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Let's talk about mulch and mulching

 
gardener
Posts: 1699
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Thanks for the great comment Shane and you make a good point about mulch and succession. In perennial areas this makes a lot of sense and I agree that planning for succession in our designs is important. I know in my perennial areas I try to get plant cover so I don't need to keep mulching.

The exception could be the traditional vegetable garden. If the garden is made up mostly of annuals and biennials then we are essentially keeping it in a state of constant disturbance. In this case adding mulch via chop-and-drop or by adding wood chips, leaf mould, etc. makes some sense. But if you can transition more of the garden to a perennial system then you could reduce how much mulching you need to do.

I think your points are a big part of why a lot of us are trying to shift our annual vegetable gardens towards perennial vegetables. This is also one reason why the concept of food forests are so appealing to permaculture practitioners.

Thanks again for your comment!
 
Posts: 478
Location: Northern Maine, USA (zone 3b-4a)
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i have all my berry bushes and trees planted in rows in what used to be just grass lawn i cover the whole row with 5-6in. of wood chips every spring. this way i don't have to mow around the bushes and trees. just up and down. the grass in between has gotten so shaded that i mow maybe once every 10 days. i only fertilize with comfrey and the wood chips and everything is very productive. i also inoculated a 5'x5' 12in. thick bed of wood chips with wine cap mushroom mycelium. the next summer i spreaded the inoculated chips around all my plants and trees. 5 yrs. later they are still coming up all over my yard. because of the amount of chips i put down , i never have to water anything. sometimes i compost stuff in the mulch under my bushes. besides arborist chips, i get hardwood rough cut sawdust from a firewood business. they load my trailer for free. saves them from having to haul it to the landfill. i love mulch!
 
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http://www.helpabee.org/mulch-madness.html

Mulch is fatal to native bees that require bare dirt to dig their holes.

"... what is the big deal about bare dirt and bees? Between 60-70% of the native CA bee species dig tunnels in soil and provision a series of nest cells, each of which will contain one new bee offspring. To do this the female must find a patch of bare dirt, excavate a tunnel and then make repeated visits between the tunnel entrance and flowers for their pollen and nectar. If a nest-searching female encounters 1-2 inches of mulch or plastic where there should be bare dirt, she will not excavate through this material and will leave in search of an appropriate site. When a high number of gardeners in an area mulch or plasticate their soil, this can have a negative impact on bee populations. In a recent casual survey of 200 gardeners in the SFBA from 40-60% said they were mulchers! ..."
 
Posts: 24
Location: Cascadia
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Hank Roberts wrote:http://www.helpabee.org/mulch-madness.html

Mulch is fatal to native bees that require bare dirt to dig their holes."



I mulch around all my native bee houses. The Bumble Bees are ground dwellers and they have not seemed to mind at all, in fact it appears more like the mulched areas are easier for them to carve out a nest in.
 
Vern Life
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In looking at my mulch this morning while letting the dog out I realized the PRIMARY reason I started mulching our entire landscape. When we moved in it was a rental that we ended up purchasing and it had been a rental for 30 some years. To many it appeared to be the "greenest" lot around, however that was only because it was completely enveloped in Ivy. Like a kudzu forest in the South the trees were ghosts of themselves, choked out and dying. I fought a mighty campaign I documented in a blog post.

The Ivy War

I hacked at everything with axes, shovels, machetes, line trimmers with various attachments, black tarps and bonfires. The mulch was the final Coup D'Etat in this battle. A layer of 12" of mulch pretty much buried the Ivy and snuffed it out. After everything was a beautiful mulch brown, anything I saw green in the mulch beds was severed at the neck! After a couple of rinse and repeats I have taken over the battle, we have skirmishes but for the most part the cut clear and pull then build a bonfire and plant in the ashes method has succeeded.  

Cheers!
 
pollinator
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Hank Roberts wrote:http://www.helpabee.org/mulch-madness.html

Mulch is fatal to native bees that require bare dirt to dig their holes.

"... what is the big deal about bare dirt and bees? Between 60-70% of the native CA bee species dig tunnels in soil and provision a series of nest cells, each of which will contain one new bee offspring. To do this the female must find a patch of bare dirt, excavate a tunnel and then make repeated visits between the tunnel entrance and flowers for their pollen and nectar. If a nest-searching female encounters 1-2 inches of mulch or plastic where there should be bare dirt, she will not excavate through this material and will leave in search of an appropriate site. When a high number of gardeners in an area mulch or plasticate their soil, this can have a negative impact on bee populations. In a recent casual survey of 200 gardeners in the SFBA from 40-60% said they were mulchers! ..."



Hank, I think the way I process this is that I am not mulching wall to wall. That would be silly, there is always going to be unmulched areas. So this is about mulching new areas between the creation of the tunnels and the emergence of the new bees. That would be how

Mulch is fatal to native bees that require bare dirt to dig their holes

unless I am missing something. I would contend that the increase in flowers due to massive fertility and moisture retention will be an advantage orders of magnitude more important than this aspect.
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 1699
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Thanks for sharing the post on mulch and native bees. The one thing I would note is that it was specific to California native bees. In my area forests are the normal habitat type and mulching mimics the forest floor fairly well. The impact might be very different depending on your location and types of native bees.

I also view mulching in many cases as a way to prep the area for planting. Often that is not bare ground as the post mentioned but thick grass covered areas that are likely to be poor habitat already. Once mulched and planted as long as the mulch is organic it will breakdown and the end result is likely to be fantastic habitat for native bees and other animals.

Outside of my annual beds I don't want to mulch on a regular basis. I want nature to do it for me through fall leaf litter, ground covers, etc.

Just some thoughts on this issue.

Thanks all for sharing.
 
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