Education, News  |  April 16th, 2018

Be Moderate with Our Mulch

  1. We are entering the very beginning of our growing season. Spring has been slow to unfold and currently, soil temperatures are cool. While we all enjoy a fresh topdressing of mulch, it is possible to pile on too much of a good thing. Excessive mulch only keeps the soil temperatures cooler longer. A light topdressing at this time of year accents the newness of the season but we need to allow the plants to start growing and then follow-up with mulch as needed, not all at once. It is when we enter into the hot, dry months of the year that our applied mulch earns its keep.

    Spring bulbs poking through a light layer of mulch

  2. Mulch has merits, but shouldn’t be the most prominent visual thread that captures our attention. We garden because we look forward to watching plants grow, trying new things, anticipating a lilac in bloom or fresh strawberries in season. Such anticipated seasonal experiences focus on Place, Plants, and the People we share our days with. Yet, we start the season by smothering such outcomes beneath layers of mulch, slowing the process and in some cases, unintentionally harming what we desire to preserve.

    Mulch is too prominent, not enough plants or layering of plants.

  3. If we allow nature to be our teacher we realize that nature mulches in the fall. All of its available organic matter drops to insulate the soil beneath. This self-supplying mulch blankets the soil and holds the warmth within. Now extending the below-ground growth of roots and the lively activity of other soil born organisms. When cold daily temps arrive and freeze the soil profile, this natural layer keeps the soil frozen to preserve dormancy. Over time, this organic layer breaks down to build healthier soil, reduce compaction and prevent erosion. It is a protection prelude in the fall of the year for the plant community or ecosystem to await the arrival and growth of spring in due time.
  4. The crowns of our perennials and the trunks of our trees don’t want all of this placed mulch pushed up against them. Our trees don’t want consistently moist bark due to volcanoes of mulch rising upward.

    “Mulch volcanoes” are unnecessary and harmful

    Our perennials don’t appreciate their crowns swimming in “oceans of bark” or having to hollow out small canyons of mulch to discover soil to plant them in. It may sound strange but it’s possible to kill plants with far too much kindness. Another approach may be to blame the plant for simply not being robust enough to survive such loving treatment. Yet, only steps away are perfectly happy plants growing in the cracks of our driveways in the harshest of conditions. Proving plants are very resistant and adaptable to most any situation and seek out success where conditions are favorable to their needs over our rituals. So…while mulching does have merits it is also true it should have moderation as well.

    Example of a well done tree pit

Next up-strategies that take us beyond mulch!

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