Whether you are a new or old hand with gardening, attempting to build a fresh plot on raw land or have health concerns that inhibit an active lifestyle, we all struggle with accepting the weeds, vines and grasses that readily pop through the soil!
It certainly does take time and energy to keep the naturally-occurring plants out of our gardens!
But did you know? Gardening doesn’t have to suck every spare minute of your day! Nor do you need to continually face the weeds that make you feel as if you are the world’s worst gardener!
Use mulch! Mulch, my friend, will become your best friend!
In fact, when you use mulching methods, it not only blocks the sun’s rays from the wild seed below, but as time goes by, mulch breaks down (composts) and feeds the soil. Two in one? How amazing is that?!
Mulch Options Commonly Used Today
Mulch comes in various forms: straw, hay, maple leaves and even shredded paper or cardboard! I’m a fan of straw. I’ve used hay and cardboard for particularly weedy patches. But my favorite? Grass clippings!
Why We Use Grass Clippings
While straw makes a wonderful mulch, our local stuff costs a pretty penny! We finally had to conclude that mulching with straw wasn’t a wise financial decision.
Apart from this, straw comes from cereal grain crops (wheat, rye, barley, etc) and unless organic, will be heavily sprayed! As the straw decomposes, it brings all that into the soil with it. And that isn’t what we want!
Hay is a cheaper option and less likely to contain toxic sprays. In order to keep mature seed heads from propagating grass throughout the garden, hay must be thickly applied, a minimum of 5-6 inches. This requires more hay and also, more money.
Instead of purchasing our mulch, we choose to use grass clippings. What is grass but immature hay? And why not use it before seed heads form? Grass clippings are free (we all mow our lawns, right?), readily available and you know whether or not sprays or chemical fertilizers have been used in your own back yard!
Using your own lawn clippings is yet another way to rely on the land and move toward self-sufficiency!
The Key to a Successful Mulch
Grass clippings must be dry, like hay. Wet clippings get hot as they decompose and may burn tender young seedlings. Not only this, but freshly-cut grass makes a slimy mess in the garden as it breaks down!
How to Dry Your Lawn Clippings
Spread clippings out in full sunlight. Often, our “compost dumps” are found in a grove of trees, deep in the bushes or hidden away where no one can see it, including the sun.
Move your grass clippings to a warm location with full sunlight. Don’t leave it in a pile, but instead, spread it out to dry, making certain its no deeper than 1 inch thickness. If the weather is warm, it won’t take long! Turn, if necessary.
When dry to the touch, it can be raked into a pile. Freshly-dried grass will be sage-green, while older grass will be brown. Go by texture, not color!
If mulch clippings aren’t immediately put to use, you may want to rake your dry grass into garbage bags or cans for protection. While moisture (rain or heavy dew) won’t hurt your dry mulch, it will start the decomposition process! White mold may form in the middle of the stack. If this happens, be sure to work downwind and wear a mask when mulching.
How to Mulch and Plant Seeds
Everyone gardens differently! We prefer to use wide rows with most of our plants. Not only does this maximize garden space, but as vegetables mature their foliage blots out the weeds and holds moisture in. We also plant across the width of our rows (instead of the length) because it makes mulching, planting and weeding easier.
We choose to mound our garden rows because we like the distinction and looser soil it affords for root vegetables. Regardless of how you define your rows, the mulching process is the same.
Cover the row-to-be-seeded with dry grass clippings, to the depth of 1 inch. Starting at the far side of the row, break a pathway across the width. Go through the mulch, down to bare soil. No need to dig into the soil; just expose it.
Continue to make row after row, leaving adequate space between each. Distance between rows will be outlined on your seed package. It varies according to produce type.
Take the seeds-to-be-planted, and, according the package’s instruction, set seed on top of the open soil at appropriate intervals. That’s right! Just set them on top. No need to push them into the dirt.
Once the prepared area is seeded, take a bucket and scoop up some fresh dirt. Break apart large clumps, until the soil is fine and suitable for covering seeds.
Go ahead. Cover the seeds with this soil, to the depth indicated on the back of seed’s package. If needed, firmly pat the soil into place.
Topping the seeds with soil instead of attempting to dig by the fluffy mulch keeps the two separate. When your seeds appear, you’ll know exactly where and what they are!
Water as normal. Watch as the seedlings appear beside your weed-suppressing mulch!
How to Mulch for Transplants
Mulching for transplants is even simpler. The fastest way? Mulch the entire row with 1 inch of dry grass. To put in transplants, remove a handful of mulch at necessary intervals. At each place, dig a suitable-sized hole and pop seedlings into the ground. Pat soil down. Snuggle the mulch back around the base of each young plant. Water as normal.
Where I live, the weather isn’t always hot enough to dry grass clippings before transplants are set out. No worries, if that’s your case! Go ahead and plant them. When grass clippings are dry, mulch around the vegetables.
If weeds are present (yes, even tiny weeds), they ought to be removed before you mulch. To do so, disturb the top layer of dirt with your fingertips, dragging the soil (and tender young weeds), to the side.
After the weeds are out of the way, apply your mulch. Cover the soil between and around each plant, being sure to put down a good inch.
In the beginning your transplants may look dwarfed among the puffs of dry grass. Not to worry! The plants will soon grow far beyond and the grass will compact after a few good waterings!
How to Mulch Between Rows
Mulching between rows (your walkways) is entirely up to personal preferences! It will cut back on weeding hours. Apply it in a thick, 1 inch padding. To establish a very sure, weed-free walkway, spread cardboard the length of it, then cover with a hefty layer of grass clippings.
Mulch for Container Gardening
If you practice container gardening, you can (and should) use mulch! Not only will it suppress the weeds, but it will also feed your soil and help lock moisture in. So go ahead! Don’t hold back!
Problem #1: I don’t have enough lawn to supply my needs for mulch
A: Talk to neighbors and offer them a dumping spot for their lawn clippings! If possible, try to avoid those who use sprays and chemical fertilizers. The presence of toxins can stunt and distort the growth of vegetables. Once in the soil, these toxins are very difficult to remove. It pays to do your homework!
Be aware of what grows in your neighbor’s lawn! Avoid using grass or other plants that have formed seed heads. Also make certain that clippings don’t contain plants that re-root from leaves or stems (such as comfrey or morning glory varieties).
Problem #2: Mulching my garden is taking more time than I expected!
A: Mulching does take time and in the beginning, extra time. However, mulching puts the cart behind the horse. Long term, it will prove itself, offering you more freedom over the course of the summer. Don’t let the extra work in the beginning discourage you. It will be worthwhile!
Problem #3: I mulched with dry grass clippings but the weeds are still popping through
A #1: This technique isn’t weed-proof! You will still have to spot-weed. If wild plants are exploding throughout, it could be that your mulch isn’t thick enough (1 inch). Always check it after your first watering. Grass clippings are light and fluffy, making it difficult to gauge their thickness until after things have settled.
A #2: If weeds have previously run rampant in your garden bed or you are working a new piece of land, you may need more than grass clippings to suppress the weeds. You can place cardboard around plants, adding a heavy layer of mulch on top of that. Don’t give up! The longer you practice mulching methods, the fewer weeds you’ll have to deal with!
Problem #4: I’ve never had issues with slugs before, but they’re wreaking havoc in my plants
A #1: If you live in a wet climate, you may face this problem! Because mulch holds moisture, it may attract slugs or snails.
Water less. Mulch helps retain moisture, requiring less water. If needed, consider removing mulch from walkways and around the targeted plants. Once vegetables are large enough to form an overhead canopy, they offer natural weed control by blocking sunlight themselves.
A #2: If possible, bring in ducks! Duck are notorious for consuming slugs. Depending on the size of your garden, it may take more than a few days, but they will delightedly clean and clear your garden of the slimy villains!
Problem #5: I miss the feeling of dirt between my toes and don’t like walking on soggy grass.
A: It’s the nostalgic feeling of fresh dirt between the toes that so many people miss. If this really matters to you, don’t spread grass clippings between your rows! Its easy enough to wield a hoe! I struggled (truly) with this aspect of mulching, but soon discovered that it was worthwhile, so greatly did it cut back on the workload.
What do you think? What’s your favorite mulching method? Have you ever used dried grass clippings?