JARS 43n3 - A Cover-Up

A Cover-Up
Austin Kennell
Waynesboro, Virginia

Maybe it's just mulch ado about nothing, but I just don't know about mulching. I probably should say I'm not really sure I ought to be the mulcher and my plants the mulchees. Mulch activity may be alright but the results just don't seem to justify the cost and labor involved.
My problem may be my reading is better than my mulching. Articles by pro-mulchers make a lot of sense to me so I try to follow their advice. Unfortunately, along come articles by anti-mulchers. I'll tell you one thing, it's a lot harder to demulch than it is to mulch.
My own personal observations are that mulchness helps my plants - but mulchlessness doesn't hurt them. I've got some beautiful rhododendrons with mulch around them and I've got just as many nice plants without a speck of mulch in sight. I've lost plants that were mulched and I've lost just as many that were unmulched.
There's no question but that mulching smothers most weeds - for a while. But it also makes some weeds bigger, stronger and healthier. It also does a job on flowering bulbs and provides a nice comfortable environment for insects and pests.
The mulchability of materials varies. In my area, the choices are very limited. Actually, there are only three - expensive, very expensive, and outrageous (that old exhortation "Don't put a $5.00 plant in a 50 hole" has been amended to add "...or only 50 of mulch around it"). You can end up with more money in holes and mulch than in plants!
Around here, mulch comes in three grades - too fine, too big, and too trashy. You can get it by the bag, pickup load, or dump truck load. When I can raise the money, I buy two dump truck loads at a time to keep the per nugget cost within reason. Unfortunately, like most gardeners, my place does not have enough room for a dump truck to do anything but run over plants, make ruts in my yard and mash down things in general. And somehow the pile always ends up in the most inconvenient place from which to get the mulch where I want it to go.
Mulch logistics is an interesting exercise. Actually, what it is is hard work! Whether you use a small cart, a medium size wheelbarrow, or garden tractor trailer, it's hard work. Whether you use a little shovel, an average size shovel or a big scoop, it's hard work. You load, push or pull the load to where you want it, unload and spread it, rake and level it, and then do the same thing over and over again. Mulch is extremely uncooperative. Due to some unknown quirk, mulch always has to be moved uphill. Never downhill, nor even sideways, but uphill!
A basic rule of mulchonomics is that no matter how big your heap of mulch is when you start and no matter how long it takes to move it all, it's never enough. This is due to an unusual characteristic of mulch that its horizontal spreadability is always less than its vertical pileability.
Some mulches look attractive; some don't. Some look alright when fresh but weather poorly. Some mulches even clash with other mulches.
I'll probably continue to mulch as my time, energy and funds permit. Not because I'm really sold on mulching but because I'm really not sold on not mulching.