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Wow mulch is amazing!

 
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I'm a newbie gardener and this is the first time I've used mulch.  For the past month I've been having to water the soil multiple times per day because of the evaporation from mid day sun.  Some days were up near 90F in early April!  

I just used a weed whacker on a bunch of fall leaves in wheel barrow.  Then used some expanded metal grate to sift out the smaller pieces.   Layed that all over the beds between the plants.  I actually managed to get away without watering mid day today an it got up to 77F.   Plants seem happier as well.. more perky.. but I guess this could be my imagination.

Is leaf mulch a good mulch to use?  I would use straw but didn't buy any bales last fall so none on hand, also I like the fact there are no seeds in the leaves.
 
pollinator
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Location: New Brunswick, Canada
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Leaf mulch is good to use.  Straw doesn't have any seeds; it's the stalks of cereal crops.  It can have herbicide residue, depending on the crop, which can cause major problems with your garden.  I've used straw as mulch without any issues and have grown straw bale gardens with no issues.

You can also use wood chips or cardboard (I prefer to take all the tape and stickers off).  I've found mulching to be very helpful and it was a game-changer for watering for me also.
 
gardener
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Oh the wonders of mulch!  Your eyes are not deceiving you -- it makes a huge difference and you'll see that almost immediately.  My favorite is pine straw, but I mulch with wood chips, compost, chicken straw (with poop), or any other organic source of carbon.

1.  Mulch retains water and inhibits evaporation (as you mentioned).
2.  Mulch keeps the soil surface temperature low (as you also mentioned).
3.  Organic/carbon mulches break down and become compost/soil organic matter.  In this way, mulch continues to feed the soil for months.  (not so with rock mulch, plastic mulch, or other kinds of mulch). Mulch builds SOM.
4.  Mulch smothers weeds and keeps them from growing.  When weeds or grasses do grow, they are easily pulled because of the mulch keeps the soil so soft and friable.
5.  Mulch creates a perfect habitat for worms and other helpful soil biota.  Yes, mulch also gives a home to slugs and other baddies, but you get way more than you lose.
6.  Mulch just looks attractive.  Nothing like a nice layer of chips or pine straw to even out the appearance of a bed.  In the dormant season, a thick layer of mulch "puts the bed to rest" for the winter.
7.  Mulch feeds soil microbes—both bacteria and fungi.  Microbial healthy soil is the key to nutrient density in food, plant health, and the foundation of the soil food web.
8.  Mulch sequesters carbon.  Every worm that takes a bite of that decomposing mulch and then poops it out down in the soil profile helps sequester carbon where it's most needed.
 
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Yeah, I love mulch. Leaf mulch is fantastic and I use a ton of it but I also rely on wood chips a lot too. In my area wood chips are fairly easy to get so I end up using wood chips the most. But every fall I make sure to get fall leaves from people in my area. I also use some of the leaves to make what is called leaf mold. It's basically fall leaves that are put in a big pile (3ft x 3ft min) and left to sit for 1-3 years. The result is a dark material very similar to a forest floor that is great for your plants.
 
Posts: 35
Location: Medford, Oregon 8a, 21” precipitation. Clay soil.
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Yes to mulch! Makes such a huge difference. I use just about anything I can get my grubby little paws on for mulch. Straw here, wood chips there, leaves over there. Pine needles around the blueberries. Saves so much on both watering and weeding.
 
pollinator
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Leaf mulch is great! It breaks down quickly though - barely lasting me through winter, but improves the soil well.

Pulling up grass/weeds and using those as mulch works great too, and lasts me about a year (ditto for straw).

Cardboard (cut holes for planting) and newspaper (water it good when laying it, so it doesn't blow away, and it'll stay put thereafter) both work great too, lasting for a year or two. Your local recycling center may give you some for free.

The best, though, is woodchips, which last 2-3 years and retain moisture very well, while also letting water through at excellent rates.

My city (or maybe it's the county?) has a giant woodchip pile where I can get all I want for free. Tree cutting companies have to dump theirs somewhere, as well as the local government clearing powerlines of tree growth.

You shouldn't need to *buy* mulch. I view store-bought bags of mulch as a scam for middle-class people to put on their front lawns. =P

Mulch is available for free all over the place if you know where to look. Compost too (check your local dump - those bags of leaves people rake off their lawns gotta go somewhere - ditto for all those green yard waste trash cans filled with the grass clippings from mowing everyone's lawns). Manure is also often available for free if you can find some animals and ask their owner.
 
Posts: 166
Location: WV
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I generally use partially composted wood chips for mulch but right now I don't have any ready to use yet.  So my husband shredded leaves for a few hours and I should have enough to mulch all of my garden beds.  

I'm in zone 5b and put out one bed of potatoes 3/28 which is a bit early for this area.  I've covered the bed against frost but when we had a late snow and temps in the mid 20s last week I covered the plants completely with the shredded leaves and then covered them with an old bedspread.  When I pulled the mulch away there was no damage to the potato leaves whatsoever.  So the leaf mulch does double duty as a mulch and as a soft insulation against frost.  
 
Posts: 609
Location: Northern Maine, USA (zone 3b-4a)
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i prefer to get green arborist wood chips to use as mulch. weeds won't grow in green chips and as long as they stay on top they won't rob N. put down 3in. of fresh every spring. don't have to water or fertilize anymore.
 
gardener & author
Posts: 1920
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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I love mulch! There is very little "waste" biomass available here in the high desert where I live, so I use what I can get -- whole leaves along with sticks on perennials, just woody stuff like sticks and small chunks and chips of wood picked out from construction shavings on the trees, chop-and-drop weeds and spent flowers on vegetables. In November I scored some big sacks of dry leaves, but I don't have a weed wacker or any kind of shredder, so I used them whole on the outdoor beds, with sticks and broken tools on top to protect from wind, and now in spring I'm digging them into the beds. I crumbled a small amount of leaves in a bucket with clippers, and am using them around small seedlings.

I like that the leaves, unlike the woody stuff and many of the chop-and-drop stems, decompose and seem like a great thing to mix down into the soil when the time comes to redo an annual bed.

I water with a hose and recessed beds, so I don't have to wet the mulch. I can just run the hose at one spot and watch carefully to see if the water is reaching all parts of the bed under the mulch.
 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 1737
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Leaf mulch is amazing stuff. I think most of us here on permies agree with that. Five or six experienced gardeners right here already. It's hard to go wrong with leaves.
 
Posts: 61
Location: Near Libby, MT
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I have just signed up for the chip and drop program. It was a bit of a challenge because my address doesn't show up on goggle maps. Now I will wait, hopefully, for a "drop". Wind storms here brought down lots of trees and branches so there may be arborists working in the area. We flagged our smaller fruit trees so no big truck will run over them by mistake.

I have been laying cardboard on my garden paths, weight them with rocks because of the wind, and would love to be able to cover them with mulch. Because I garden on the roof everything has to be hauled uphill. I can do that a load at a time. Persistence wins! PQ is more important than IQ. Lots of pine needles here, never enough, good for things like asparagus and berries as our soil is alkaline. (Ground squirrels got the asparagus, so never mind that. Does anyone have a good rat terrier to spare?)
 
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Location: Rittman, OH
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Timothy Markus wrote:Leaf mulch is good to use.  Straw doesn't have any seeds; it's the stalks of cereal crops.  It can have herbicide residue, depending on the crop, which can cause major problems with your garden.  I've used straw as mulch without any issues and have grown straw bale gardens with no issues.

You can also use wood chips or cardboard (I prefer to take all the tape and stickers off).  I've found mulching to be very helpful and it was a game-changer for watering for me also.




I've gotten dirty straw on more than one occasion, so that is not necessarily true in my neck of the woods.  It's difficult finding clean straw.
 
Posts: 205
Location: Vermont, USA
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Roberta, I waited a year for chipdrop and then started calling arborists. Fortunately, a local tree company is headed by a guy who lives a mile or two away, and is generally eager to dump chips. He is so happy to have a place to donate chips that he came over with his tractor to push the pile to where my husband wanted it!

I know chipdrop was operating in my area, but I was never the lucky recipient. This works better!
 
roberta mccanse
Posts: 61
Location: Near Libby, MT
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Thanks. I will try to reach some arborists here. I don't think that there are many but worth a try.

In the meantime we scored two more bathtubs from a Restore yard sale. We will put them up on blocks and no nasty ground squirrel will be able to climb into them.
 
Marco Banks
gardener
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See if ChipDrop is in your area.

https://getchipdrop.com/

I just got a load from them about 3 months ago, an it was less than 2 days from request to drop off --- beautiful stuff.  It's not always good stuff, but you've got to take the good with the bad.  In our area, there are a lot of palm trees, and palm mulch is a tangled mess to work with.  But as long as it doesn't have any palm in it, I'll take any wood chips -- even eucalyptus.  All carbon is good carbon.
 
pollinator
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I've been using fresh lawn clippings as mulch this.year, the garden seems to love it but I can barely keep up, by the time I'm ready to now the last batch has been almost fully integrated into the soil. I'm interested to see how it effects things after a full year of use. I'm only a few months in so far but my golden bamboo is firing off 3 or 4 new shoots!
 
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Jennifer Lowery wrote:   I just used a weed whacker on a bunch of fall leaves in wheel barrow.



Thanks for that idea Jennifer! I’m down to almost no lawn but I keep a lawnmower with bagger for shredding leaves. It never occurred to me to use the weed wacker (which I need for the fence line) to shred leaves, but I could use it like an immersion blender in a 55 gallon drum with leaves, and now I can get rid of the mower! I can easily weed wack what little lawn there is.
I like leaves the best for soil building because worms LOVE leaves, especially wet shredded leaves. And lots of happy worms= great soil.
Not much I can add to the mulch discussion except that if slugs are a problem, things like leaves and grass clippings are worse than wood chips. I have mostly raised beds which helps a lot, but I find that switching to wood chips has really cut down on the slug population in my case. If you want the wood chips to decompose faster, keep in mind that the more wet/dry cycles they go through the faster they will rot down (only true for dry chips, not green).
 
                                
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I have an idea and would welcome candid feedback. We have some heavily wooded areas with oak trees that have a carpet of leaves and nice top soil. My idea is to run a tiller over the top 3” s and breakup the leaves and mix them with the soil. Then either use that as a mulch or run it through a compost pile with organic chicken manure to make it heat up.
I have about 3/4 acre of garden and am in desperate need of mulch.
We got burned by bad hay that went through our horses and then 4 months of composting and still contained residual herbicide. ( From a hay supplier who promised clean hay).
Thanks for any help.
 
Posts: 84
Location: Durham, NC
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I'm not saying it is a bad idea to use those oak leaves as much/compost.  But I am saying if I had a three inch layer of leaves protecting my hardwood tree roots, I'd gratefully leave it alone.  You're basically trading off benefits.  If you have a mulch emergency, maybe siphon off some of those leaves but I'd leave as many as you could.

There are alternatives that might work for you.  For example, based on a youtube video I bought a cubic yard of cedar hamster bedding and one of aspen bedding from a pet store.  I mixed them together.  They expanded and fluffed up enough to mulch three 8x4 raised beds and a 6ft herb spiral. I was able to afford the $20 or so, so it was convenient for me and it's beautiful and smells good.  I've heard of people freesourcing buckwheat hulls, coffee sacks, shredded paper (watch out for ink contaminates, maybe not a great idea,) newspaper, paper pulp, cardboard, municipal wood chips, palm fronds, pine needles,  pine cones, and straw.  I've heard of people making $10/hr to "clean up" brush.  I guess what I'm saying is, ponder your local resources a bit before disturbing years worth of organic matter.
 
Michelle Heath
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Location: WV
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I don't think I'd run a tiller over the root area of trees.  I had a relative break the times of his tiller doing that.  If you are going to collect leaves I'd suggest doing it at the edge of the wooded area or in a place where there's an access road.  Most of the leaves we've collected for mulch have came from the road that borders our property. It has been abandoned by the state for years and the landowner above us is happy that we're keeping them out of the road as they can get quite slick when they build up.  

There are alternatives but sometimes you have to do some searching. One year I used the blooms of chestnut trees after they dropped.  Looked like I mulched with fuzzy caterpillars but it did the job.
 
Rob Lineberger
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yes!  collecting leaves from a road sounds like a great solution.
 
pollinator
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You might be careful collecting leaves from the road, or side of the road, even if no one is spraying bad chemicals there is still contaminates from the vehicles driving on the road.
 
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