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Good Mulch - 101

By Edited Nov 28, 2015 2 4


I loathe weeding, I have a large garden with lots of weeds. How can I cut out the weeding?



Covering weeds with a black polythene sheet or landscape paper is a wonderful way to stop them from growing. You can use this method if you want to keep an area weed free for a time, but black polythene is not very aesthetic.



But…if I can stop light getting to them in some other, more aesthetically pleasing way…I will have solved the problem.



Mulch is the answer, I think….Hmmm. Good mulch costs too much, think again.



Making Your Own Good Mulch



A friend who is into wood turning brought a trailer load of turnings for me. They work great and look good, how can I get more?



I have a large hedge along three sides of my garden that has not been cut back in donkeys' years… Hedge = wood = mulch.



I buy an electric wood chipper for $250, later finding I could have bought one for half that. It should pay for itself though in one year. I also buy an electric 'chain saw on a stick' with a reach of 15 feet.



I have never used a chain saw in my life before and am a bit apprehensive at first.



30 minutes later, I am surrounded by branches from my hedge up to four inches thick. I have to stop cutting and start chipping.



I wheel the electric wood chipping machine out to the drive where I am working with the chain saw. I realize that I need secateurs and a bow saw to cut the branches into smaller lengths because the chipper will only take straight-ish branches up to about 4 cm in diameter.



I watch amazed as branches go in and wood chip mulch comes out. These wood chipping machines are amazing, every home should have one. I learn exactly how much branch the chipper can cope with and feed in branches the size of small trees, to see them reduced to small mulch sized wood chips in a few seconds.



I dream of having one of those trailer sized chippers that landscape gardeners use, buy I priced them at $10,000. Slightly out of my price range.



As the bucket underneath the chipper fills with good mulch I carry it to the back and just tip it between the shrubs. It looks a lot better than the stones, weeds and rotted mulch that were there before. This is going to work.



The branches that are too big to go through the chipper go into a pile that will be left to dry out and then sawn up for firewood.



My hands are covered with scratches and I get a few chips in the face before I notice the sign telling me to use goggles.



There is a lot of ivy in the hedge, it all goes into my magic mulch-generating machine.



Eventually I run out of hedge branches to mulch, but I need more mulch.



Inspiration strikes, yes again, Christmas trees,



People throw them away, literally. At the local recycling point there are 40 Christmas trees. I have a small works van so I go down with my bow saw. I fit 3 trees at a time into the back of the van. I pile them up on the front yard until I get around to dragging them to where I need more mulch.



Over the next two weeks I collect all 40 Christmas trees in the van, picking up a few more every time I pass.



No trees left, it is time to make more mulch, before the weeds start growing again.



I use the secateurs or the bow saw to trim off the branches and feed them into my chipping machine. Some of the trunks are too thick to go through, so they go into the firewood pile.



Between the shrubs is now covered with good mulch, but I need more for the rose bed.



I have two more pallet sized compost bins full of leaves I am rotting down, I have eight compost bins altogether. The leaves are not totally rotted down yet, but they will do.



I fork the half rotted leaves and leaf-mould into the barrow and wheel it over to the rose bed. Perfect, just enough to give me a layer of mulch two inches thick, enough to cover the soil completely. This good mulch will increase the humus in the soil and its water retaining ability.


Does Good Mulch Stop Weeds?



No, but it stops most windblown seeds from reaching the ground and starting to grow. It also makes hoeing much easier, so you can cut off the weeds at ground level. Some will grow back, that's the name of the game, but it helps. It is especially useful between plants that do not keep down weeds, such as tomato plants




How Long Does Even Good Mulch Last?



Not as long as concrete. Mulch is biodegradable. That means that bacteria break it down into carbon dioxide and water. Some is broken down by insects and incorporated into the ground.Your mulch helps to improve your soil.



If you put down a three inch layer, half of it will be gone in one year and you will need to replace it entirely in two years.



Should I Put a Weed-Proof Membrane Underneath the Mulch?



The idea of these water permeable weed-proof membranes is that they stop light getting to the weeds underneath, so the weeds die. They work in that, but new weed seeds land on top of the mulch covering the membrane. Some of these weeds have roots that will go through the membrane to the soil underneath.



If you have no weed-proof membrane you can hoe these weeds on a weekly basis and reduce their impact. With the weed-proof membrane your hoe cannot get through to soil level to chop off the roots just below soil level.



The weed-proof membrane is a con. It is a product designed to give people a maintenance free garden. There is no such thing. I used these membranes in some parts of the garden and the weeds now cover them and are nearly impossible to get out. Do not waste your hard-earned money on weed-proof membranes.




Jul 10, 2010 1:21am
Good article, you are very keen with the christmas trees. lot of work but much sure is the way to go and save water as well as nourish the garden. rated
Jul 10, 2010 3:16am
I needed the mulch, the Christmas trees were there...The city council would have picked themup sooner ar later, but this way I got the mulch, the area was tidier and I got a whole pile offirewood as well
Jul 11, 2010 8:50am
Did you take that picture, Philtrate? (I always love it when I see people's original photos....but, no harm if it's not....)
Jul 11, 2010 9:07am
Yes, Howie, my own mulch in my back garden
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