Xeriscape Mulch?

humster(5/6)May 25, 2006

I have gotten great help from this board so far, thanks!

New question: I'm getting ready to pretty things up a bit more... I want to mulch around everything I've planted in my raised bed. I'm not sure how to go about it. I'd like to create a very lush xeriscape look over time- lots of different plants filling in together and maybe adding some intersting garden junk/art over the next couple of years. I like bird baths and trellises and pottery gardens, etc... Well, I have a loooooong way to go, but anyone have any suggestions on what to start with as far as an attractive and effective mulch? Should I do an organic mulch and gravel over top or just gravel or just bark??? I have no idea where to begin. If I do gravel, any suggestions what kind looks very natural and rustic?

Thank you!

Heather

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abq_bob(USDA 5a/SS 2A)

I prefer gravel since it doesn't harbor nearly as many bugs as bark does, roaches and earwigs in particular. But it does have it's drawbacks.

My biggest complaint is gravel can both reflect and retain A LOT of heat, which can fry newly planted things and make your house more expensive to keep cool. It's also really common here in NM, so your yard will look like everyone else's with gravel.

If you do go with gravel, don't get "crushed fine." A friend of mine did, it was the consistency of sand - and in the first rain it turned into a muddy mess.

I've got two or three types of gravel in my yard, I think one is called river gravel, and is 1-2 inches across for each rock. Another is what I call "pea gravel" as most of the rocks are the size of large peas. And then I have crushed lava/pumice, which is also about 1-2 inches for each rock.

The 2" layer of pumice/lava was the first to disappear into the landscape, then thinner areas of the 4-6inch layer of pea gravel, and the 4-6inch layer of the river rock type migrated down the very gentle slope of my yard, so there wasn't much near the house, but there was quite a pile down by the sidewalk. It's only about a 2-3ft incline over 30-40feet, so that kind of suprised me. This all took place over the course of about 6-7 years.

Hope this gives you some ideas - good luck!

--Bob

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 6:01PM
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humster(5/6)

Thanks again Bob! That is exactly the sort of information I needed. I was sad and disappointed to hear about the "crushed fine" because I really liked the look of it, but I could see how it could turn to mud in the rain and sometimes we get a lot up here, so I'm really glad you warned me (and also that I made myself wait to check responses because I almost got some in a fit of research thwarting impatience). I'm starting now, after doing more reading, to get worried about the pine needles that are accumulating in the area.

I'm going to look at small size river rock first I think. Luckily I have no slope to deal with.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2006 at 9:49PM
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humster(5/6)

Or, what if I use just pine needles? Would that work for these types of plants? I don't know how it would look...

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 5:30PM
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ruralnm(z5 cntrl NM)

I wouldn't use pine needles until we get out of the fire danger. They are very flamable, and they could be blown by wind if in an unprotected place. Even though you say you get rain, those needles could cause you problems.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2006 at 4:31PM
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humster(5/6)

Thanks for the pine needle info! From what I hear there was just a fire up here last night. My husband smelled it through the window and then we turned on the news. They got it out right away though.

I'm going to end up doing a mixture of rocks and gravel I think. I'll get the rocks from my property (a property never had so many rocks) and buy gravel. I think I'll start out with a small amount for my small bed and give the plants a chance to grow in.

Heather

    Bookmark   May 31, 2006 at 10:29AM
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dallasbill(z8a - Dallas, TX)

I realize that I am in a different zone than you, but we travel to Santa Fe a lot. Have you considered shredded cedar mulch?

For some reaon, the gravel is ubiquitous in NM but like the poster aboev said, it retains heat like crazy and it washes away. Cedar mulch will not wash away, even down a slope. It retains water in the ground below and it is an excellent insulator from heat. The oil in it smells great and is a natural deterent to many bugs.

Over a year you will have to add more the next year, but the decomposition simply adds to the flower bed's healthy soil. Lay it down to at least 2-3 inches. Tamp it down lightly and give it a quick soak with the hose and enjoy!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 1:51PM
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shudavies(Zone 6a, CO)

I'll offer a little more on gravel recommendations. My experience has been that if you can get crushed gravel, instead of river rock or pea gravel, it tends to knit together more over time and doesn't wash or roll away nearly as much. If you can get small crushed gravel (not 'crusher fines' which are almost sand, but 1/2" or so crushed gravel), this provides a really good environment for a lot of reseeding plants like Cal. poppies, Gaillardia, Callirihoe, Mexican hat, Desert four o-clock, etc. These are almost like weeds in my dry garden, so I think finely crushed gravel may help you with your desire to keep the area filled in. The four o'clocks would really help with the 'lushness factor' with the onset of mid-summer, when many of the rest tend to dry out.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2006 at 2:25PM
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randit(z8 southern NM)

Gravel is the way to go, if you NEVER intend to keep digging within your beds. Unfortunately, it also gives naddah back to the soil. Your soil will not improve through natural decomposition. 3/8 minus, WASHED, gravel, .. may allow you to pull back (rake away) the ground cover. The coarser, cleaned, grade, would allow air circulation...something crusher fines will not do. Organic mulches do tend to give critters, desireable, and UNdesireable a haven. If you want to "garden", you may have to accept part of the natural world?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2006 at 12:20AM
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xericgardening

As a previous resident of Santa Fe, I can tell you that I much preferred shredded cedar to gravel. Gravel will embed itself into your garden, and is a devil to get out.
I have used gravel in the real "desert" areas of my garden, but I didn't plant anything under it. There are seeds down in that caliche that have been there since before the cattle and sheep overgrazed. Much of it is different types of prairie grass, which will germinate if given the chance.
However, I like the look and smell of shredded cedar, as well as its water-retention capabilities, and the fact that it can decompose.
You may want to check the link below for more info on mulches and xeric gardening.

Here is a link that might be useful: Desert Gardens

    Bookmark   July 10, 2006 at 1:22PM
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strudlahead

I'm loving my course cedar mulch. Looks nice; keeps weeds way down; reduces water needs for wanted plants; allows me to continue planting at will. I have seen about ten earwigs, but I'm not bothered by them.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2006 at 12:27PM
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humster(5/6)

Well, I haven't done anything yet. The plants are starting to grow in a little better and I'm really liking everyone's suggestion about cedar. I think I will do that. I have a few rocks in there I've been collecting from around the property as well. Shudavies, thanks for the plant recommendations, the four o'clocks would look nice (looked up a pic).

I've added the desert gardening link to my favorites list.
Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2006 at 7:10PM
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