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To mulch or not to mulch

  • Blog Post by: Mary Jane Smetanka
  • July 15, 2013 - 11:31 AM

I don’t mind weeding the garden. This year, though, plentiful rain is sending the weeds wild. I’m finding all sorts of exotic invaders that I haven’t seen before, including sow thistle, wild cucumber and bindweed. Did I mulch? As usual, I started late and haven’t finished.
Mulching keeps the weeds down and holds moisture in the ground, saving on the water bill. But mulch can also be a haven for slugs, earwigs and other pests. So choose carefully.
Here’s a couple web pages dealing with mulching:

www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h139mulch.html

robjundt.hubpages.com/hub/How-To-Choose-The-Best-Mulch

My problem is that I like mulches that don’t look like mulch. For years I had a truckload of composted manure delivered in the spring and then carted it all over the yard, carefully shoveling it between plants. It kept weeds from sprouting and slowly rotted away, improving the soil. But in recent years the compost has seemed more sand than manure and straw, so I wanted to find another option.
Landscape rock was out. If you’ve ever tried to remove it, you know what a gardener’s hell is. Shredded rubber appalls me. Years ago I tried cocoa bean mulch. I loved the smell, but first it turned into a gooey mound and sprouted weird fungi and then it turned into a solid mat that repelled water. Dogs are tempted to taste it, and chocolate is poison to dogs. Out went the cocoa bean bits. I would love to use shredded leaves, but the trees in my yard are maples and the leaves aren’t great for mulching.
That leaves wood or bark mulch. I haven’t been too excited about either. Bark mulch has the reputation of washing away in a heavy rain. Many gardeners like shredded wood mulch, but I’ve always found it unattractive.
Still, the garden needed to be mulched. So off I went to the garden center. I bought medium bark for the back of the perennial border and found finely shredded bark for the front of the perennial garden. The finely shredded bark was expensive, but I decided it was worth it. I’m loving the way it looks at the front of the perennial garden, and it is helping to retain water. Moisture-loving plants like lungwort and hosta are not drooping in the sun as soon as they were before. That's the fine bark mulch in the picture above.
When I recently looked for mulch to put around peonies near my deck, the only product left was something called “brown mulch.” It looks like shredded hardwood that’s been dyed brown — not fancy, but workable. And far preferable to me to the stuff that has been dyed bright red or yellow. At least it looks like dirt.

I put it around my peonies and I’m pleased with the look.
At the rate I’m going I will probably finish mulching in August. Oh well. Next year, I will start earlier. (I say that every year.)
What do you mulch with? Do you have a favorite?

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