Steele: Mulch now, relax all summer

Mulching, the simple act of spreading a layer of organic matter over the surface of the soil, can reap tremendous rewards and spring is the ideal time to do it.

Mulch is a very effective fertilizing element for shrubs and vegetable gardens.

Mulching, the simple act of spreading a layer of organic matter over the surface of the soil, can reap tremendous rewards and spring is the ideal time to do it.

I love having mulch on all my gardens. It reduces my water use by 50 per cent or more.

I hardly have any weeds. Those that grow come out easily. The soil never gets a hard crust after watering or rainfall.

Best of all, my plants thrive by being slowly and naturally fertilized by the organic mulch. They are sturdy, pest free and have abundant bloom.

I suggest that you look in the woods to see Mother Nature’s mulch.

The leaves fall from trees and gradually decompose. Each year a fresh layer of leaves falls to replenish the mulch.

Over time, I have mimicked nature by using well rotted manure, my homemade compost, shredded rotted leaves and Classic Compost from Dean at the Farmer’s Market.

I spread any of these about two inches deep on my vegetable, annual, perennial and ornamental grass gardens. If I had tree and shrub areas, I would use three to four inches and would have the additional option of wood chips or bark mulch.

These two only contain carbon so they break down more slowly and only need replenishing every two to three years.

In addition to carbon, the other mulches also contain nitrogen needed for good growth of vegetables, annuals and perennials.

At my nursery, I had success with Ogogrow in non-food garden beds and spread them 1/2 to one inch depth on lawns. Nature’s Gold is a finer form of Ogogrow.

It is essential to do two things before mulching.

First, weed thoroughly (including removing weed roots) or the weeds will flourish. Second, soak the ground well.

Rock is sometimes used as a mulch. Unfortunately, it has big disadvantages. It greatly magnifies the sun’s heat (think of walking on pavement compared to in a garden).

It increases summer heat in adjacent buildings so more air conditioning is needed. The added heat stresses most plants making them more water thirsty and vulnerable to pests and diseases.

The rock does not add nutrients to feed plants.

Even with landscape fabric underneath, enough soil and weed seeds blow in to begin growing.

It’s over 15 years since I worked in landscape maintenance, but I still remember the torture of trying to pull weeds out of lava rock, river rock and shale.


Please note that my next Xeriscape classes begin May 4.


Gwen Steele is

executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan

Xeriscape Association.




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