Do You Remember?

Do you remember subscribing to a gardening blog a few years ago? One that caters to the Mid-Atlantic gardening region? Yeah me, too. And I even remember spending hours every day writing the blog posts.

Well, life happens and I happened to skip a few months (or years). I’ve been thinking that I may write smaller posts that involve more discussion from the readers…after all, none of us are as smart as all of us, right? Soooo…


Sounds pretty mundane, huh? But what kind should you use? Pine bark nuggets? Double shredded hardwood? Dyed mulch? Cypress? It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of the choices out there. I’ll give you my two cents if you promise to give me yours…

What mulch do I use? Double shredded hardwood mulch. Why? Earthworms.

Photo by EcoWatch

Earthworms are the entire reason that I garden. I love digging a hole and seeing them squirming all around with their little wet, shiny selves. I love to know that they love eating my soil. And turning it into poop. That the plants love. That I love. Sound weird? Probably.

One thing that my co-workers and I noticed after using brown dyed mulch was the lack of earthworm activity. Like none. Zip. Nada. Areas that were full of earthworms the season before were void of them now. Did we happen to catch all of the earthworms on a bad day? Perhaps. But we decided to go back to plain old double shredded hardwood mulch. And guess what happened? Earthworms, that’s what happened.

So tell me…what has your experience been with the mulch you use?


February 4, 2017Permalink 10 Comments

Friday Free For All: Using Water Wisely

Well, it’s happening already. The Mid-Atlantic gardening region is dry. Granted, we have 1″-2″ of rain expected this weekend but the rain has been pretty negligible in central Virginia since the middle of March. I hope that this isn’t a sign of things to come this summer. My mind has been churning about how much water we use. Not just my family or community but as a nation…as a world. Water is a renewable resource but that doesn’t mean that we can use it with reckless abandon. Let’s delve deeper to look at how we can use water more wisely in our gardens.

  1. Hugelkultur – if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know that I am big fan of hugelkultur. It just makes sense…use wood that nature has provided for us to help plants through the dry spells. Check out the link for more information if you’re unfamiliar with the practice of hugelkultur.
  2. Reduce your plants dependence on irrigation – while it is vitally important to make sure that newly transplanted plants are watered until they can get their roots in the ground, it is generally not necessary to water them for the rest of their lives. We had an extreme drought in 2010 here in central Virginia and emergency water restrictions were put in place; those restrictions meant that you couldn’t water…at all. One of the reservoirs that feed our public water supply, Lake Chesdin, was all but reduced to a pond. It was truly an amazing sight to see. During that drought, guess how many times I watered, even before the emergency water restrictions were in place. Zero. Zip. Nada. I am of the mindset that my plants will either live or die trying. I don’t have the desire or time to water them regularly. So do you know what they do to compensate for my lack of interest? They send their roots further into the ground to search for their own water. For the record, I didn’t lose one plant during the drought either.

    using water wisely

    Lake Chesdin 2010 Photo courtesy of Richard MacDonald

  3. Water wisely – for those newly transplanted plants, get creative with your watering. For trees, water slowly and deeply to make sure that the rootball is being wet thoroughly. You can accomplish this in several ways. One way is by using a treegator. These are available in either donut shapes for multi-stemmed trees or upright bags that zip shut around the tree trunk. You fill them with water and the water drips out slowly and wets the rootball. If you want to make your own cheap tree gator, get a few 5-gallon buckets and drill tiny holes in the bottom. Set them around the base of the tree and fill them with water. The water will trickle out slowly and water the rootball. You can also just let the hose run at a trickle for a half hour or so at the base of the tree.using water wisely
  4. Mulch – mulching your garden will help to reduce evaporation and regulate soil temperature, both of which will reduce your plants need for water. Mulch should be applied 2″-4″ thick. If you apply it thicker, you will reduce the amount of oxygen that is penetrating into the soil and that will impair the plants’ root growth. For heaven’s sake, don’t end up with mulch volcanoes around your trees!
  5. Apply compost – this is such an important part of using water wisely. By adding compost, you are improving soil structure. By improving your soil structure, your sandy soil is able to hold more moisture and your clay soil begins to open up to allow water in. Adding compost is the magic ingredient that makes all of the other items we discussed today possible.


So what will you do in your garden to use water wisely this summer? There are many other ways to reduce your water usage and I’d love to hear what you are doing. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy Friday and happy gardening!

Did You Know? Free Mulch


In today’s post, I thought we would take a look at sources of free mulch. I hope to be able to offer you some ideas for sources that perhaps you haven’t thought of. Whether it’s wood chips, leaves, straw or other materials, any of it will help to control weeds, improve soil fertility, regulate soil temperature and conserve moisture. Let’s get started!


Free mulchToday, I received an e-mail from in Atlanta, Georgia regarding free mulch. They offer free mulch to folks in the Atlanta area even if they aren’t removing a tree from their yard. If you are close to the route they are on, they will drop the mulch at no cost. This benefits the homeowner if they don’t want the mulch, the company since they don’t have to dispose of it and the person receiving the chips. It’s a win-win-win! Have you contacted any of the tree services in your area to see if they’ll drop off chips for you? I’m certain that more than a few tree contractors would be delighted to drop a dump truck’s worth for you at no cost. One word of caution: be certain that the wood that was chipped wasn’t walnut. While most of the allelopathic toxin is in the roots, it’s also in the branches of the walnut.

Another possible source is your municipal landfill. Often times, they have areas where citizens are allowed to dump brush and debris. This plant debris is then ground up and most localities will give it away for free…some make you load it yourself and others will even load it for you. With Hurricane Irene that swept up the Eastern Seaboard last September, many localities are overrun with mulch. Contact your local county or city and see if there is free mulch for the taking.


free mulchEvery year, millions of leaves fall from the trees that we work so hard to cultivate. And every year, gardeners rake up all of this free mulch and send it to the landfill. AHHHHHH! What are we thinking? Instead of sending this future black gold to the landfill, we should be coveting this free source of mulch. If it’s in your own garden and you insist on a tidy landscape, run the lawnmower over the leaves, chop them up, and then use it around your plants. Or compost it. If you are unfortunate and don’t have large volumes of leaves to contend with, go around your neighborhood in the fall and ask for bagged leaves. The leaves are in nice little neat trashbags that you can store until you need them. No more going to Home Depot for bagged compost or mulch…you’ll have your own.


free mulchStraw is probably best used in your vegetable garden instead of around your landscape plants. It tends to blow away and scatter in heavy winds, but your veggies will be none the wiser. If you are fortunate to live in a rural area, or at least close to one, contact farmers. They often have spoiled straw available that you can purchase for little or nothing. If you’ve never broken open a bale of straw, you may be surprised at the volume of straw that is in that compact little rectangle. If you can get your hands on a round bale of straw, you’ve hit the motherlode! Just make sure it’s straw and not hay. Hay contains the seeds of the plants that were harvested and you don’t want to seed your garden with that! Remember the point is to keep the weeds out.


free mulchIf you really want to make sure that the weeds are kept at bay in your garden, consider putting down cardboard first and then mulching over top. Sources of cardboard are everywhere…instead of recycling all of the cardboard that enters your house, save it for the garden. Go to your local grocery store and ask for the boxes that the produce and other items come in. Go to your local appliance store and see if you can have the refrigerator boxes…those boxes can cover a lot of ground in the garden.

I’d really like to compile a list of free mulch sources…can the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers help me out with this? What a great resource that would be for other gardeners. If you know of a free source, leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

March 19, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Did You Know? Mulching…for the Record


Today’s Did You Know? post is a simple one. My husband is a D.J. and he has tons of records lying around, including ones that he doesn’t need anymore. He is in the process of building shelving for them and that’s when we had the epiphany. Many of the record sleeves have holes in the center. He’ll be tossing many of the vinyl records but that leaves behind many of the cardboard sleeves. Why not use them for mulching in the veggie garden? You can plant right in the hole and then mulch over the whole thing.



I’m excited about using them this spring in the veggie garden. If you have any Ashford and Simpson records laying around, send the sleeves my way or use them in your garden! Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

February 27, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Friday Free For All: Wood Chips vs. Hardwood Mulch


What a great Friday at Mid-Atlantic Gardening! I was able to give seeds to one of our readers, Elizabeth, from New Jersey. The seeds are Tomatoes Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste and Golden Sunrise, Eggplant Casper, Cilantro Slo-Bolting and Cucumber Mandurian Round. It feels so great to give back to the readers that inspire me to keep writing posts. I have to admit that there are days when I say to myself “I’ll skip writing today’s post” but then I’ll receive feedback from you all and that keeps me moving. To all of my readers, I feel compelled to say “Thank you. You all are awesome!” OK, on to the post for today…

wood chipsA co-worker approached me Monday and asked a question that I feel is very important to answer. He wanted to know if applying wood chips instead of conventional hardwood mulch was OK for plants. My answer was a resounding yes. While double shredded hardwood mulch may be more pleasing to the eye, the soil and its organisms don’t care what you put down, so long as you put down something. Remember, as a gardener, you want to grow beautiful healthy soil that will feed your plants with much less effort than it takes to feed the plants and not the soil. Does that make sense? If your focus is on feeding the plants with synthetic fertilizers, you are not feeding the soil. If you instead feed the soil, you are rewarded with plants that derive their nutrition from what the soil provides for them.

Some people fear that mulching with fresh wood chips will rob the soil of nitrogen and that is a legitimate concern. What those same people fail to realize (and I was one of those people for a long time by the way) is that the nitrogen the microorganisms consume to break down the organic matter is still there, it’s just tied up. At a later time, the nitrogen will be available to the plants and it will be in a form that is naturally occurring. And it’s free too. No more applying fertilizer every spring…instead you can apply organic matter and grow your soil. If your plants become too chlorotic for your liking in the time that it takes your nitrogen to become available to the plant again, you can apply blood meal which is around 12% nitrogen. It will be a quick shot of nitrogen that will green up your plants.

Like I said earlier, it doesn’t matter what you have to mulch with…just mulch. If all you have available are leaves from the woods, use them. It would be nice if you could shred them up before using them…they’ll stay in place better and won’t pack down and form a matted layer. If it’s good enough for millions of acres of forests, it’s good enough for me. If you live near a farmer and he has straw that has spoiled, offer him a few dollars and he’ll probably accept your offer. Just make sure that it’s straw and not hay as hay is full of weed seeds. If you have trees removed from your garden, take the wood chips and use them…your tree guy will thank you too since he now doesn’t have to dispose of them. Just about any type of organic matter that you can think of will benefit your garden. I tend to be a little thrifty so I’m always on the lookout for cheap or free sources of organic matter…whether it be wood chips, leaves, manure or straw, I’ll take it! I love hearing how resourceful other gardeners are…leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!


Did You Know? Mulch Calculator


Today’s “Did You Know” post will be about figuring out the amount of mulch you need for a given area…it’s a mulch calculator, if you will. Since the leaves have fallen, a lot of people will be applying their winter layer of mulch and putting their gardens to bed for the winter. There seems to be confusion about how much mulch it takes to cover a given area so I thought that I would give you some helpful conversions.


The first thing you’ll need to do is measure the area. If the bed is a square or rectangle, multiply the length times the width to come up with the square footage (ft2). Example: your bed measures 20′ long by 6.5′ wide. 20 × 6.5 = 130 ft2.

If it’s more of a triangular area, try to figure the area as if it’s a square or rectangle and then divide it in half. Remember, you’re not in geometry class, you’re just trying to come up with the square footage.

If you’re working with a circle, measure the radius (that’s from the center of the circle to the outside of the circle) and use this formula: Area = ∏ × r2. In case you forgot, ∏ (pi) = 3.14. If you have a 6′ wide circle then the radius is 3′. 3.14 x 32 = 28.26 ft2.


OK…you’ve determined your square footage so now how do you figure out how much mulch you’ll need? This is the simplest part…just remember these simple figures:

Assuming that you are using cubic yards (yd3) of mulch:

  • at 2″ thick, 1 yd3 of mulch will cover 180 ft2
  • at 3″ thick, it will cover 110 ft2
  • at 4″ thick, it will cover 80 ft2


So in the above example for the 130 ft2 bed, you would need 1.18 yd3 of mulch if you were applying the mulch at 3″ deep. See my mulch volcano article for some helpful hints on proper mulching depth.

If you are working with bagged mulch, it is often sold in 2 ft3 bags. For what it’s worth, there are 27 ft3 in a cubic yard of mulch. With that being said, here’s how much each 2 ft3 bag will cover:

  • at 2″ thick, each bag will cover 12 ft2
  • at 3″ thick, each bag will cover 8 ft2
  • at 4″ thick, each bag will cover 6 ft2


Knowing that there are 27 ft3 of mulch in a yard can also come in handy when comparing prices between bagged mulch and bulk mulch that is sold by the yard.

I hope this has been a helpful “Did You Know” post…let me know your thoughts or questions at I’m really enjoying the e-mails I’m receiving…please keep them coming! Happy mulching!

Mulch Volcanoes…Oh the Horror of Them All

November 13, 2011

Since when did the Mid-Atlantic region consist of volcanoes? Perhaps many, many moons ago it did (or maybe not at all…I wasn’t a geology major). The volcanoes I’m speaking of are man-made and they appear every year when people are mulching their trees…that’s right, the mulch volcano. The picture below shows a typical sight in the Mid-Atlantic region: a Bradford Pear with a mulch volcano…in my opinion, they both need to go, but that’s a different story for a different day.

While they don’t spew forth lava, they do speak volumes about a belief among well-meaning gardeners that if the landscaper down the road is doing something, they should too. I need to insert a disclaimer here: while there are certainly folks in the landscaping industry that follow proper horticultural techniques, there appear to be far more that just do what the next guy is doing.

Not too many years ago, it was hard to convince landscapers to apply mulch at all. It was a hard sell to them and they couldn’t believe that people would be willing to pay them to put down mulch in their landscape beds. But then the dollar signs began to appear to them, much like they do in a cartoon. “Do you mean that people will pay me by the yard to put mulch around their plants? And they want it done twice per year? SOLD!” And so the mulch volcano was born.

A mulch volcano consists of a mountain (or volcano) of mulch that is applied around the base of a tree. It is usually piled up at least two feet high on the trunk of the stem. Unfortunately, after most people are finished, they sit back and think “wow…that tree is really happy now!” And there are some people who think that the mulch volcano will help keep the tree warm. Now if you are one of those people, don’t fret. It’s easy to believe such things when you are surrounded by them. Look around at the landscapes in any commercial setting; I’ll bet you that 9 out of 10 trees have mulch volcanoes. Now look in the woods and tell me what you see…no mulch volcanoes for sure!


I can’t blame money-hungry landscapers entirely for the epidemic of mulch volcanoes; laziness is a factor too. You’re probably thinking “laziness? It’s a lot of hard work to haul in all of that mulch for the volcanoes”. And you are right; it is a lot of hard work. But it’s far easier to mulch the tree than to plant it correctly. You see, most of the trees that are mulched like a volcano were never fully planted in the ground. A shallow area for the root ball to sit in was excavated but that was it…the top of the root ball is usually well above-grade (and that may not be a bad thing but we’ll discuss that in a later post). Mulch is added as a disguise to cover up the nonsense and the next tree is “installed”. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that if we took away the volcano in the picture below, you’d find that the tree hadn’t been planted at all…in fact if you look closely, you can see that there is bare soil under the layer of mulch. That’s either soil from the original rootball or soil from where the “hole” was dug. Either way, this tree is suffering from a severe case of “mulch volcano”.

So what can you do to fix the problem?

First, look at the trees in your yard…are there volcanoes that are ready to erupt? If so, pull back the mulch to a depth of 3″ or so and instead of mulching up, mulch out. Take the mulch and spread it out as far as you can stand it…the more mulched area there is, the less the tree has to complete with grass for water and nutrients. Congratulate yourself for unburying a tree that was otherwise suffocating under all of that mulch. Once the celebration is over, take a look at your neighbors’ yard, the common areas in your subdivision, your church, where you work or your local park. Chances are that there are mulch volcanoes there too. Let people know that you’ve been knocking down volcanoes all over your city and they can do it too!

I’d love to see some pictures of the mulch volcanoes that you’ve encountered. Send them to and we’ll start a photo gallery…a wall of shame if you will.

November 13, 2011Permalink Leave a comment