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Green Acre #406: Mulch on Her Mind


By Stephanie Cavanaugh

Q: Should you lay down compost once the leaves have fallen and been raked away? 

Where do you even get it assuming you don’t have your own? 

It supposedly helps plants do well.

Then, do you mulch in spring—when?

Let’s do this in order. 

A1: Compost, say the fine folks at Burpee seed, should be added in spring and midsummer to give plants a boost. So, unless you’re longing for your own compost heap, there’s nothing to do right now but read about it.   

When the time comes . . . 

In DC, the Department of Public Works provides District residents with “up to five 32-gallon bags (bring your own bags) of free compost on weekdays (1pm to 5pm), and Saturdays (8am to 3pm), at the Fort Totten Transfer Station.

Many zoos—including the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC, Cleveland’s Metropark, Oklahoma City, Zoo Miami (in person only), and Woodland Park in Seattle (also in person only)—sell compost, though mostly on site. Often known as Zoo Doo or Zoo Poo, this blend of animal manure, straw, wood chips, and clippings, makes a rich compost that’s excellent for seedlings, potted plants, and the garden. 

If, for some reason, you wish to make your own compost, keep it far away from your house and your neighbors, unless you hate them. This stuff stinks. Amazon has all manner of bins and cans and kits to get you started—and to keep down the smell. You supply the (biodegradable) waste. See: smell.

A2: On to mulch. 

What I know about mulch would fill a tidy paragraph. 

Every spring for the past 40 years I’ve dumped a few bags of small-bark mulch around the plants in the back garden, just enough to cover the dirt, and make it all neat and tidy. The result has been that as the mulch has decomposed, the soil has become so rich and friable that I can dig holes for new plants with my fingers, which is often a good thing as the trowel regularly scampers into the weeds and stays there until unearthed—oh, there you are!—some months later.

When it’s time to plant my spring flowering bulbs, I can push the soil back as easily as folding back a bedspread. I planted 250 bulbs yesterday in little more than an hour, including clean-up. 

The mulch selection process goes thus: Sometime each Spring, My Prince goes off to a Big Box hardware store to buy whatever it is guys are always buying in such places. 

At some point he phones. Do you need any mulch?

Yes, I’ll say, adding: Make sure it’s small-bark and not the shredded stuff. 

The shredded stuff is on sale, he’ll say (as he always does and as it always seems to be).

I don’t care. Shredded mulch looks cheap. Small-bark looks elegant. 

He hangs up on me (as he always does) but brings me what I want.  

Well, that was more than a paragraph, but I always find more to say about nothing than I expect. 

For more intelligence on the subject than I’ve offered, check out The Spruce, which offers a fine tutorial on varieties of mulch, including pine needles, grass clippings, newspaper, straw, plastic and landscape fabric, gravel and stone . . . and  just shredding those leaves that you usually bag and dispose of. There are also a number of terrific companion pieces with instructions for the best ways to use it.

Have a question? Send it along, and have a happy, bountiful, delicious Thanksgiving! 


2 thoughts on “Green Acre #406: Mulch on Her Mind

  1. stephanie cavanaugh says:

    Aw, thank you, Maggie!

  2. Maggie Hall says:

    Nothing to do with mulching (which happily is a chore that I know nought of)…..but a little bird – not the one here – tells me the best message for Stephanie (Little Bird’s all-purpose talented columnist) today is: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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