Gung Hoe Gardener: Making Mulch Print

By Neely Bower

May 6, 2015:  There are many materials that can be used for mulch. My favorite source of mulch is my tree company, which will deliver a large pile of tree chips for free.

However, there are a few problems with this method. The chips are larger and take longer to break down, you have to clean out branches and debris from them, and they could carry disease if you don't get them from a reputable arborist. One year I put the free chips in a garden bed that was on a slight hill, and after a big rain storm they all floated off the bed into the grass. So be careful where you put them; they are perfect for pathways, not garden beds. Contrary to what some people believe, these chips do not take nutrients away from the soil.

The most popular mulch comes from a bag; I prefer shredded to chunk. However, you can use newspaper, cardboard, or leaf mold. If you really want to kill something, put down a thick layer of newspaper (front section of the New York Times), wet thoroughly with a hose, and cover it with bagged mulch--guaranteed to kill what is underneath.

Mulch is used for moisture retention, weed control, and beauty. You can put it down anytime of the year, but it's best before plants have emerged and growing is best. That means we are a little late here in Bronxville. No problem--you just have to work around the new growth and put it down no more than two to three inches deep. Make sure not to put the mulch too close to the base of a plant; the roots need air to breathe.

Promise me you will never use dyed mulch on your yard, especially red. (I checked those bags and they do not tell you what is in the dye.) Have you ever seen red soil except in Sedona, Arizona, or the Grand Canyon?

Pictured here:  Lovely cushions of phlox incorrectly mulched.

Photo by N. Bower