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Dos & Don’ts of Mulch

Dos & Don’ts of Mulch

Here are some tips on how to use the materials that we cover the soil in our gardens with.

Fresh wood chips and sawdust have an immediate and severe NEGATIVE impact on your garden by actually pulling out nitrogen from the soil. It does this for awhile until it starts to break down. And since you’re not going to add any artificial fertilizer to your garden (right?), any naturally-occurring nitrogen needs to stay put!

So what do you do? You’re not going to like the answer, but let it sit for a couple seasons. The reason being is because you need to let the chips rot and decay a bit so that it doesn’t rob your soil of nitrogen. Ideally, you’ll be adding lots of compost to your garden, so why not throw the wood chips in there? You’ll be able to use them faster since they’ll break down quicker.

If you don’t want to wait years for your fresh wood chips and sawdust to be primed for garden use, here are some good options that have only a slight effect or none at all on soil nitrogen:

  • Straw – should be kept moist or wet for a month or more before using so that existing seeds within it can germinate
  • Chopped leaves – best if at least partially decomposed
  • Pine straw (simply dried pine needles that have fallen from trees) – inexpensive and they tend to stay airy and loose, unlike getting packed too close together like wood chips
  • Shredded pine bark – this is easy to source and durable enough to last for a few years