Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cheap, lazy gardening tip: mulch with free stuff that's easy to get

I just spent a couple of hours mulching my front yard with stuff that cost me nothing but a bit of effort. This morning our church had its annual leaf-raking party. Hubby and I hauled away all the leaves and pine needles, saving the church the hassle of getting rid of them and furnishing us with lots of great mulch. We had also been stockpiling newspapers for a few months, so we had everything we needed to enrich the soil and assure a mostly-weed-free yard in the spring. I cleared away any noxious, invasive weeds (bindweed, crabgrass, etc.) and laid down thick pads of newspaper (at least 8 layers thick; preferably thicker). Then I poured leaves on top. No need to shred the leaves first. Whole leaves will break down slowly all winter, feeding the soil and providing a thick weed barrier.

Because pine needles are acidic, I use them only around acid-loving plants like rhododendrons or blueberries, or I use them to mulch pathways, areas under big trees, or other places where I don't plan to plant anything for awhile. A layer of newspaper under pine needles really isn't necessary unless you have a major weed problem. And you don't want to put newspaper under pine needles when making a path, because the pine needles slide across the paper, making for a slippery, dangerous path.

If you have a large area to mulch, cardboard sheets are quicker to apply than newspaper.

I like to call this method cheap, lazy gardening. You make compost in place rather than hauling everything to your compost heap, then hauling the finished compost back to where you need it. You don't have to weed (much) come spring, and you don't have to dig (much) at planting time. When I use this method, I never till--ever. I just rake back the mulch, plant, and scoot the mulch back around the plants. Or, for veggies and other heavy feeders, I rake the mulch into my pathways, plant my row, and mulch with manure and/or compost. The remaining leaves help keep the path dry and weed-free. And everything you use is free.

If you don't have a ready supply of leaves like I do, consider picking up bagged leaves from the curb in front of your neighbors' houses. They won't care, and you'll get lots of free mulch. You could even be a good Samaritan and offer to rake leaves for elderly neighbors in return for the leaves.

Let's hear it for cheap and lazy!


Ellen said...

Hi, Janet-
Great to see that you're posting more to your blogs. I haven't been here in a while, so it was great to get caught up on your writing. You always post about things that I find interesting.

Regarding sheet composting, I have been using this method for the past 4 months or so to turn weedy areas of our lot into future garden areas, and reduce the weed wacking that my husband has to do. My method is not so lazy however, as I actively seek out materials to use. David Kobos of Kobos Coffee gives away large burlap bags of coffee chaff at his store near NW 23rd and Vaughn (at least he used to.) I always stop by Starbuck's for their bags of used grounds, a great source of ready-to-spread nitrogen for the garden. I'm also a member of Rabbit Advocates, so I pick up bags of used bunny litter from some of the volunteers there.

If you are familiar with Steve Solomon, who has written many gardening books specific to the Pacific NW, he maintains that the sheet composting method is really not a good idea here, as the lack of sufficient freezing temps results in a population explosion of some soil inhabiting critters (the name of which escapes me right now) which then feed on the vegetables that you plant in your garden. We'll see....for now I think the method is great, and a far cry from the double-digging method of soil preparation one always reads about in the gardening books.


Janet said...

Thanks for the comment and the helpful information! I've read Steve Solomon, and I do worry a little about that. I plant most of my veggies in raised beds, so I don't do as much sheet composting with them. But I've been sheet composting my tomato patch for several years, and the quality and quantity of tomatoes is always good.

For flower beds and mixed borders -- and especially for making new beds -- you can't beat it.