It's the time of year when I find myself reciting my weeding mantra over and over, sometimes even in my sleep, "A year of seed equals 7 years of weed. A year of seed equals 7 years of weed. A year of seed equals 7 years of weed." It's amazing how much motivation that simple sentence can provide for me!
Along with weeding, I am also mulching my beds, especially those beds that are having weed issues. Primarily these are the new(er) beds that need this important blanket spread to keep weed seeds that were present in the soil from sprouting. Of course, all the beds benefit from mulch to maintain soil moisture, keep roots cool, and feed the soil; I'm just starting with the ones that need it the most.
This photo shows my newest cleared area from last year, with fresh mulch applied, plus the bark mulch path I'm creating through the beds, and (to the left) the new bed that I'm starting this year where a pine tree stood that was felled last year by pine wilt disease. You can see why I need to keep the already present weed seeds from getting a foothold in the new bed!
Here on the relatively open prairie, I rely on a 2 part mulch layer for most of my flower beds. For the first part of this mulch combo, I put down a fairly heavy layer of chopped leaves. I love chopped leaves as a mulch for perennials - they decompose quickly to feed the soil, plus it's easy to dig into and mix with the soil if I suddenly need to add a new perennial or move one to another location. The second layer is a thin layer of mixed hardwood chips to weigh the leaves down and keep them from blowing away in the ever present Kansas wind.
Both parts of my preferred mulch duo have the added benefits of being basically free and of giving me the good feeling of diverting yard waste from the county landfill. Greg and I leaf rustle in the fall, driving through heavily treed neighborhoods to pick up bags of leaves that have been put out by the curb for the trash companies to pick up. If the leaves have been gathered with a lawnmower, all we have to do is empty the bags into our big "leaf mulch storage bin." If the leaves were hand-raked, Greg dumps them into the bin and then runs the lawnmower over them a bit to chop them up. (By chopping them up, we decrease their wind resistance and increase the speed at which they decompose in the beds. They are also simply easier to handle this way.)
For the wood mulch layer, I was lucky enough to find a tree-trimming company (one that I had trim our trees, actually) that was happy to dump a free load or two of chipped up wood from another, nearby job. The only downside to this abundance is that we now have a huge mountain of wood chips sitting next to the smaller mountain of topsoil, both easily visible when you pull in our driveway. It's not optimal siting visually, but it's the best place to let a commercially sized dump truck empty its load without driving over large areas of our yard. And I'm darned if I'm moving the mountains more than one time (to their final destinations) wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow!
We didn't do our normal leaf rustling in the fall of 2010, so I went into last year's dry, hot summer with little leaf mulch to use in protecting my plants' roots. I suspect that I lost several plants because of the lack of this good, protective layer. I'm not going to make that mistake again this year!
So, "Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It's off to work I go!" If you can't reach me this spring, there's a good chance it's because I'm outside mulching.