mulching

averageAugust 17, 2005

I hope my question isn't a silly one. I am very new at this. My soil dries out very quickly even after watering for long periods of time. I have decided to mulch but don't know how to go about it. Do I water first and then mulch, do I mulch first and then water. Please help as I am trying to save my rhododendron. It is all wilted and looks like it is going to die soon. Thanks in advance for any advice I may receive.

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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Either way - the water is going to go through the mulch to the soil, then evaporate more slowly than from bare dirt. Doesn't matter where you live or what your weather, a mulch is the cornerstone of growing healthy rhododendron - mulch of shredded leaves, pine needles, chips, bark or other organic material. I mulch my own beds with coarse compost. (Peat moss should not be used as a mulch because it sheds water when it dries out.) The coarser the mulch the better, as water and air are admitted while the mulch still retards evaporation by providing shade and reducing wind over the roots. A mulch also helps to reduce temperature extremes in the root area. (Use mulch on top of the root ball to help conserve water loss and as an insulating medium when the weather gets really cold too)

Do not use hard wood chips right out of the chipper because as they break down they will pull nitrogen out of the soil. 2-3" of mulch is more than adequate but be sure to pull the mulch away from the trunk of the plant - close is fine, just not physically touching.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 8:46PM
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gardenergail

average (interesting name),

MorZ8 hit the nail on the head. I will add that personally, I water well, then add mulch, then water again when I first apply mulch to an un-mulched bed, just to get it off to a good start. After that, watering is not needed as often.

I had a bed I re-did this year and I went about a month before I got it done and got the mulch on. MAN, what a difference mulch makes!!

Gail

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 2:03AM
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YooperDebbie(z4/gwinn mi)

i, too, am new to this site and to gardening...is it ok to use straw to mulch and protect over the harsh winter months? at this point i have no mulch on my flower beds but i'm reading here and thinking that that's a mistake....please help me.

thanx
debbie

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 9:29AM
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Toronto_Gardner

but what do you do when you want to add compost to your beds? do you remove the mulch, mix in the compost, and then put the mulch back on top?

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 9:38AM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

yooperDebbie - straw is a lovely mulch, especially in the veg garden, and for over-winter mulch. Because straw has a tendency to be "loose", that is, with many air spaces, straw needs to be applied much higher to be an effective, weed-preventing mulch. Hay (as opposed to real straw, which is the dried stems of a grain such as wheat, oats, or rice), hay is not particularly loved because it often/usually has many weed seeds which have a tendency to sprout prolifically. Mostly for the looks of it - around the flowers, many gardeners prefer to use bark pieces, aged wood chips, or (my own favorite) shredded leaves. Shredded leaves are often available free at the community's recycling area. One uses about 3" as a weed-preventing mulch. In late autumn, more mulch is added depending on what needs protection. Most perennials and shrubs are fine with adding just enough more bark, chips, or shredded leaves to bring the layer back up to 3" deep (and that's repeated in the spring). Tender perennials (tender depends on your zone and the specific plant) are usually happiest if you wait until the ground is quite cold and then pile up a light mulch (straw is perfect, evergreen trimmings are good) to 6" to 10" high over the plant. This type of protective mulch is carefully removed in the early spring, usually a couple inches at a time. If your zone has hesitant springs with many days of alternating frost and heat, tender perennials do better with having the winter mulch removed from directly over the 'crown' of the plant and the rest of the mulch left piled up around -- sort of like a volcano with the sprouting plant down in the middle - until the weather is consistently warm.

Please notice I did not include compost in the use of mulch. It IS a mulch when a layer is put over the soil, and superb at enriching the soil (and excellent used as a botrytis deterrant around strawberries) but compost is a form of soil, and thus prone to hosting any passing weed seed - which means a recurrent case of you-gotta-pull-weeds and then put down more... no-no, to me, mulch means you do NOT have to pull weeds except from those few that sprout right beside your good plant's stem. Of course, some people actually like pulling weeds....

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 10:49AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

And fresh hardwood chips are fine.
Seems there has been a lot of advice going around not to use it because it robs the soil of nitrogen.
Read a scientific site and learn that the amount of nitrogen a decomposing mulch uses is very little, and easily combatted by a sprinkle of a lawn fertizer when you put the mulch down....and that when the wood further decomposes, it gives up the nitrogen to the soil.
Seems the organisms necessary for the decomposition to take place need nitrogen to grow but when they die, they release the nitrogen back into the soil....to be used by new bacteria....or your plants.
Bottom line is....mulch....and mulch with any cheap organic ( weed free!!) organic compound you can find....wood, straw, pine needles, cottonseed hulls, ground corn cobs, wood shavings ( but I would avoid treated wood) saw dust etc.
Linda C

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 11:17AM
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chinacat_sunflower(7)

:) hmm- I have one more refinement to suggest.

if your soil dries out VERY fast, it is likely on the sandy side, and might benefit from having a quantity of compost/leaf mould/aged manure/sawdust tilled in to the soil itself it increase its water holding capacity.

when I was gardening out in California, I needed to add triple ground mulch and those silica water 'crystals' to the bottom of my trenches (I was breaking up hardpan a foot at a time, a foot deep) to get ANY water retention at all.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 1:03PM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

I've used fresh hardwood chips for years (hey, free home-delivery from some tree-scaper firms!) and have never noticed any ill-effects; but I got binged a while back for saying there were only slight effects of nitrogen-stealing without citing the source... I know one of the universities did a really impressive series of studies (published in 1970s? 80s?), actually tracking the amount of available nitrogen in several types of mulch, but I haven't located the abstract. Sigh, lost a lot of my older catalogued reference material to a virus... re-locating those sources makes pulling chickweed look like fun.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 1:15PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Average....some very good advice in all of these posts! I'll comment on a couple of things.....when chinacat mentions tilling in those good organic compounds she does not mean to do so near existing plantings, since that would do some major damage to root systems! Till away to your heart's content when you are preparing a new bed for planting.

About the watering thing. Since you are a newby, it might be a good thing to remind you that once you've got 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch on top of the soil, you will have to water differently. It's important to remember that you have to put enough water down to get through the mulch to the soil! Seems so obvious, but it's one of those little things....! You don't want to be watering the mulch and then have your plants continue to suffer from drought!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 1:17PM
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