Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tips for Applying Mulch

Mushroom compost at "Gilmore Garden Center."

We will have 3 yards of mushroom compost delivered this week. When I begin filling my first wheelbarrow full, I will think about the mulching techniques I have learned from many and various gardeners over the past 10 years...

"Beautiful! Glorious! Delicious!," say my plants.

What I have learned so far:

1. This is a lot of work!  So make it count for double the time & money: add nutrients while you mulch.  Instead of using those beautiful large bark chips (which actually have the gall to steal nitrogen away from your plants!), use something rich in nutrients, like mushroom compost or well-rotted leaf and grass litter.

2. Apply it 2-3 inches deep to suppress weeds for the growing season.  You still may get some, but usually they are easier to pull out of the loose mulch than the firm soil.

3.  Make sure to leave your plants some wiggle room.  Apply the mulch deeply, but leave it at least one inch away from the crown of the plant.  Leave 2-3 inches of space all around tree trunks. In the book, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, author Tracy DiSabato-Aust says that most of us are mulching our plants to death!  So remember to leave them some room to breath.

 

4.  Do not apply hot compost (meaning mushroom compost or other nutrient rich sources) to woodland (e.g. ferns) or silver-leaved plants (lavender), because they are not used to having that level of nitrogen shock.  Instead, use leaf litter for the woodland.  In a column written for The English Garden, Joe Reardon-Smith from Parham House suggested that lavender do not need more than the few goat dropping a year that they usually receive in their natural habitat.

5. For garden areas in which you want to encourage self-seeding plants, use a garden fork to "tickle in" some compost over those areas. Christopher Lloyd talk all about this in his book Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure.  He also covers many other aspects of ornamental gardens. (It is my favorite garden book for sure!)

6. If you are mulching with well-rotted mushroom compost, be sure to save some extra for patching you lawn, topping off your vegetable beds (or containers), and even your ornamental containers.

7. You know you are a real gardener when just thinking of rotted plant and animal material gives you excited butterflies in your stomach... as opposed to the queasiness that most people feel in their stomachs.

A nice steam coming off our pile of mushroom compost

Any more tips from my fellow gardeners? 

I am always ready to learn more.  Learning has been one of the driving forces behind my gardening.  That and the need for Beauty!

Here is an excellent resource from Penn State on Mushroom compost.

~~~~An edited repost from the archives this week as I make plans for this year's mulch delivery!

25 comments:

  1. Unfortunately I have no good source for bulk compost. The last time I had some delivered (10 yards), it turned out to be filled with weed seeds that literally had me pulling weeds out of my beds for years. Now I'm leary and use shredded bark. Not a perfect alternative but it keeps the weeding to minimal levels.

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    1. That sounds like a nightmare, Sue! It sounds like they did not add enough "hot" material to the mix to kill the weed seeds. Perhaps try a different source? I believe that our yearly addition of compost has lead to the success of our garden, which had no other additives to the soil at planting time. The compost just seeps down to make the soil full of goodness!
      ~Julie

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  2. We live on 5acres so Bark Chip is our best option, even though it does tend to take away the nitrogen, as it takes longer to decompose, and acts as a stronger suppressant for weeds. My sister gave me 60 cubic metres, or 3 truck loads for my birthday (not your most typical present for a 17 year old, but I LOVED IT), This past week I've been spreading it as I'm on holidays and it's all going on at about 1-2 feet deep in most of the gardens. It's retaining what little water we're getting at the moment beautifully and the plants are loving it. And it looks nice too.... oh, and the smell, on a nice crisp autumn night and morning is just to die for.

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    1. That sounds like a great birthday present to me! Though I am sure that most 33 years olds would rather have something else too :) It does look so nice. A layer of mulch is my favorite trick for perking up our spring garden.
      ~Julie

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  3. At my house, I am trying to repair 20+ years of neglect, so I have to go a step further. I'm working small sections at a time, but I am having to break up the soil 8-12 inches deep, and mix in mushroom compost, then add a layer of mulch on top. This means I've had to dig up some plants, but everything is MUCH happier when I'm done. It's a lot of work, but it's 110% worth it. : )

    The only thing I would add is that we don't mulch here until the weather is consistently above freezing. Mulch is a great insulator, and you want the soil to warm up before you apply the insulation!

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  4. An interesting post about mushroom compost. We have used it once and I think it is very good for plant life in the garden, but we mostly use cow or horse manure which is easier to obtain here. I should not use bark in the garden or it should be to cover a small path behind the borders.

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  5. The other thing I've done is apply raw tree mulch 6-8 inches deep (much thicker than I would normally apply) in the areas I know I'm not working on until next year or later. This is doing a great job sprucing up the place, killing off the weeds, and gives the mulch time to decompose. In the meantime it's holding moisture, and hopefully making the soil easier to work with when the time comes.

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  6. Yummy! What a great list of tips! I have never gotten bulk mushroom compost. I will have to see if I can find a local source. I have always purchased it in bags. I add it to my raised vegetable beds when needed.

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  7. I use mushroom compost though I've heard it can raise salt levels over time. I also use wood chips because my soil already has high organic content and I don't want the soil to get too rich.

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    1. I have heard that counting the number of earth worms in your soil gives you a good gauge on the fertility of your soil. If my memory is correct, I think that 12-15 worm per square foot is considered a healthy soil. Supposedly, the salts in mushroom compost are considered to be more "soluble" and definitely not as concentrated as the salt in synthetic fertilizer.
      ~Julie

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  8. I have never bought mulch in bulk like this - like Karin I buy in bags. You certainly make a good advertisment for it.
    I find that bark mulch gives the slugs somewhere to hide!! Therefore don't use it anymore. I always give my Acid lovers a mulch of ericaceous compost at this time of the year too.

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    1. A bulk delivery makes for a fun few weeks! I call it my spring workout plan :)
      ~Julie

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  9. Great tips, I'd only say that if it is still steaming it hasn't fully rotted down and it might be best to wait a while before applying it. It also takes nutrients from the soil while it is still rotting only giving them back afterwards. Christina

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    1. You are quite right, Christina, about the heat being part of the decomposing process. The pile pictured was freshly delivered that morning, so I think that was just residual heat from being taken from the larger pile and dumped on a cold driveway. It soon stops. It really is the nicest quality... we are lucky to have such a supplier!
      ~Julie

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  10. Yum - warm steaming compost! I use mushroom compost, garden compost, and composted manure as soil additions and fertilizers, but they do not work as mulch for me. At least the stuff I can get, is all broken down and soil-like - the perennial weeds grow through it quite happily and the annual weeds sprout in it with a vengeance. It's much too fine to be a weed-suppressor. Maybe yours is a courser material? I'd love to find an alternative to shredded bark for mulch, but can't seem to find anything locally. Leaf mold works great, but I don't know of a local source for it. I make some of my own, but it's never enough! Thanks for the informative post.

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    1. I think layering it is the key. If it is 2-3 inches deep, instead of just scattered on, then it will suppress weeds... as long as it is weed-free itself from the heat of the deposing process.
      ~Julie

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  11. I've read that it often works better to use an old broom to spread compost than a rake. I've tried in in my beds and it does work well! I dumped a few bags of mushroom compost on my roses this year so far. I do like to use bark chips to make things look tidy and suppress weeds but use the already-rotted 'dark bark fines' that hopefully don't pull as much N out of the soil. Our soil is more alkaline and bark is supposed to help acidify a bit as well.

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  12. Haven't used mushroom compost either. I need to top dress my gardens this year and think this may be the way to go. We live in a very sandy area and everything just drains off the beds so fast. So the mulch is a necessity. Thanks for the tips - found you on HOmetalk.

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  13. I would love to find this compost from a direct seller here...I have to use bagged shroom compost....love the tips

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  14. If you are mulching around plants, first cover the plants each with a pot or bucket of similar size. Then when finished pull the pots off and adjust the mulch. Protects the plants and makes it much easier.

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  15. one would think that living in the woods here in florida, that I would have great soil. I don't ...I have roots and sand. I can't dig because of the roots. So, I either plant in pots or in raised beds. The soil I use, is 1/4 mushroom soil, 1/4 sand, 1/4 peat, and 1/4 perlite. Into that mixture, I put in a healthy dose of chicken poop. That's right, I said, chicken poop. I mix it all up, and plant anything and everything in it, including roses. There is a fertilizer, (not going to say the name) but it's organic and it's chicken poop. The only draw back that I've seen with this, is that my dogs, LOVE it. They will eat it, roll in it and pretty much spread it around for me. lol....OH...the sand I use, is my own soil...I look for a spot that doesn't have a lot of roots. I don't mulch here, because of all the leaves that fall, I just shuffle them around a bit. Happy Planting everyone!!

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  16. All comments are so timely as I was about to drive 60 miles to get compost. I'm building new raised beds using existing soil and adding compost to enrich the soil. Would mushroom compost take care of what I need for that or should I purchase leaf compost? The mushroom compost is mixed with cow manure.

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    1. Lea,
      I would consider 60 miles local, if that is a concern. I just read in Fine Gardening that the experts recommend filling new raised beds with 50% topsoil (which it sounds like you have already on hand) and 50% compost.

      The advantages of using mushroom compost are that the extra "hot" material that they add to this type of compost (whether it is cow manure, chicken manure or other) adds more nitrogen to your garden, and it also kills any weed seeds and even diseases that might have been found in the plant matter. Leaves that have composted are considered "cool" compost; they "cook" down at a lower temperature which does not kill harmful weeds and diseases.

      Hope that helps!
      ~Julie

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