November 20, 2011

Flavor of the day

Mulch is on my mind today. There are so many different types of mulch—all of which supply unique benefits to the garden. One could almost think of them as “flavors” for plants. What flavors of mulch do you use for your garden?

Lately I’ve been reading—through blogs, master gardener sites, and other sources—about the benefits of using leaf mulch on the garden. Years ago, our family was meticulous about clearing away all the leaves from our lawn and most of the leaves from around perennials and shrubs. We’d replace the piles of leaves with piles of shredded bark mulch.

We’ve changed our strategy a bit in recent years—partly because of age, wisdom, and laziness, and partly because the experts are recommending recycling leaves on the yard and garden. Actually, it makes sense—why bag and cart away your leaves when they make excellent protective mulch and return precious nutrients back to the soil? With that said, we do rake most of the Oak leaves away because they decompose very slowly. And, of course, we don’t want the wind to blow the bulk of them into the storm gutters and the neighbors’ yards. We drag most of them into the woods to compost.

But if a few leaves remain, we mow them into the turf. And we retain the accumulated Oak leaves around shrubs and perennials until spring, when we rake them off to allow the sun to warm the wakening plants.

Here are excellent sources on the topic of garden mulch:

On my small vegetable/cut flower plot, I’ve usually covered the entirety with Marsh Hay, year-round. It decomposes quickly, and planting under and through it is pretty easy. Marsh Hay, unlike Straw and Field Hay is usually weed-free.

But that means paying for and carting in a bale—not a huge deal, although why go outside the yard for mulching materials when we can use what we have here?

This year, I’m trying something new for the veggie/cut flower bed: Honey Locust leaves. We have two large Honey Locust trees in our front yard. I know some people find them bothersome and invasive, but I’m a fan. I’ll save listing the reasons why for another post.

The leaves of the Honey Locust are small and light, and they break down in one season.

This year, we mowed most of the Honey Locust leaves that fell on the grass back into the lawn. We also gathered a large pile to use as mulch on the veggie/flower garden. I'm thinking they'll be the perfect mulch to protect perennials, reduce weeds, and prepare the soil for next year’s Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Zinnias, Cosmos, and other lovelies.

I’ll let you know next growing season how it all turns out.


  1. Beth I use grass and leaves that we mow to cover the veg beds. The garlic did nicely last year with this mulch. The rest of the leaves we leave on the garden to decompose naturally in the back and some in the front where we have a couple of small trees....In spring I will look for bulb growth ad clear away only a little...I plant to keep them there...good critter and bug cover and the birds come like crazy and move them naturally looking for saves me tons of work doing this and the garden and critters love it...great post!!

  2. Now that the trees in our neighborhood are maturing, I finally have leaves. I only wish I had more!! I've also used straw and pine needles (from my arborvitaes). Next year, I'll put newspaper/cardboard down first and then pile the straw/arborvitae needles on top, we'll see how that works out.


  3. We have so many leaves in our garden we have to remove them from the beds. Then we put them in a huge pile and mulch them with the mower. Then it goes into the compost or spread in the beds. We kind of help nature along a little bit.

  4. I use pine straw, because we have a grove of pine trees and it's free! I'm all for using what nature gives us!

  5. Mulching also helps keep heat in the ground which will give protection when hard frost comes. Bit like a duvet.

  6. @Donna: I sometimes use grass clippings, too, during the summer. They decompose quickly and the plants seem to like the nutrients. Thanks!

    @Amy: Thanks for reminding me about the newspaper trick! I've done that before with new plantings, but never on my veggie garden. I'm going to try that in the spring.

    @Karin: Sounds like a great plan to me! Sounds like you have a "wealth" of leaves to deal with like I do.

  7. @Holley: Great idea! I think I read somewhere that pine mulch is especially beneficial for Roses--so that's perfect for you!

    @Bridget: Yes, so many benefits of mullch! It's good stuff. I'm a bit of a nerd in my enthusiasm for it!

  8. I didn't do much raking this year, thanks to the strong winds that blew most of the leaves into the surrounding cornfields. But I usually spread leaves around my flowerbeds for winter mulch, too, and last year added piles of them to the veggie garden and the new flowerbed I had created. You can't beat free mulch!

    As I wrote this, I remembered that years ago, when my brother and I helped rake leaves at home, we piled them into a spreader that Dad then used to spread chopped leaves all over his corn and soybean fields. Sure sounds better than chemical fertilizers!

  9. I loved this post. So many times I drive through the cities and see piles and piles of gorgeous leaves all waiting to be hauled away and I wonder Why? I know they don't have the room to compost or probably don't garden, but what a waste. All one needs to do is walk through a woods to see what the result is of allowing leaves to remain where they fall. The blackest, richest soil you'll ever see.

    I also use white pine needles for mulch here because we have a grove and they are amazingly easy to put down, providing excellent moisture retention and yet allowing air circulation.

    Wonderful post!

  10. Great post, Beth!

    Many homeowners still like to use bark mulch, but this actually steals the nitrogen from the plants as it decomposes. Leaves really are the best resource.

  11. What a great post topic!
    I'm saving my leaves this year too. Usually I put them on the beds (for winter protection) but none of my neighbors like them blowing into their yards so I've always raked the extra ones up in the past. Some of them (the Aspen & shrub leaves) I've bagged and hope they break down over the winter ~ then I'll spread them back onto my flower beds.
    I should try running my mower over the oak leaves tho ~ that would be helpful. My Bur Oak hasn't even begun to drop its leaves so I still have plenty of time to try this out.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family too!

  12. @Rose: Oh, yes. Your dad's the expert, so that sounds like the right technique. We seem to have the same philosophy about mulch.

    @Karen: Yes, that is so true about the rich, dark soil in the woods! Pine needles would be excellent mulch, too. Thank you!

    @Julie: Thank you! We still use some bark mulch in spots where we don't want anything to grow, but no mulch around the plants, and definitely no mulch in the veggie garden. :)

    @Kathleen: Wow, great idea to bag the leaves and let them compost a little over the winter for spreading later! I'll have to try that, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. Hi, thanks for leaving a comment and link on Garden Bloggers Foliage day. I know this is not the linked post but this is something I'm becoming more passionate about as I see the results of using mulch in my own garden. all your said was really interesting and I definately think its worth experimenting with what works for you. I'd never used mulch on the vegetable beds before - silly really, I am now and looking forward to see what difference it makes. Christina

  14. We have too much humidity and moisture to mulch effectively. Sometimes the dampness may cause diseases.

  15. I am so glad you are publicizing this topic. As the years go by I leave more and more leaves in my beds. In the more visible and ornamental areas, I grind up the leaves and return them as mulch. The rest stay in place or are ground up and left on the lawn. My father was doing this 50 years ago, and I never realized what a pioneer he was. I did two posts on leaving leaves last November.

  16. What a great post. I am also learning about mulching. I want to get myself a shredder so my cuttings can break down quicker. What great advice! THanks!!

  17. It's good to recycle whitin nature.
    Very interesting and informative post, Beth.

  18. @Joey: Me, too. Almost as much as ice cream! ;-)

    @Christina: Thanks for hosting foliage day! I'm thinking the leaf mulch will yield some really rich soil. We'll see!

    @Carolyn: I'm glad to hear your dad used leaf mulch and you do, too. Then I know I'm on the right track. Thanks!

  19. @Barbie: Thanks! We'll have to compare notes next spring. Good luck!

    @Dona: Thanks! I should have been using the Honey Locust leaves for years now. Can't wait to see the rich soil underneath next spring!

  20. @Autumn Belle: That is a unique experience you have in the tropics. Sometimes I wish I had those problems--always being warm sounds so wonderful to me right now. Plus, your soil is probably always incredibly rich!

  21. Congrats, this post about mulch is fantastic to encourage others on using it.

  22. @Lula: Thank you! It's funny how I think of mulch as a treat for the plants--like giving them a tasty flavor of ice cream. ;-)