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The Perfect FREE Mulch

6/4/2014 9:18:00 AM

Tags: mulch, permaculture, Tennessee, Douglas Stevenson

beans with mulch

Organic gardening is about two things: weed control and pest control. Successful gardening is about supplying the plants with nutrients and sufficient moisture.

One of the important elements of Permaculture is to mimic the systems found in nature. As leaves fall from the trees to the ground in a forest, they form a natural mulch that builds topsoil. We can follow this example by using leaves as mulch in our garden.

Mulching With Straw

straw mulch

In the garden, if bare ground is exposed to sun, weeds will grow. Weeds compete with your plants for food and moisture. Weeds provide safe haven for insects. Covering the spaces between your plants and between your rows with mulch prevents weeds from growing, saving you hours and hours of manual labor, weeding by hand or with a hoe. Mulch also protects the soil from the sun, trapping and preserving moisture.

Many people mulch with straw and we will use wheat straw in our garden for certain plants or when we have used up our preferred leaf mulch. However, all wheat or rye straw will still have some bits of grain. Eventually these will sprout and produce some of the most  difficult to remove "weeds" you are likely to encounter.

We do our best to avoid this by leaving the straw exposed to the weather for one year before using, so that any remaining grain will rot. While this will remove the viability of most seeds, some will survive and eventually sprout, becoming a plant that must be removed. Straw is also expensive and the price goes up every year. Straw sold to farmers for barn bedding is increasingly produced as large round bales rather than the tradition small, square bales. The round bales are extremely heavy and difficult to transport. All the more reason to consider leaves as the better alternative.

How to Mulch in the Garden

chopped leaves under lettuce

Where I live in Tennessee, my home is surrounded by towering oaks, hickory, and other types of trees. To preserve the lawns around our homes and the public buildings in my community, the leaves must be removed. It’s a win-win situation.

I use a mulching lawn mower with a bagger and dump the chopped leaves into plastic garbage bags. I collected over 50 bags last fall. It is important to use heavy duty bags or cover and protect them in some way so that the bags are not exposed to the elements and break down before you are ready to use the leaves the following summer. If you live in or near a city, you can often find leaves already bagged, along sidewalks, ready for the local landfill. Just drive through a suburban neighborhood in the fall and you are quite likely to fill a pickup with bagged leaves in no time!

You can also use raked, un-chopped leaves, which will produce a tighter, flatter layer of mulch above the soil. I will place these around water spigots and on paths, areas that get a lot of traffic. 

Tree roots reach deep down into the ground pulling up trace minerals to feed the leaves. As your leaf mulch breaks down, it can be tilled directly into the soil, introducing organic matter. Leaves: free, abundant, and good for the soil! The perfect mulch!

Douglas in the garden



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Post a comment below.

 

graywolf12
7/13/2014 4:04:24 PM
Where do ya"ll find straw. I have not been able to buy straw here in East Texas for 5 or more years. I like to use it in my dog house as it is hollow so a good insulator, and true or not I have been told it is too slippery for fleas to cling to. Each spring I would remove all the straw, biggest insulated igloo dog house I could buy, and use it as mulch in my raised beds. Worked great, almost no weed seed, and what wheat came up I fed to our rabbit.

eaglegreen
7/12/2014 10:25:45 PM
No lawnmower like me, or you don't want to rake leaves twice-- dump a bag into a garbage can, insert your weed whacker, moved it up and down slowly a couple of times, and you get some pretty decent chopped leaves--which compost much easier than whole ones, and IMHO, make better mulch as they don't blow about in the wind as easily as whole leaves!

LinnetNC
7/11/2014 11:09:16 AM
We're surrounded by oaks here and I also have chickens so what we do is blow all the leaves into one corner or along one fenceline and let the hens have at it! They love foraging in the leaves-lots of buggies for them to find. So while they forage they "fertilize" as only they can and they shred up the leaves. We've had a leaf pile 3 feet high by 20 feet long go down to 1 foot high by just as long in a matter of a few months over the winter (which is pretty mild here in NC). Come spring I rake up the left over debris which is now almost compost and put that down in the garden beds.

EMILYW
7/11/2014 9:26:06 AM
I don't know about other parts of the country, but it is not a good idea to take bagged leaves and or straw from "just any yard". You can get some really BAD weeds that are difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of.

MARGARETB
7/11/2014 8:50:05 AM
Take care when you gather leaves from other's yards. You don't know if they have sprayed chemicals or if any of their trees are diseased. Also leaves will tie up nitrogen as they break down so you may wish to use them to cover manures in between the rows of crops.

LARRYB
7/11/2014 8:29:03 AM
Douglas, good morning. My wife and I live in Sequatchie Valley, Tn. This is truely God's country. We recently purchased a new home so there is no garden yet and it's been years since I've gardened. I'm trying to plan a garden for the fall. I appreciate your article about mulching with leaves. We are also building a log home on Cagle Mountain on a small 8 acre plot and it's covered with hardwoods so there will be plenty of leaves. That is a very efficient way to mulch. Thanks for the article. Capt. Larry Bouget

ThatCompostGuy
7/11/2014 7:31:10 AM
There are not enough leaves in the world to keep Johnsongrass from poking through! It's the new kudzu! Mark my words!

BETTYW
6/16/2014 12:26:57 PM
My leaves tend to blow away here in upstate ny







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