A Tale of Two Mulches

A Tale of Two Mulches

Spread the love

Which do you prefer on the garden floor: the varying texture of fallen leaves, or the fine-grained uniformity of wood chips?

When I began making this new garden, I was able to get large quantities of bagged leaves and grass clippings free, so I used them to smother the lawn and to mulch around new plants. This year, I found a source of cheap wood chips, so I am employing them when mulch is needed.

Mulching with the wood chips this spring has prompted two “ahas.”

First, though a mulch of leaves creates great soil filled with worms and other beneficials, I’m noticing that leaf mulch tends to become dry and hot at the surface during Boise’s hot summer months, when lack of moisture drastically slows decomposition, whereas a layer of wood chips keeps a noticeably cooler surface temperature and retains more moisture at the soil surface. Plants that are struggling in sunny areas of my new garden (even those with a deep mulch of leaves) have perked up when I added a layer of wood chips.

One of my garter snakes naps on a bed of warm, dry leaf mulch.

This is different from my gardening experiences in Minnesota. There, mulching with leaves ensures cool, moist woodland conditions; they are the best materials for mulching trees and shrubs and their ground layer companions. Wood chips also keep the soil cool and moist, but don’t provide the nutrient boost given by leaves as they decompose.

My second “aha” is that I relax when a bed is mulched with wood chips. Is it that the wood chips are finer grained and more uniform than the widely varying “dinosaur poop” look of the bagged leaves? Is it that they smell fresh like a forest, rather than the mildewy or downright putrid smell when some of the leaves & grass clippings are released from their bags? Or am I responding to subtle signals of the plants, which are less stressed when mulched with wood chips?

It’s easier to relax in the wood-chip-mulched garden.

Along with these ahas comes the not-new thought that, though I am a big fan of mulching, I view it as a temporary step in my garden’s evolution. Eventually, I’d like to achieve coverage of all bare ground with vertical layers of plants. Living mulch.

The bed in the foreground is being covered with a living mulch of Marrubium rotundifolium (roundleaf horehound), Antennaria microphylla (rosy pussytoes), Artemisia versicolor ‘Seafoam’ (curlicue sage), and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’.

Posted by

Evelyn Hadden
on June 3, 2015 at 2:36 am, in the category Real Gardens, Shut Up and Dig.

One Comment
    • admin
    • 8th September 2017

    I also prefer living mulches and have never used wood c hips – just free leafmold and some bagged fine pine chips.
    I don’t like the look of drying leaves – to my eyes, messy, untended – and they blow away. Plus many leaves are too large to break down quickly, and tend to matte and block water from percolating down.

Leave a comment

Recent Posts

A Growing Trend in the U.S.: Food Forests

Mound-forming alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) tolerate a range of soil and climate conditions and produce small fruits intermittently throughout the growing season. Upstart food forests — designed landscapes incorporating perennial and woody ...

Read More

One size fits all?

Both images courtesy of Shutterstock (Image at right is St. Paul, not St. Cloud, closest I could get) What do St. Cloud, Minnesota and Westerly, Rhode Island have in common? Westerly is ...

Read More