You know, there are a few garden myths about garden mulch going about the gardening world right now. In fact, over the holidays I read a magazine article (from an older issue) that was full of interesting assumptions about mulch and other gardening myths that I thought I’d take this column to refute these myths.
Which Way To Plant Your Bulbs
The first was written by the publisher of the magazine (publishers should have gardeners write editorials rather than themselves) and she went on about how bulbs had to be planted roots down in order to grow properly.
I thought we had eliminated this canard.
If you think for one minute that commercial growers take the time to orient each of the millions of bulbs that are planted by machine then you might want to evaluate your thinking. It doesn’t happen.
Her point was that a tulip wouldn’t have the energy to produce a flower if it spent that energy having to reach for the surface. Well, the tulip flower is already formed inside the bulb from the previous year’s growth and it is just sitting there waiting for the ground to warm up to start growing. And yes, it will orient itself properly as it emerges from the bulb. And yes, I’ve planted them up to 18 inches deep and deliberately upside-down to see what would happen.
Blooms folks, blooms happened. So, don’t worry about which way your bulbs got planted last fall. As long as they were good bulbs, they’ll bloom this spring.
A writer inside the magazine wrote about mulch and this is where the editor of the magazine checked her sense of gardening possibilities at the door. The writer writes “In spring, the wet leaves could ferment, produce unwanted heat too soon and awaken the dormant plant too early.” when she is writing about why not to apply a thick layer of leaves as a garden mulch. I had to suppress a big chuckle when I read that.
In 25 years of gardening, I’ve never seen a winter sodden mulch ferment or heat up. Unless your mulch is 3 feet deep, it just doesn’t have the mass necessary to support such biological activity and the melting snow creates too much water to support fermentation.
What mulch really does in the spring is keep the ground under it cool and frozen longer into the springtime, not heated up and bringing plants along sooner. Relax folks, if you have mulch on your garden, your plants are safe from spring heating.
Peat Moss As A Mulch
“Peat moss is not favored as a mulch because that uses up a diminishing natural resource.” This chestnut comes to us from Europe where they burn peat as fuel in both home and industrial uses.
In Canada, we use such a tiny percentage (under 1 percent) of our natural peat resources that it is not a problem. In fact, there are statistics that show that peat is actually increasing in this country as the 99% outgrow what we harvest from the 1%. I’ve toured peat bogs in Quebec and seen the regeneration programs there. Canada is also a leader in peat regeneration so please do not worry about using peat because it is a non-renewable resource. The bogs are doing fine thank you very much.
Having said that, the only time you should use peat as a mulch is when you have to protect tender above ground plants such as dianthus from winter ravages. Apply the dry peat (it has to be dry to work) late in the season just before the snow falls. Cover the really tender plant with dry peat. It will repel moisture all winter and won’t get too wet down into the pile so the plant leaves will stay dry and protected as well. In the spring, as soon as you can remove the mulch, do so. Spread it quite thinly over the rest of your garden.
Never use peat as summer or permanent mulch – not because it is a depleting resource – but because it sheds water and doesn’t allow it down to the plant roots. It is a lousy garden mulch material for this reason. And if it dries out, it will blow away.
Grass Clippings As Garden Mulch
“Grass clippings can be used after they dry, but they do contain a lot of grass seed that can grow into a spring nuisance.” Well, I guess you can use grass clippings as garden mulch.
I prefer to leave them on the lawn where they belong to help the lawn grow properly.
Do they contain seed?
Well, they might contain weed seed but rarely do homeowners allow grass plants to grow tall enough to set grass seed.
In any case, the author earlier recommended using old hay as mulch. Now, if you want to see grass seed establish in your garden, use old hay. Been there, done that, broken that back on the weeds. Don’t use old hay and leave your grass clippings on the lawn where they belong.
Piling New Leaves Over Old As Mulch
The writer says not to pile new leaves over old as new leaves “would cause mold and hinder decomposition.” I confess this is the first time I’ve ever seen this bit of nonsense actually printed in a magazine.
Do pile new mulch on top of existing mulch to keep the levels up and the plants protected. Mulch decomposes from the bottom up, the layers next to the ground decompose first and as you add from the top, it is disappearing and enriching your soil from the bottom.
New mulch does not hinder decomposition of the old as Ruth Stout and numerous gardeners have demonstrated.
So, if you got this magazine (I won’t mention its name to protect the innocent) for the holidays, relax about using mulch and how you planted your bulbs.