I just love a beautiful flower bed or a lush vegetable garden, don’t you? All the gorgeous colors, beautiful lines of well thought out beds flanking pretty houses. Additionally, of course, there’s the aroma of gardenia and lavender in bloom. When you add to that anticipation of wonderful meals from a vegetable garden; does it get much better?

Using a beautiful protective covering in your garden or landscaping is one of the best ways to make all of your hard work look really good. But that is not the only thing it is good for. Recycled Mulch protects your plants from a lot of things, like temperatures that are too hot or too cold, weed control (my personal favorite), prevents soil erosion (especially on hillsides), can add nutrients to the soil and improve its quality, helps retain water in the soil during dry weather and, most importantly, lawn equipment damage.

My grandmother didn’t really care what the garden looked like. She was more concerned about the quality and quantity of the produce. After a good rain, we would slog through the mud to hoe the garden or gather the food. Once again, a preventative barrier would have made our work a lot easier on us all. I would much rather prevent weeds than hoeing or pulling them. You know, work smarter, not harder.

Don’t you just love it when your landscaper (or husband) mows down one of your favorite plants? I had that happen with a particular rose bush that I had searched for years until I found the exact one I wanted. It lasted long enough to give me two whole roses, but it didn’t make it through the first year. Nope … not after being mowed down (twice) by two wonderful people that I love dearly (tongue planted firmly in cheek). In retrospect, had I cleared the area around the bush and created a bed covered with mulch … that rose bush might still be with us today.

You have to be careful, though. If you use the wrong kind of mulch, you can do a lot of damage to your plants, even kill them. Some mulches can be very toxic to plants. Mulch should smell fresh, like just cut wood or fresh compost. It shouldn’t be allowed to become compacted; keep it aerated so that it doesn’t produce nasty little microbes that can, in turn, produce methanol, acetic acid, ammonia gas and even hydrogen sulfide gas. And it stinks! Remember, sour candy—good; sour mulch—bad.

A few other things that you have to be on the lookout for are Artillery (or shotgun) fungus, slime mold and toadstools (poisonous to humans and pets). Fresh recycled mulch from your friends at American Property Experts in Wilmington, NC is what you’re after. They make mulch from the vegetative debris brought into them daily by tree services, land clearing contractors, and landscapers. They dye it using pet and kid safe dyes. Now let’s focus on how to use the stuff. Here are a few tips:

 

1. Placement very important. You should never use organic recycled mulch right up against wood structures of your house as it can invite nasty little termites to a party that never ends. Also, your beds should remain at about a 3 to a 4-inch depth which is ample room to keep important house vents in crawl spaces from being blocked.

2. Make sure the area is free of weeds and unwanted grass before applying recycled mulch.

3. Be sure to leave ample space between the recycled mulch and your plants; 2-3” from plant stems to prevent water damage or rodent damage in the winter months.

4. Mulch beds need to stay “loose” and uncompacted.

Trees are a different story. The closest a protective ground cover should be to a tree is about 6” from the drip line which is determined by the width of the branches on the tree. Just say “No!” to the mulch volcano! If you’d like to kill your tree and host vermin in the winter, go ahead, make a huge cone around your trees! We have all seen it … piled up a foot or more, around the trunk of a tree! Someone told me once that this practice is necessary to keep moisture on the new root system so the tree will thrive. NOT! Just the opposite is true.

A pile of mulch at the base of a tree is going to encourage rainwater to do what it does best—roll downhill and away from the roots. Not good. When it’s too thick, it can suffocate the roots by not only blocking water but air as well. Plants are living things, and like most living things, they need to breathe. This practice can also encourage the onset of disease and decay.

Recycled mulch is a friend to plants when used correctly! www.treesaregood.com advises that wood chips mixed with bark make the very best cover around trees.

Now that we have learned a little bit about choosing the right kind of mulch, some of the benefits and some of the dangers of using some mulches, let’s talk about one of the most important things when landscaping — price!

Most of us have paid too much for something at one time or another. Before I knew any better, I would go to the local garden supply store and buy large plastic bags of mulch and use that. I thought to spend $2-3 a bag was a pretty good deal. As I have gotten older (and hopefully wiser) I have learned that, unless your garden is a square around your mailbox, it is much more cost effective to buy mulch in bulk. Even a portion of a load shared with a neighbor to two is going to make more sense financially when you understand that a $2.50 bag is only is about 30 cents worth of mulch bought in bulk. Those 12 bags you purchased from the big box store and wrangled out of your car … those very non-eco-friendly plastic bags you shoved in your recycling bin … those palm-sized pieces of wood that didn’t spread very well and didn’t actually cover the entire area you needed it to … next time … think bulk!

About the author! BJ McFalls is an avid fan of flowers and homegrown tomatoes, she’s 64 years young and still enjoying playing in the dirt (and the recycled mulch).

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