MollyGreen.com | Summer on the Homestead | Summer 2016 14
as it decomposes. The best part is that it stops more
than 90 percent of the weeds from germinating. That
is part of the reason there are no weeds in the forest!
On the flip side, it tends to keep the soil cool in the
spring and your tender transplants may succumb to
frost more easily.
You have many options for mulch materials. Leaves
are generally free and healthy for the soil. Trees have
deep roots and bring up a lot of minerals. As the
worms and fungi decompose them, these minerals are
transferred to your garden. This adds humus to your
In the fall when the nearby town people bag their
leaves, we pick them up before the city does and make
a big pile near the garden. (We pull a horse trailer
through the residential areas on the right day of the
week and pick up leaves at the curb.) In the spring, after we till in the green manure crop that was planted in
the fall, I spread a thick layer of leaves over the whole
garden. Some of the bags are whole, fluffy leaves;
others are chopped from a mower with a bagger. I like
to spread the whole leaves first, like a sheet, and then
weigh them down with chopped leaves. In the spring,
we have wind and lose some, but not too many. You
could also sprinkle compost or sawdust over top or
just a little garden soil to hold down the leaves if you
live where it is windy.
Here are still more options:
* Old hay. It will likely have weed seeds in it that will
love the opportunity to grow in your garden soil.
So before using the hay, expose it to the weather,
the rain and heat. If you don’t have time to let the
hay weather, keep a sharp eye out for germinating
weeds. When you see your hay begin to grow, turn it
over. The sun will kill the exposed roots.
* Straw can also be used, but will not have as much
nourishment for the soil. It will decompose slower
than hay. It can also be a fire hazard in dry weather,
and you usually have to pay for it.
* I have used newspapers and cardboard, but I am
not fond of them. They are pretty good at suppressing the weeds, but will not nourish the soil. Spread
several layers of paper and then wet it all down, so
that it molds to the soil. You may want to cover it
lightly with another type of mulch to improve the
* Compost is an excellent mulch, but I never have
enough of it and it is too valuable as a soil amendment to use as a mulch. By exposing the compost
to the sun and air, you will lose a lot of nutrients
and beneficial organisms. I suggest you place your
compost in the row before you plant rather than in
the path where you walk.
* Wood chips, sawdust, and bark are more usable to
cover permanent plantings around trees and shrubs.
You should not use them in the vegetable garden;
they use a lot of nitrogen to decompose.
* I prefer to use manure more as a fertilizer, but barn
bedding is quite useful as a mulch. This is a mixture
of wood chips or straw and animal manure.
Yes, this is more work in the gardening offseason. But
it pays big dividends when the sun is hot and you are
harvesting more and weeding and hoeing less.
Rose Gardner has enjoyed gardening since she was a
child. She has grown for farmers’ markets and today
maintains a large garden, fruit trees, and berries for her
family. She is part of www.downtoearthseeds.com and can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.