Much on Mulch

Spring is mulching season in my hillside garden. Piles of local recycling center wood chips have been wintering over long enough that the wood chips are no longer hot and can be safely added to leaf-covered flowerbeds to keep the soil moist.

When to add mulch can be confusing so first decide why you want to mulch.  The reason will direct the kind of mulch to use, as well as when to apply it.

When thinking of mulch, there are basically two kinds: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches are already available in most gardens: leaves, grass clippings, compost, shredded bark and tree limbs, pine needles. You may have to purchase straw, make compost and collect paper.

Inorganic mulch includes plastic, gravel, and landscape fabrics.

There are several reasons to mulch: weed control, to keep soil moist, to amend soil, to keep plants warm, to keep plants cold, to make a garden area look finished, to build up soil.

For best weed control, remove weeds before mulching and add a thick 4-6 inch layer of mulch in full sun to discourage new weeds from coming up. I like to add a layer of cardboard or newspaper before adding mulch; the paper products prevent light from getting through and also suppress weed growth. When in shade, I only make the mulch 2-3 inches thick but I still use cardboard or newspaper underneath.

To retain moisture and reduce weeds, I combine wood chips and leaves.

Wood chips can be used on paths until they dry out long enough to be safe on nearby flowerbeds as mulch. Leave the leaves, they also work well as a mulch layer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I first cover flowerbeds with a blanket of leaves; then after a good rain, cover the leaves with 3-6 inches of weathered wood chips. The leaves help to keep the soil moist and discourage weeds from germinating. The few that do are easy to pull out. Both leaves and wood chips decompose slowly, releasing nutrients into the soil.

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a gardener, beekeeper, and sometimes cook.  For more, visit Published by Kaleidoscope Weekly with permission. Copyright 2018, all rights reserved. This column may not be copied, published, reprinted, rewritten, or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at

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