Monday, April 6, 2009

Return to Mulch Mountain

Saturday was the day. One of the big, red trucks of spring came and deposited four yards of beautiful mulch at the end of our driveway. And I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day either. Sunny, temps in the 50s… I had a great time shoveling, hauling, and spreading the rich, earthy stuff into all the garden beds. I even got one of the Sprouts to help…for about 15 minutes. Photobucket
Sure I’m sore now, but it’s a “good sore,” as they say. And it’s a sore accompanied by a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I think of all the benefits for my flowers—weed deterrence, moisture retention, soil nourishment. It’s worth every ache and pain.

For the past seven or eight years, I’ve been using the free mulch offered by our village’s public works department. It’s ground from all the wood they gather in tree pruning and storm clean-up, as well as from discarded Christmas trees. There’s a three-yard minimum and you pay just $10 per yard for delivery. You can also go any time and pick it up yourself, at no cost. I used to do this all the time before I traded my fuel-slurping SUV for a teeny little gas-sipper. Now I can’t haul enough to make it worth the trip.

I’ve always been very happy with this mulch. It’s well aged, so it’s about half-composted by the time it comes to me. (It sits in HUGE piles in the public works yard. When it’s delivered, you can still see the steam rising off it from the composting process at work, and it actually feels hot to the touch.)

My plants—and the earthworms—seem to love it. It’s not treated with chemicals, like much of the bagged stuff at the Box-mart, so it continues to break down and feed the soil once it’s in place. Some sources say it robs nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down, but my arborist neighbor assures me that this is true only if you mix it into the soil.

I usually prefer to spread mulch a little later in the season, when the ground has had a chance to warm up and when I can tell more easily where my plants are. However, the delivery schedule fills quickly and you take what you can get. Right now, it’s a bit of a guessing game where the perennials are, though I have markers on most of them, which helps. (My neighbor, Maya, still laments the first spring in her home, when she “mulched to death” many of the perennials left by the previous owner. She’s since replaced them many times over, though.)

I also have to be careful in areas where I have self-seeders, so I don’t smother any potential seedlings. I’m already seeing lots of new Corydalis and Aquilegia babies. I put down 3-4 inches elsewhere, being careful not to place it too close to stems and trunks. Coreopsis, dianthus, mums, and a few others especially dislike having soggy feet. I leave a wide girth for them so they won’t rot.

Last year I only ordered three yards and did not have enough to cover one last bed in the back. I spent the whole summer pulling garlic mustard, thistle, and hordes of other nasty weeds that wander in off the field behind us. It’s well worth the extra $10 for that reason alone.

Did I get all four yards distributed? No, I’m about halfway. And here’s what the pile looks like today, thanks to yesterday’s lovely weather:

Ah, spring. Do ya think you could make up your mind to stay put for a while?


  1. Isn't it amazing how long the mulch distribution can take? We got 8 cubic yards of redwood chips last year for weed prevention, and it took the two of us (Mr. Mouse graciously volunteered) most of the day. Now it looks tidy, and that mulch really holds the water in (a good thing around here). Good luck with the second half!

  2. What a nice service that your village offers! And at least you got a picture of one of your helpers, any help is better than none I guess :)
    I have the same problem with mulching. I always am afraid I'm covering something important that I'll never see again. Hope the snow goes away. It sure can change quickly this time of year!

  3. I didn't get any mulch delivered last year because I hated how long the pile sat on my driveway. I managed to get some free mulch from my township, which I picked up & hauled myself. This year, I think I'm going to have the minimum amount delivered and try to do the rest with the free stuff. I hate finding bits of mulch in the lawn along the driveway.

  4. Spring has it's 'work' and it's play, doesn't it?!! Sometimes the work can feel like play, but sometimes it all just seems like work;-) Our area has free mulch too, for those who can get it themselves. I don't think they have a delivery service. My son's boyscout troop is selling it so needless to say, we ordered from him! My husband put it down thickly, covering every last perennial that was sticking up it's tender head and neck. Oooh, I tried to tell him he shouldn't do that, but I just wasted my breath. I spent time trying to uncover most of them, which I hope I've been able to find... Often they will come right up even after being covered--EVEN with the leaves already on them. Hope Spring will warm up for you soon!

  5. Wow, Town Mouse. Eight yards! Makes my back ache just thinking about it. I'll bet the redwood is pretty though, and worth it's weight in gold for so many other reasons. The Suburban Spouse was eager and willing to help with my mountain of mulch, but he got tired of waiting for me to carefully spread the mulch around each barely sprouted perennial. He finally gave up and went inside.

  6. Hi, Catherine--Yes, the Sprout stuck around just long enough to pose for a nice shot--I got that much out of him, at least! The snow did melt pretty quickly, and it's been in the 50s the last couple days. I finally got out for a bit today and made a little bit of a dent in the pile! Maybe tomorrow...

  7. Hi, MMD--I think this is the longest the pile has ever sat in my driveway. The Spouse is starting to grumble and offer his help a little more persistently... Just bad timing, work-wise and weather-wise, unfortunately. I know what you mean about the mulch in the grass--another thing to make the Spouse grumble, come mowing time.

  8. Hi, Jan--I'm sorry to hear about your buried perennials. I'll bet most of them will find their way to the surface sooner or later! It's nice you're able to support your son's troop that way (and it's nice when they are selling something you can actually USE for a change! :) ) You're right about the "work and play" of spring. I usually enjoy shoveling mulch--it's such a good workout--except for the year it arrived in 90 degree heat and my husband threw his back out! That was not fun...

  9. Snow?! Oh my goodness!
    I'm officially taking back all I ever said about how rough Florida gardeners have it. I can't imagine trying to mark all the perennials so you don't bury them in mulch. And the only thing my seedlings have to fear is Willy the cat, who likes to plop down and have a nice stretch on them. I did wonder where flowers go in the winter up North. Now I know.
    Happy mulching! I'm going to see if we have a program like that. (We can get elephant poop from Busch Gardens, but it's not quite the same.)

  10. Elephant poop! Lots of good humor potential in that, but I'm too tired to do more than laugh at the moment! I guess every region has its own special, um, virtues? There's a stable near here that offers free horse manure, and some of my veggie gardening friends swear by it, but I can't quite bring myself to go and play around in that stuff. My garden's loss, I guess. Thanks for stopping by, Penlyn.


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