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 stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!