Hello fellow readers,
Is fall a good time to mulch, asked John of Washington NJ? I think so, especially because when spring arrives there’s much to do in the garden and for me, the madness of the season speedily unfolds. This spring, like most springs, mulching didn’t happen despite my best intentions.
We’ve talked before about the detriments of generic wood mulches and dyed mulches which are often made from construction debris containing pressure treated wood chock full of chemicals. Hence one reason why hemlock mulch, particularly when made from local fallen trees, is by far my preference. Recently I was chatting with a friend and design colleague while visiting a client nearby who just put hemlock mulch around their perennial garden. Marty suggested leaf mold would be far better, adding that wood chips steal nitrogen from the soil much needed by plants. So, I put on my research cap and learned fresh wood, especially sawdust which is a no-no around plants, is the culprit of nitrogen theft far more so than aged wood such as naturally aged hemlock mulch. By the way, not all hemlock mulch sold is aged. Aged hemlock mulch is a pleasing deep burgundy-brown while fresh hemlock mulch, not ideal, is reddish.
Leaf mold is simply composted leaves that are packed with minerals. When added to your garden they’ll feed earthworms and beneficial microbes, mixed in they’ll lighten clay soils, and used as mulch they’ll help retain moisture and suppress weeds. You can make leaf mold by simply raking leaves into a big pile and letting them decompose. If shredded, which is easy to do by running over them a few times with the lawn mower before raking them up, they’ll decompose faster. After one to three years your leaves will break down to a rich, earthy smelling black material like compost. There is a technique to make leaf mold in plastic bags punched with holes, adding water to moisten along with a scoop of soil which accelerates the process to six to twelve months.
John’s question has inspired me to lay down two to three inches of leaf mold this fall after the perennials are dormant. That way over the winter the nutrients can sink into the soil to nourish roots which remain active all winter absorbing nutrients for next year’s growth. As with any mulch, I’ll be sure to keep it away from the stems or trunks of plants to prevent rot, disease, or critter damage. Come spring the leaf mold will serve its role of suppressing weeds and I’ll be well ahead of the game. Humm, we’ll see… Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com