‘ “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.’ (Luke 8:5-6)
Just about as much stuff falls to the ground in the forest as does drops of rain. Leaves, branches, fruit and berries, animal feces, bark, and flower pedals all fall to the ground helping to create the rich soil fertility that is necessary for an abundant life-cycle in nature. All of this is just as important as water in making a healthy natural environment for plants to thrive. We clean up in our yard that which makes and keeps the soil quality and soil health. Keep your mulch on your land!
What is mulch?
Mulch is any organic material that can be shredded, or chipped, and added as a top dressing, but also should break down over time to add organic matter into your soil.
Click here for the Definition: Mulch
What are mulch advantages; for my landscape, garden, or homestead?
Mulch will help keep moisture in the ground, suppress weeds, add organic matter, improve soil drainage, and improve the structure. Mulch will also provide a layer to insulate the roots against extreme temperatures as well as make a landscape look neat and finished.
What are the different types of mulch?
There are a variety of basic mulch types such as wood chips, straw, shredded leaves, sawdust, shredded bark, newspaper or cardboard, dried grasses, and pine needles. Compost can also be used as mulch, but is typically mixed in with the soil first and may need another type of mulch on top to provide all the benefits. In some areas of the world cocoa, cottonseed, or pecan hulls are also used as mulch.
An often asked question; what is mulch vs. bark?
Bark is a type of mulch, but is often treated so that it doesn’t decompose and is then used in decorative landscapes. Untreated, bark can make great mulch for all of the reasons listed above.
Where and what type of mulch should I use?
For a perennial garden or decorative landscapes with trees and shrubs, wood chips are a great choice. Almost any local type of wood will do. Some plants can be sensitive to acidic woods like pine, but if you are planting natives in an area where pine grows naturally, you can be sure that those plants will do fine with pine or any of the local trees.
Some plants, such as certain succulents, should not be mulched with wood chips. Succulents or cacti that do well with heat would be best mulched with rocks or decomposed granite. The succulents that don’t like as much heat can be mulched with cardboard or straw, or any dried grasses.
For a vegetable garden, wood chips can work well along the rows in between the plants, but something lighter would be best around the plants since they are typically more delicate. Try starting with a layer of newspaper, then finish with straw, dried grass, leaves, or sawdust. The grass and leaves will add the most nutrients back into your soil and will need replenishing regularly.
Almost all berry bushes can do well with pine needles for mulch. Keep in mind that pine needles take a time to break down so ensure that your soil has lots of other organic material mixed in prior to the final layer of pine needles.
Pathways can be treated in a few different ways. First consider a layer of cardboard and then finish with a thick layer of pine needles, wood chips, or even saw dust for a natural finish. Also see a previous blog post called ‘grassland weed control’ for a variety of methods to treat and finish pathways or areas that won’t be planted.
How can I obtain mulch?
There are many sources for mulch. The first is your local landscape supplier who will likely deliver it by the truck load if needed. Try google-ing “mulch near me” to find your suppliers. You can also hire a tree trimming company and ask for the tree rounds and branches to be chipped in place, therefore leaving you with some nice big piles of useful mulch. Also, have the tree stump ground for some additional mulch.
If you like to do things yourself, buy a wood chipper, which comes in many sizes. Even a small chipper is handy and will mulch all your yearly shrub and tree trimmings easily. I use the small one and find it’s easiest to chip the branches while they’re still green. If you prefer hand tools, consider a nice heavy lopper for the larger branches and you’ll get a good pile of mulch each year. Also, if you have any horseweed or mullein, or other tall plants growing naturally out in your fields, they can too be chipped for mulch.
Another option is to check with local tree trimmers and landscape maintenance companies and ask them to drop off at your house instead of the local dump. Let your neighbors know that you would take their leaves or wood chips should they need to dispose of any. Don’t assume that your neighbors don’t know the value though and consider offering them something in return. Or you might call the local municipality to see if your jurisdiction has a drop-off location for this material where you can then go and pick it up for free. If this option doesn’t exist, consider organizing a community location where those that contract to the utility companies can drop off their wood chips from when they trim trees away from the power lines.
Take a good look at your property and notice what materials are already there. Is there something that you’ve been sending to the dump such as cardboard, or grass clippings?
One last question that is important to answer; is mulch a fire hazard?
Most wood mulch will burn very slow. Some studies have been done that show that wood chips burn at a rate of about 1’ per 5 minutes. However, dry pine needles burn at a much faster rate. Pine needles, if used, should cover small areas such as around a berry bush and in a layer of about 1” or less and/or mixed in with the soil. Also consider mixing some leaves in with your pine needles and wetting them down well after application. This will reduce the ‘burnability’ of the ground cover.
So what do you do if your soil is too acidic? Mulch. What do you do if your soil is too alkaline? Mulch. Mulch is the one thing that you can always do to improve your soil, so mulch and mulch more!
‘Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” ‘(Luke 8:7-8)
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**A sweet home blessing from our homestead to yours**