Growing Concerns: Mulch one answer to this dry, weedy spring

By now, everyone has spent a few hours out in their garden. I’ve spent what seems like forever in mine trying to get the weeds under control. With the late fall and mild winter, the weeds have just gone wild.

No one wants to hear this, but the best way to remove weeds is to pull them out by hand. I know it is an awful job, but it is the best way.

This year, with spring so dry and the amount of weeds I’ve had to deal with, I decided to mulch my flower beds. For the last few years, I’ve added compost to my beds to help beef up the soil and it really seems to have worked, so mulch went down this year.

There are a few things to think about when mulching:

Why are you mulching? In my case, it was to keep the weed population down and help hold moisture in the soil. Others mulch for esthetic reasons, or to help keep critters, such as cats and raccoons, out of the gardens.

Whether to use landscape fabric is a big question. In my opinion, if you’re dealing with invasive weeds or ground cover and don’t want them coming up everywhere in your garden, landscape fabric is a good idea. And if you plan to use stone or rocks as your mulch, it’s really important to use fabric.

If you are adding mulch to hold in moisture or you make lots of changes in your garden, then fabric isn’t necessary.

How do you put down landscape fabric? The best way is to use large pieces that cover most of your garden. Weigh down one end and work across the fabric, cutting x’s wherever there is a plant. Work the plant up through the x and tuck the fabric up close to the plant, and continue till you get to the other end. Overlap the fabric at least 10 to 15 centimetres if you need to make another strip. Then cover with the mulch of your choosing.

Should you choose wood mulch or stone?

Wood mulch is light and easy to use and you can get a good 5 to 8 cm of cover without a lot of work. Wood mulches hold in moisture, offer shade from the sun’s heat and break down over time, actually feeding the soil.

With stone, you’ll need a greater volume to get full coverage and it must put on fabric or other barrier so stones don’t disappear into the dirt. Over time, stone must be washed to keep its colour, Leaves get stuck in stones and decompose, creating a growing medium for weeds. Stones also hold heat and can dry out a garden if you are not careful.

When it comes to colour or natural wood mulches, I prefer cedar mulch for its rich brown colour that lasts a long time. Colour or dyed mulches are usually construction end cuts and old wood chipped and coloureded with vegetable dyes. These dyes do not generally last a long time, so you’ll have to add more to keep the colour.

The bottom line: Whatever mulch you use, the thicker the layer, the better it is going to work and less frequently it will have to be replaced. So think about whether mulch will help cut down your work in the garden.

Growing Concerns is produced by Parkway Gardens. Send your gardening questions to Homes, c/o The London Free Press, 210 Dundas St., Suite 201, London, Ont., N6A 5J3.

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