Mulching 101

marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern OntarioMay 15, 2011

While i was outside this afternoon digging out great quantities of grass and other assorted weeds from one bed, i began to contemplate my decision to start mulching. The weeds and grass are overwhelming everything, including me. I have always tried to be as organic as possible, but i've now resorted to weed killer in some spots. :(

Anyway, i have some questions about mulching. The number one question is, if your perennials come up through the mulch, won't the weeds do the same thing? How much mulch should a person put around established perennials, i.e., how deep? And are wood chips from trees chipped up by Ontario Hydro good enough? I've used them over landscape fabric and in paths, but not on bare garden soil. If i have to buy 100 bags of cedar chips or something like that, it just may influence my decision! And that's another thing - how long does mulch last in your garden? Does it have to be renewed yearly, or how often?

Thanks in advance for answers, and i'm sure i'll end up with a few more questions!

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Regarding your number one question, mulch usually doesn't stop established plants from poking through. Its useful in reducing weeds as it prevents light from reaching newly-germinated weed seedlings. It won't do much to deter established weeds.

I've heard that 6 inches is a good amount of mulch to apply to beds. I don't think I have nearly this thickness of mulch in my garden so I still have somewhat of a weed problem but I do feel like the few inches of mulch I have slow the weeds down somewhat (and reduce my watering needs).

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 1:32AM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

I am a huge fan of mulch. 4-6 inches, I get mine from the local MD. Helps huge with weeds, and the weeds that do seem to germinate are much easier to remove because they are in the mulch and not the soil. I add every few years as the bottom starts to decompose. C

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 8:55AM
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When I mulched before we moved here, I used to put a few layers of newspaper down before I put the mulch down. That always helped. Eventually the weeds came thru anyway. I eventually stopped using mulch and started planting groundcovers. There was already sedum acre at the house when we moved in so I used that. It's easy to move around where you need it, looks attractive with certain plants, keeps the soil moist and weeds down, lots of ground covers are drought tolerant. I always figured 'Why pay for mulch when you can use groundcovers to basicly do the same job?' Marg

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:11AM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

So can a person put down that much mulch around your perennials? I guess you must be able to, from the sounds of it.

Cheryl, what's the MD?

So, would the wood chips from hydro be okay? They're from all kinds of trees, evergreen and deciduous, whatever they're chipping at the time.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:07PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

Marg, do you live in the country or town? Is your lawn a lawn or just green stuff that gets cut? That's what ours is, so it makes it doubly hard to keep it from creeping into the garden. I have a few groundcoverish things (sedum included), but the grass comes up through them, and it's a real pain!

Btw, meant to mention, i'm not liking this new thing of threads opening in a new window. >:(

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:11PM
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Have you accidentally reset some of the settings on your computer? Or, maybe my computer isn't as updated as yours. It's not opening threads in new windows.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:32PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

Mine isn't now either. Go figure! It started the other day, but just now it's back to normal. Shrug.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 11:02PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

Marciaz, The MD is our local municipality. At our local dump they chip brush and xmas tree ect. Probably very similar to Ont. hydro. Much less expensive than buying bags or from some of landscape companies (theirs of course is cleaner) but we are out in the country so the wind takes some of it.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 11:50AM
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After edging and weeding a couple of large beds I decided a couple of weeks ago to use cardboard and mulch. I'd been doing that with mixed success here and there for a couple of years but have never gotten to all the beds. I edged, weeded around the shrubs and perennials, and just smothered the rest. I make my own mulch and don't have unlimited quantities so only used a couple of inches on top of the cardboard. I'll add more later when I catch up with the weeding and can make more. I've been watching for weeds to come up around the shrubs but so far nothing so I think it may be a success. I cut a keyhole in the cardboard so it fit snugly up against the plants. Later I'll push back the mulch near the edge, cut holes in the cardboard and plant some annuals or more perennials. That bed was the worst as it's near the birdfeeder and those critters bring in all sorts of weeds. Right now I'm in the process of doing a bed that was new last year and now full of dandelions and quackgrass and am doing the same thing except with newspaper and mulch. Pretty easy to place the paper right up against the stems. It's way faster than weeding which doesn't get all the crabgrass rhizomes anyhow. I'm sure I'll be doing this every year somewhere but it does improve the soil, reduces the need for watering, and the earthworms love the dark dampness. Lots of those everywhere I dig.

It's very tiresome having to lift a lot of perennials every year or three to remove the weeds and grass so I'm hoping this method cuts down on that chore. Lots of advantages of living in the backwoods but spreading crabgrass and weeds blowing in aren't on the list! I can understand why people resort to chemicals but I'm trying not to. I've found the weeds still come up thru groundcovers altho admittedly not as fast as on bare soil.

On bare soil here my compost/mulch mix lasts about 6 months so ideally I'd use it spring and fall altho never have enough to do the entire garden so some areas get more than others and I only use about 2-3". Might have to break down and get a truckload of mulch from somewhere but, aside from the cost, one never knows the quality.

If I can do most of the beds with cardboard/newspaper it will slow down the weeds. We've had so much rain that the weeds are running rampant and many days it's too wet to work the soil so they've been winning!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 10:29AM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

I used the newspaper as well and I'm surprised at how fast it breaks down, and how the crabgrass still pokes through. But you are right it definitely slows down the weeds and makes them way easier to pull. C

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 11:04AM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

I mulched one bed yesterday but didn't use anything underneath. Mistake, i guess. Maybe later in the year, i can pull back the mulch and put newspaper underneath. Right now i want to move on to other beds and try to get ahead of the grass.

Luckygal, you have the same problem i do, living in the country. I've also thought about having to lift the perennials to get out the weeds but i didn't know if this would be a good thing or not.

Cheryl, how many layers of paper do you use?

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 11:23AM
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Pudge 2b

Last year I got about 2 dozen straw bales - I managed to get one border mulched with a thick layer of straw before the snow fell. So far so good in that the weeds are not coming through but then we haven't had much rain yet to spur on germination. The lilies and all other perennials are finding their way through the straw with no trouble. Nice and moist under there, too, while other non-mulched borders are becoming parched and hard as rock. Within the next couple of weeks I plan to put the rest of the straw down on the other beds. Hopefully it keeps the weeds at bay.

I started weeding the front yard this weekend - grass in the rock garden makes me go GGGRRRR. I pulled a lot of runners but a bunch also broke off so once they start poking up again I'm promising myself to be vigilant to try and get rid of it completely.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 1:39PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

marciaz3, I get my parents to save the Calgary Herald for me, our local paper is way too thin. I lay a folded section down so probably at least 10-15 pages in thickness. And then put down 4-6 inches of shredded mulch. Seems to be working so far. C

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 2:46PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

Thanks, Cheryl. I get the Thunder Bay paper and it isn't that thick but several of them will do. That much mulch really slays me! All my beds are going to turn into raised ones!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 4:27PM
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