Mulch Delight

Mulching: the best gardening practice! And it’s trendy.

But mulching’s trendiness has a double edge sword. The upside is that more people are mulching. Yay! But the downside is that many of the products touting themselves as mulches are either a waste of time or money.

Early this spring Nincompoop sent me some of their mulch to try. Their claim to fame is that the mulch has no wood in it. The organic matter is sterilized horse and poultry manure with straw.

The no wood sign on the packaging puzzled me. Linda Chalker-Scott (Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University) strongly recommends wood chips as a mulching material. She does, however, advise against using wood bark and sawdust, which is widely used in the landscape because of their attractiveness.

Wood bark doesn’t have water-holding capacity and is sometimes a source of weed infestation.

Sawdust, with its fine texture, will prevent water and air movement as it compacts.

The whole hoopla about nitrogen drawdown if you use wood chips is nonsense. Anne Wareham, author of Bad Tempered Gardener, gardener of her own 4-acre estate garden, and strong advocate of mulching, also dismisses the argument. Wood chips didn’t cause a discernable nitrogen drawdown in Wareham’s estate, but she did see nitrogen drawdown with the finely textured sawdust!

The mulch in Nincompoop is basically straw with manure added in. The manure was added, I believe, to assist with nitrogen drawdown of its finely textured straw. But I found when I applied nincompoop mulch to my perennial and mulch beds the lower leaves of my Rudbeckias became chlorotic. I added well aged sheep manure to correct the problem.

Others things I didn’t like about it:

In less than 2 months after application, I started to see weeds growing on top of the mulch.

I had to use a lot of water each time to thoroughly wet the mulch.

Plus side?

My garden is very, very lush this year. I had neighbours ask me what kind of fertilizer I was using. It was the combination of overwintering shredded leaf mulch, Nincompoop and well aged sheep manure.

Nincompoop recommends applying its product at 3 to 4 inches deep. Every 2 cu ft bag costs around $8. One bag will cover 12 square feet (1.12 square metres) at a 3 inch depth. In my very small backyard I would need 13 bags, which would cost me $104 every year. Wood chips cost about the same amount for a 3 inch application. Wood chips, although recommended, are hard to find. It seems that wood chips have gone out of style, for now.

What do I recommend?

Use wood chip mulch on perennials, shrub and tree beds. The wood chips will last longer in the landscape than Nincompoop (…and will cost you less in the long run and it will be less work.)

Don’t use wood chips on vegetable and annual beds. These plants tend not to have deep root systems, and the wood chips do form a narrow band of nitrogen deficiency at the mulch/soil interface. Instead compost with shredded leaf compost (over winter) and in the spring apply 2 inches compost if your soil needs it.

That’s my two cents worth for today. See you tomorrow for another opinionated chat.


Written by Cristina da Silva
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 in Building Soil

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