Mighty Mulch

As a garden coach, I am often asked to share some of my garden maintenance secrets. And whenever anyone visits my garden and isn’t familiar with the dark rich mulch in my beds, they will ask what kind of mulch do I use!

Composted leaf mulch is my number one garden maintenance secret. I often notice gardens that were installed, looking grand, and then left to fend for itself. At first everything looks perfect and the mulch, usually a triple shredded hardwood, has a nice brown color lying warmly over the dirt. Not long after installation, the worst looking part of the new garden is the old mulch. There is now crabgrass growing in it, water has washed all the smaller particles away leaving large chunks in the mulch that get bleached out by the sun and look like old bones in a dessert. Or if it is in the shade, just big chunks with some other weed invading the mulch.

I am a lover of composted leaf mulch. When the leaf suckers come work the neighborhoods in the fall taking up all our leaves, they take them to the city yard waste center and compost it. After several months, it is ready for our gardens. While it has its advantages, it also has its disadvantages, err, points of interest. It holds its color, all pieces are uniform, not causing the mulch to look chunky, it adds nutrients to the soil, and stays in place. It also retains moisture, keeps the roots cool, and it is restful on the eye. And because it is so densely packed, it is a far superior mulch to other mulches for retarding weed growth. It is so good, be sure to collect seeds from reseeding annuals that like to be on the surface, like reseeding inpatients, because composted leaf mulch will keep some reseeding annuals from germinating. Then in the spring, sow the seeds onto your winter composted leaf mulch. It doesn’t seem to stop the Monarda or the Cleome from germinating though.

The dark rich color makes one the envy of the gardening community. Because it is composted leaf, it will break down faster than other mulches. It may need to be put down semi-annually, but could last a year. When wondering to how long mulch will last in a bed, several factors will affect this including sunlight, shade, the thickness it is laid, and moisture level. I find that mulch will last longer if it does not receive irrigation.

This mulch is not without its points of interest. There is trash in there! After years of monotonously hauling mulch into gardens, one wheel barrel at a time, I have made a mental list of all the kinds of trash I have found.

Here are some of my findings from the City of Raleigh Yard Waste composted leaf mulch:

Electrical wire

Blue painters tape

Black plastic bag bits

Life saver wrapper

Clear plastic bag bits

Milk Dud box – actually, that one may have fallen out of my pocket;-}

Red plastic Solo cup bits – Do you suppose there are Carolina Blue cups in the Chapel Hill Yard Waste?

Heinz ketchup packet – empty

Pop can tops – the new ones, not the old ones that were redesigned so wouldn’t cut our feet at the beach. Remember those….ever make a necklace out of them?

A 4 inch wide inter lid to a prepared dip or yougart

Bungee cords

A wine foil

Chunks of clay

A Valley Rich eggnog carton wrapper – the inter paper carton decomposed, but the plastic overlay remained.


Milk cap

Condoms – what’s up with that!

The plastic protective cover from a square Kleenex box

Glass pieces

Ball of duct tape

Plastic Mountain Dew bottles


Coke cans

Straw wrapper

Cigarette butts

Yellow package strap

Those plastic ends from Cigars

Pepsi Can

Plastic bottle caps

Piece of bungee cord

Cigarette package

Yellow crime scene tape – just kidding, but I am sure someone has found it!

Tennis ball

Hi C juice box

Dog toy

Gatorade cap

Plastic pieces from fire works

Speaker wire


Mayonnaise little packet – empty

Clear plastic bottles – liter and quart

Plastic grocery bag

Bread ties – both the plastic wire coated kind and the other

A part of a Happy Meal toy

Tarp pieces

Child size soccer ball

If composted leaf mulch were used instead of the other kinds, those newly installed gardens would look good for much longer. Maybe my need as a garden coach will be reduced…it is still best to share the good news and hlep build good garden maintenance practices.

The City of Raleigh Yard Waste Center on New Hope Road, just off Route 64, sells it by the truckload; however, they don’t deliver. If you don’t have a truck, you can fill bags or another container, and they will charge you by the bag/container. If you need lots of it like I do, call Mulch Masters for a delivery. Then get your wheel barrel out with a pick and a manure shovel, and begin applying the mulch, one wheel barrel at a time!

Helen Yoest



  1. Jack said

    Helen, great content, helpful advice, compelling pics.

    Well Done. Enjoyed previous post on “The Butterfly Effect”

    Got you ‘rolled, as you deserve.


  2. gardensgardens said

    Thanks Jack!

    I needed that:-}

  3. Alberta said

    You’ve convinced me about leaf mulch from the City–tho the trash list is daunting. I’ve been trying to shred my own, but I may buy a truckload.
    Also think your website is great. Love the month by month play. Reminds me of my dogeared John Harris book.
    I’m bookmarking it ! Alberta

  4. gardensgardens said

    Thanks Alberta! With regards to the trash in the mulch, think if it as our modern day mythology – it is who we are in a heap – such as it is, which is why it is best to address it with humor.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: