composting, mulch

Autumn Colors and Mulching Experiments

It’s officially autumn! Yay! It’s time for pumpkins, hayrides, apple picking, fall decorating and, of course, tucking the gardens in to nap for a few months.

We Can’t Wait for the Red Maples to Start Turning

This year, I learned the importance of mulching my plants in the spring. When I was unable to get out to the gardens for a few weeks, the mulched areas were barely bothered by weeds. The areas that were not mulched however…let’s just say they look a little scary.

Now that everything has pretty much finished growing for the season, mulching has again been listed on our weekend calendar. We are not mulching with the thick, course mulch we use to keep down the weeds in the spring. Instead, we are mulching with decaying, organic materials in an effort to add back nutrients and protect the soil.

There are two kinds of mulching methods we are testing out this fall – Brown Mulch (decaying mulch) vs. Green Mulch (living mulch).

Brown Mulch

Our brown mulch or “dead mulch” is a mixture of 1/2 rotting leaf litter and bark and 1/2 finished compost. This mulch is going to be spread over our flower beds, fruit bush patches and the vegetable gardens from this season. After removing all of the sickly plants – Hello, Powdery Mildew! – we will be adding a thick layer of our brown mulch into the soil. We have left the roots of healthy annuals to decompose through the rest of the fall and over the winter. I do not heavily till the soil as we have a large population of big, juicy earth worms who do a great job of aerating it for us.

Living Mulch

The newer part of our gardens is a still in need of some TLC. We removed some larger rocks from the area and disturbed the soil quite a bit with a tractor. Now that the holes have been back filled, the area is full of fluffy soil that can easily wash away and/or compact. Neither of these things are good! So, in an effort to hold the soil, keep it from getting hard and unusable and to add some nitrogen and other nutrients to the mess we have made, we have planted red clover and annual rye grass over the area.

In asking around for advice, I found that there are a lot of people who do not like rye grass as a cover crop, because it has a tendency to grow back in and compete with the garden in the growing season. Apparently this is even true with the annual seeds. To combat this issue, we will be covering the area in the early spring with a heavy layer of compost and then light-blocking tarps to kill off any grass that was planning on making a comeback.

Everything we are doing is like a science experiment. We know that the compost works really well and we know that the brown mulch helps prevent weeds from growing and keeps the soil to stay cool and moist. We know that we have lots of earth worms working away in the gardens and we have learned that disturbing the soil too much can lead to compaction and loss of nutrients…and new ponds…

I’m excited to see how the rye grass and clover work in the new section of the gardens. Good luck to everyone else this autumn and enjoy the season!

3 thoughts on “Autumn Colors and Mulching Experiments”

  1. Are red maples native or exotic? They would not be my favorite of the maples, but they happen to be excellent street trees in urban areas. My favorite maples (who will remain unnamed) are not so ideal. They are not so well adapted to the mild climate, and the one that is well adapted happens to be one of the worst maples for urban situations.

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      1. How sweet! There are only two native maples here, and one is the trashy box elder along the rivers and creeks. The bigleaf maple happens to be one of my favorite maples, but is not very adaptable to urban landscapes. It is a sugaring maple farther north.

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