A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Tucking the Beds In

I am trying something new this year with my garden beds, or at least with the vegetable beds. Mulch is one of the things that you can do for your garden that will greatly benefit you, but are you willing to go and load so many bags into your car to bring home each year? Mulching all your beds adds up, but it really is not such an expense. The benefit comes in helping the soil retain the right amount of moisture, while also helping the beds stay warm during our cooler months. Mulch can even add nutrients to our beds.

I have always used garden waste as mulch. I have a chipper to grind branches and leaves into mulch, but much of my garden excess goes into a compost pile. After I am done composting it, I work this material into the soil, but I have used it as a mulch. My big problem is a cosmetic one. I do not mind the look of this mulch, but my wife feels that it looks tacky, and she wants some of the beautiful cedar mulches for the garden beds. My new solution to this disagreement has left us both happy. I place my homemade mulch in the beds, and then I spread a top coat of the cedar mulch over this for a prettier look.

My experiment this year involves skipping my compost bin. I had a lot of material this year for my small bin, so I decided to incorporate a composting method with my mulch. Some farmers lay out rows of hills for their compost, which is a great method, when you have the space. You alternate layers of dead material with fresh cuttings like any compost bin, and you cover this row with a dirt or previously composted material. I did this in my vegetable beds. Houston’s climate allows growing well into winter, but I am still limited in my plant choice. I do not have a long enough cool season for some cool weather crops, and it is not warm enough long enough for others, but I do have some choices still. I am using top soil to cover my compost material, and I will plant a few vegetables in one bed, but the other beds I am going to turn over like I would with my compost bin. I want to see if composting in place is feasible, and if I can leave some plants in the bed. I am not sure that it will work, but it seems reasonable.

One mulch type that I am using more of this year is rocks. I have a small herb garden by the front entrance, which I have white and black rocks forming a pattern, and I have a bench to sit in that space. However, I know use pebbles and larger rocks for a mulch in a shade garden, where I set my daughter’s playhouse. This has produced a nice effect. I have a pine mulch in the garden around her playhouse. The nice thing about rock mulches is that they do not flow away in heavy rains, so I do not have to renew them often.

Be creative, and stop throwing away your clippings. They may be the best mulch that you can get. Grass clippings can be a useful mulch too. One thing to remember about mulches: you do not want to build up your garden beds too high. The veneer of the home can start having problems with moisture and insects with mulches coming up to that level. Either remove the material each year, or hold off on adding more. If the mulch is fine enough, you could spread it in your lawn for some help there.

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