For many of us, using mulch on our garden is as familiar as planning our gardens, planting seeds, and caring for our perennials. We know that almost any kind of mulch will discourage weeds, funnel water to our plants, nourish the soil, and make our garden look neater.
My mom, the gardener in the family, used salt hay for her precious asparagus patch and peat moss for her six beds of roses, peonies, and annuals, including snap dragons and spider plants.
My first house was in a small city in upstate New York with a back yard small enough to mow with a push mower. I put in a strip garden along one side and planted various tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Back then I relied on grass clippings – ours, and those I found around the neighborhood by the street in large black bags. I always had more than enough in those days before the lawn care companies convinced people they couldn’t mow their own lawns.
Grass clippings seemed to work just fine; I could easily cover our garden. However, I found my grass mulch would have a white mold beneath it after a few days. I never thought people would spread chemical fertilizers on their lawns – we never did – why would people want to do that? I also didn’t know that grass clippings sucked nitrogen out of the soil.
I tried newspapers at one point when we were still subscribing to a couple of daily papers and the Sunday Times and local Sunday paper. Remember those days? But newspapers looked pretty bad in the garden.
When my mom passed away, my dad didn’t feel like taking care of their gardens here in Maine, so we spread gardening cloth over the gardens. The beauty part is the cloth works kind of like black plastic, but it also has tiny holes in it, so moisture can pass through.
Several years later, when my dad passed away and we moved here into their old house, we uncovered the gardens and flowers my mom had planted years ago grew and bloomed; we were especially surprised by the Siberian Iris that dominated one of our gardens and still thrives in the early summer.
Mulch is the gardener’s friend. From peat moss, sawdust, rotting leaves and pine needles to straw, grass clippings, black plastic and gardening cloth, to gravel and ground covers, the choice is wide and each comes with both its own virtues and problems.
Lately our gardens crowd out weeds – mostly. After I have finished my fall garden cleanup, my neighbor’s ornamental pear trees lose their leaves about late November or December and I leave those to rot through the winter and be spring mulch.
Mom Nature’s mulches can be so helpful – why not let her do some of your work and help your soil, funnel your watering, and let you forget about it – weeding, that is.