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Mulch and Mulching, What To Do
March 26, 2018

This past week was a blur.

(The girls sporting a fresh cut.)

Doctor's Appointment for Yolanda on Monday, drop the fur kids off and pick them up from the Groomer.

Tuesday I sat and rotted as I waited to renew my drivers license.

Monday and Wednesday I pick
up a grand daughter from pre- school (weekly).

Thursday was a dental appointment with Yolanda

Friday Karen and I took two little grand kids to see the butterflies at Fredrick Meijer Gardens.

Not to mention daily routines.

My oldest brother found out he has a cancerous grown on his right kidney.

Medical personnel are attacking things aggressively, and the power of prayer is already at work and visible.

Below are a couple pictures of Sophie.

Notice the short legs, well she discovered she can jump.

Here is a picture of her on the ironing board.

Keeping her off counter tops is becoming a full time job.

You know how it goes, learn something new.

We may finally see a spring weather pattern starting to develop in the 'Great Lakes Region'.

That means some rain, warmer temperatures and some real outdoor time.

I was hoping to continue with birds this letter, but many have asked about mulching this time of year.

Also prayerfully I will send out some kind of Easter letter later this week.

For new readers, it is what I Do, share my faith and my Lord.

Okay, Mulch and Mulching.

This is long, but I think thorough.

Near the end are some ratios that may come in handy when trying to figure out quantity.


(Leaf Mulch in my yard.)

You've heard it again and again ......

Mulch for weed control.

Mulch for water retention.

Mulch to keep roots warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.

Neatly mulched beds improve the appearance of any landscape.

Beyond its appearance, a layer of mulch provides many other benefits besides the ones listed above.

The right mulch like compost and shredded leaves, can add much-needed nutrients to the soil.

However, shredded barks and wood, draw nitrogen from the soil (aids in decomposition).

The right mulch also attracts certain birds as they look for food and nesting materials.

It can also slow down and even deter the erosion of topsoil.

Though applying mulch may seem like a chore, it can actually save you effort later in the season.

Because mulch helps to prevent weeds and retain moisture, you'll spend less time weeding and watering your garden and more time enjoying it.

In order for mulch to work and look its best, you must choose the best material for your garden and apply it properly.

Not all mulches are created equal and not all mulch is for every situation.

Mulch goes well beyond aesthetics.

(Cypress mulch, looks good, slow to decay.)

Yes, some mulches not only keep weeds down and help to retain moisture, but some mulches will add nutrients and offer other benefits to your gardens and your soil.

A few tips about mulching ......

With the proper tools at hand, it is time to get dirty.

The most common mulch is wood chips, shredded back and so on.

The best tool for this is a basic garden fork (pitch fork).

The fork also works well with pine needles and compost.

You'll get the hang of it.

(A cubic yard to coverage ratio is at the bottom of this letter.)

For more help, simply give me a holler.

Here we go.........

It is always wise to keep mulch a few inches from you plants, but more so with wood products like chips, nuggets and shredded bark.

It also wise to put down a nitrogen rich fertilizer before using wood product mulches (more on this later).

One thing that drives me crazy and is a big No, No in landscaping, yet many gardeners and even landscape companies continue to do .........

That is to pile or mound up mulch around the trunk of a tree.

(Picture to your right.)

This is called the Volcano look or effect.

While some may consider this attractive, it is one of the worse things you can do for your trees.

Mulch volcanoes offer a home for insects and fungus that will gradually attack the tree from under the now softened bark as well as from the outside.

It isn't a matter of if ..............

It is a matter of when this will happen.

It may take years, but it will happen.

(Pictured to your left, is the proper way to lay mulch around a tree.)

Always leave a barrier free zone from all of your plants.

Another thing that makes me cringe is this .........

When I see gardeners and again many of the so called pros, putting down mulch too early in the season.

I can appreciate that you may want to get a leg up on your gardening.

However, you aren't doing your plants any favors by mulching too soon.

For many of us, the soil temperatures are way too cold this time of year, to throw on any type of mulch.

Around here, I still have frozen ground in the shade.

Putting mulch on that now will keep it frozen for weeks to come.

The ideal time for mulch (in Temperate climates) is mid to possibly late spring when soil has had a chance to warm up.

Yes, soil temperatures should be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you put a fresh layer on now, your plants will be slow to take off and grow and may never be quite what they could have been because the soil temperatures never warmed up enough to allow for maximum intake and growth.

As a 'Nurseryman' (Michigan Certified), I can say this to you, because I am not trying to sell you a product or service (it is the truth, however).

I am simply trying to help you, get the most from certain aspects of gardening.

A side Note:

Be sure to water well before you lay any kind of a mulch down.

Okay, on to mulches and mulching.

Organic Mulches:

Compost is one of the best mulches for providing benefits to the soil.

However, that rich medium can also provides a great place for weeds.

Some compost is not very attractive.

If appearance is important, use compost as a soil amendment and find a more visually pleasing material to cover it like.........

Wood Chips or Shavings are visually pleasing and provide all the characteristics of good mulch.

Like sawdust, it is advisable to use older, decomposed material.

Wood mulch that has not been properly aged or turned regularly can contain toxins and acids that are harmful to young plants.

Fungal contamination can also occur with unseasoned wood mulch.

Wood chips and shavings also draw valuable nitrogen from the soil.

This is a nature at work, as nitrogen is required in the decomposition of carbon based products (anything wood).

Bark is also sold as chunks, nuggets, or shredded.

(Pine bark nuggets.)

Bark is one of the most attractive (and more expensive) mulch materials, so it may be best used in more visible areas.

Pine, cedar, and cypress are the most common varieties.

In addition to its appearance, bark provides good weed prevention and moisture retention.

Plus, bark nuggets will last for years (and float away in a heavy rain).

Again, wood products draw nitrogen from the soil to aid in decomposition.

I suggest you shy away from colored barks and mulches.

If you are like me, I don't want any kind of a dye running off or leaching into my soil and eventually water table (I don't care how earth friendly they tell me it is).

Again I say to you ..........

If you don't add a high nitrogen fertilizer, many of your young trees, shrubs and flowers will have a weak or sickly look to them, especially if you insist on mulching right to the base of your plants.

Most plants have their root systems (90% of tree roots) within the first several inches of the surface.

If the nitrogen is being depleted to break down mulches, you can imagine the number this is doing on your plants that require a certain amount of nitrogen.

This is why it is so important to leave a gap between plant and mulch.

Especially young trees and shrubs, and all of your flowers and flowering plants.

Hay and Straw:

Straw is the leftover stem portion of harvested grain.

It is lightweight and therefore not always easy to apply.

(Pine needles, often called Pine Straw.)

It tends to blow around and
decomposes quickly and therefore needs replacing more often than other mulches.

Its appearance may not make it a top choice for the landscape.

Straw does make a good cover for newly seeded lawn areas, but is full of weed seeds.

Hay is the stem portion of grasses, is often confused with straw.

Hay, like straw, is likely to contain weed seeds, so use it with caution.

Both straw and hay are good plant nutrients (nitrogen and others) and work well in the vegetable garden where weeds can easily be pulled.

Pine Needles are sold in bales like straw which makes them relatively easy to transport and apply, or you may find a surplus at a park or a friends yard.

They are long lasting and attractive.

Pine needles are typically longer and softer than spruce needles.

Once thought to add too much acid to your soil and only recommended for acid loving plants.

Research now shows that this isn't the case and can bee used in most situations.

Cocoa Bean Hulls are attractive and smell good.

They also are very light weight and have a tendency to blow around or float away in the next rain storm.

There have been cases of dogs liking the chocolate smell and getting sick and even dying from eating too many cocoa been hull.

Newspapers covered with a mulch of leaves mixed with compost, or fresh grass clippings.

Paper should be no more than two to three layers thick and have holes punched in it to allow water through.

It is best to wet the paper before laying it.

Again, a wood product.

Grass clippings provide nitrogen, tree leaves are once again...............a carbon based material.

Sawdust right off the saw can be very acidic depending on the type of wood being used.

(Mixed Hardwood Mulch.)

A good rule of thumb for fresh sawdust, is to pile it where it will be undisturbed for one year.

The rains and natural decomposition will leach out most of the acid and then it can be used for mulch the next few years.

High on my list is Leaf Mulch (Also called Leaf Mould or Mold) a good organic material but use leaves that have been allowed to rot slowly for about one year.

Grass clippings from a weed free lawn make a great feeding mulch, but use lightly.

They are best when used mixed with other organic matter such as leaves.

High in nitrogen, but have little by way of fiber to improve soil structure.

If applied too thickly, grass clippings can decay into a slimy pulp, which can get very hot, and can burn plants.

Inorganic Mulches:

Plastic warms the soil, plus blocks air and water.

Plant growth is accelerated by the added heat and moisture retained underneath the mulch layer.

(Cocoa bean hulls.)

Since plastic is solid, moisture must be provided by an irrigation system underneath or by careful hand watering.

Usually sold in rolls, black or clear plastic can be used.

Black is impervious to light, while clear plastic has been known to let weeds germinate and grow beneath.

On the downside, plastic can overheat the plant's roots or retain too much moisture, particularly if the plastic is covered with a layer of organic mulch for appearance sake.

Plastic will freeze, so you may need to take it up in the fall.

If used on slopes, any material placed on top of plastic will wash away or slide off. Plastic is well suited for use in vegetable gardens.

Landscape Fabric is purchased in rolls and provides good weed control.

Plus, unlike plastic, the fabric allows air and moisture to penetrate into the soil and plant roots.

Overall, it's the best inorganic mulch for long-term use.

Roots can become enmeshed in the fabric, making removal difficult, so be sure to remove weeds as soon as you see them.

Brick or Stone offers a neat appearance but may not blend with every landscape design.

They offer little weed control without landscape fabric placed down first.

Brick and stone (especially lighter shades) will reflect heat back up towards plants, which may be harmful.

This mulch is certainly long lasting.

Be careful .....

If pieces are strewn into the lawn, they can become potential hazards when mowing.

Great projectiles for kids as well.

Rubber Mulch made from recycled rubber and tires.

Good for permanent walkways, driveways, or playgrounds.

Make sure it is made from recycled materials first.

Comes in many colors.

Keeps old tires out of landfills.

Not too long ago using used tires in the garden was discouraged because of the
possibility of heavy metals leaching into the soil.

Rubber also can not contribute beneficial organic matter to the soil, which in gardening is critical.


There is the colored dye and paint that will end up in the soil.

Applying Mulch:

After you have decided which material to use, it's time to put it down.

Here are some things to remember:

When the weather gets warm, we're always in a hurry to get our landscape looking its best, so we pile on the mulch.

But please, don't put mulch down too early in the spring.

Give the soil a chance to warm.

Once again, mulching too early will actually slow down the warming process.

Normally, mid to late spring is the best time to put down mulch.

The area should to be weed-free before mulching.

One reason we apply mulch is to control and kill weeds.

It can do the same to your desired plants, so be careful not to pile too much on them.

If you are mulching around plants, water them first, and them apply the mulch.

To prevent stems and bark from rotting, pull mulch away from woody stems and tree trunks one to two inches.

Also, if mulch is touching the plants, pests such as mice and slugs can get a great hiding place and a free lunch.

In general, the bigger the pieces or chunks, the deeper the layer needs to be.

Smaller-sized mulches will work their way into the soil more quickly.

Seedlings can work their way through a thin layer of mulch, but too deep a layer could be impenetrable.

Let your plants get off to a good start first.

You can always add more after the plants are established.

Mulch that is too deep will stimulate root growth in the mulch layer rather than in the ground.

The resulting shallow root system is susceptible to cold and drought damage.

For looks, consider the size and style of the area you are putting the mulch in.

For example, pine bark nuggets may be too large for a bed of annuals, but perfect for an area around trees or shrubs.

Pathways, slopes, and areas prone to flooding or high wind need special consideration.

Consider using a heavier or larger material here.

You may need to apply mulch in the summer to retain moisture and in the winter to insulate from cold.

Calculating Your Needs:

A single - two inch layer of fine mulch should be sufficient, while a coarser material should be three - four inches deep.

Too much of either type can suffocate your plants.

(Mulched leaves put down last fall.)

In areas where you simply want to keep anything from growing, lay it on as thick as you like.

Coverage will vary greatly based on what type of mulch you use and how deeply it is layered.

One cubic yard of mulch will roughly cover 100 sq. ft. at a 3 inch depth, and 160 sq. ft. at a 2 inch depth.

1 cubic yard of mulch = 27 cubic feet = (9) 3 cu. ft. bags or (13.5) 2 cu. ft. bags.

There you have it.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

“Whatever has your focus also has you.”

Dr. Charles F. Stanley

Be very careful where you focus your thoughts and where your heart lies.

Before you know it, it will control you and that can be dangerous my friend.

“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”

James 3:16

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors,

We borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb.

A Blessed week to you .

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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