Whether you choose inorganic or organic, mulch helps your garden grow—and look great.
Every spring all these worm-looking flower things fall off my oak trees, and take a long time to rake up. Can I use them for anything in the garden?
You and I are in the same boat on this. When catkins—those long, stringy pollen-bearing male flowers on oaks, pecans, and a lot of other wind-pollinated trees—shed, they can make a mess pretty quickly. I usually just throw them onto the compost, where they and all their flowery nutrients become part of the mix.
However, you can also use them as a mulch under shrubs or even in flower beds. They are not only fast-composting, but also provide an interesting mix of nutrients from the decaying flowers.
After all, a mulch is simply a blanket laid on top of soil to protect it from hot sun, dirt-packing rain, big temperature swings, and weed seed sprouting. As long as it covers the ground without causing problems to the soil or plant roots, it can work.
Almost Anything Goes
Nearly anything will do for mulch. The most popular include shredded or chipped bark, hardwood shavings, hay or pine straw, but I have seen thrifty gardeners using sweetgum balls, peanut hulls and pecan shells, all of which will eventually decompose and get converted into natural plant food.
Inorganic mulches, made from stuff that doesn’t decompose readily, range from gravel or broken stone (marble and granite are popular) to crushed brick and even colorful chipped glass, lightly polished to make its edges soft and rounded. I have even seen Mardis Gras beads used as mulches for potted plants!
My general rule of thumb for applying any kind of mulch is to see how much it takes to apply just to cover the soil completely, then add that much more to allow for settling. If you put it on too thick, it may keep rain from soaking through to roots.
Mulches need freshening up from time to time, and perennial weeds may need pulling. But all in all, mulches are a major part of good gardening. Choose yours for both effectiveness and good looks.
Gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.