Karen Alley has been working with Carolina Gardener Magazine off and on for 10 years, but reading and writing about wonderful gardens doesn't automatically make you a gardening expert! While a passion for gardening has been a part of her personality since childhood, she will vehemently profess to not knowing much when it comes to the ins and outs of designing and creating beautiful landscapes, yet the desire is definitely there. This blog will follow Karen's adventures as she continues landscaping a relatively new landscape and starts a vegetable garden in a beautiful raised bed built by her husband.

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A Fresh Start
by Karen Alley - posted 04/19/13

This past weekend and for the next few, my garden project will be spreading mulch. It’s something that I enjoy because it gets me outside, but it’s backbreaking work, and when it comes down to it, it’s one of my least favorite gardening chores. In our yard it’s more than just a garden chore though. We spread mulch around our house, around the fruit trees and in a “natural” area my husband has given up trying to grow grass in. Since it encompasses much more than what I consider to be my garden, it’s a chore that I share with my husband. Thank goodness we share this one, I really don’t think I could do it all by myself.

For various reasons we never got a load of mulch delivered last year, so this year spreading it makes everything look even better than ever. The instant gratification is a nice reward for our hard work, but skipping a year also showed me just how important this early spring chore is.

I have learned a lot over the years from gardeners with years of experience planting and growing things, and now I’m starting to build up my own little bank of garden knowledge. Mulch is one of those areas where I can finally, honestly say that I have learned some important things from experience and trial and error.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Wood chips last longer than pine straw. We used to use pine straw, and would have to lay it out twice a year, in the spring and the fall. Since we moved and started with wood chips here, we only spread mulch once a year, in the spring.
  • It’s true what the extension agents will tell you: a good layer of mulch will help you have to water less and will help with weed control. I spent more time pulling weeds in my garden last year, the year we didn’t put down fresh mulch, than I had combined the two previous summers.
  • Organic mulches really do help improve the soil. When we first moved into our house, in the fall of 2008, I didn’t do much but plant things in the existing soil, which was freshly graded, new-construction yard. The next spring I mulched good, and that fall when I planted some more perennials, I found big, fat earthworms when I turned over the soil.
  • Start early. I’ve learned to get my mulch delivered in March. One year we didn’t get it until May, and it’s really hard to get it all spread when the temperatures are hot! Plus, it’s easier to put it in your flower gardens before everything starts popping out of the ground.

Another tip: If you’re resourceful, you can find mulch pretty cheap. Of course, you also can’t be picky when getting cheap mulch. Many of the larger landfills will allow you to buy it by the pick-up load. In Greensboro mulch or compost is only $20 a load. I get mine from a local tree trimmer. I might have to wait until he has a truckload full, but it’s definitely worth it for the low price we negotiated. After all, it’s just trash to him, and he’d have to dump it somewhere!

Wish me luck as I keep spreading this mountain of mulch. It will be one garden chore I’ll be glad to cross off my list!



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