Compost or bark, a good layer of mulch can weed and feed

  • By Debra Smith / Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, May 31, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

Mulching and weeding – not many practices in the garden are less sexy.

But do these now and your plants will be healthier and happier and so will you.

Come August, you’ll be lounging on your deck sipping iced tea while your neighbor is frantically yanking weeds and dragging sprinklers around the yard.

Mulching is nothing more than covering the soil with a layer of material. The practice insulates the roots of plants from the cold and heat, keeps in moisture and discourages weeds.

You can use a synthetic material such as landscape fabric or black plastic. Or you can use a natural material such as shredded leaves, pine needles, straw or layers of old Heralds. Many gardeners are giving cocoa bean shells a try because they smell like a box of chocolates sprouting in the back yard.

What mulch you use depends on your budget and the look you’re trying to achieve. You also may want to consider how fast a mulch breaks down. Here are a few options:

Compost

Not only does a layer of rich, black compost look good on planting beds, it adds organic matter to the soil, providing a slow but steady supply of nutrients, although you still may need to fertilize. Compost also improves the structure of soil.

It’s significantly cheaper by the truckload than bagged. Cedar Grove Composting (425-212-2515) and Bailey Compost (360-568-8826) sell it in bulk locally.

Be aware that fine compost may not smother all the weed seeds, and if compost isn’t fully decomposed, it can tie up nutrients in the soil that plants need.

Grass clippings

Grass clippings are cheap and plentiful.

You can use fresh grass on established plantings or sprinkle it around veggies, but wet clippings can damage tender new plants and start to mold and get stinky in humid weather.

I wouldn’t use clippings from grass recently treated with chemicals, such as weed-and-feed products. Also, if the lawn is riddled with weeds, you might introduce more weeds to your planting beds.

Shredded bark

A professional gardener I interviewed swore her secret to rich, wormy soil was a layer of shredded cedar bark.

Shredded barks do break down more quickly than bark nuggets. Soil organisms may be drawing much needed nitrogen from the soil as they break down the bark.

Shredded bark has a natural appearance and smells like a hike through the woods. It’s cheaper than chunks of bark but doesn’t block weeds as well.

Bark chunks

This is the best material for weed control. The drawbacks are bark chunks can get expensive, and they break down so slowly it doesn’t improve the soil much.

If you like the look, an ideal solution would be a layer of compost under a layer of bark chunks.

Pull weeds now

Mulching will stop most weeds from germinating but it won’t do much for weeds that are already sprouting or perennial weeds such as horsetail. You have to get rid of these by pulling them often and early.

It’s important to get rid of weeds while they’re young. One common chickweed plant can send out 25,000 seeds.

Speaking of weeds, you can get the kids started early identifying the really invasive ones with “The Noxious Weed Coloring Book.”

I’m not making this up.

It’s downloadable for free at the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board Web site, www.nwcb.wa.gov/education/publications/coloring_book.pdf.

You’ll need to supply the brown and green crayons.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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