The sweet smell of success – Mulch

20 cubic yards composted leaf mulch

20 cubic yards composted leaf mulch

Once a year, Helen’s Haven gets blanketed with a thick layer of composted leaf mulch.  I giggle with delight when the City of Raleigh leaf suckers comb the neighborhoods to removed the fallen leaves from the curb where, hopefully, savvy homeowners racked their leaves to the street.  I do it, for I know those leaves will become composted.  After a good hard freeze and available time, I order up a bunch.

While I do have a compost pile where I put most of my garden waste, it would never be enough to provide me what I need.  I keep the pile for convenience sake and for a place to harbor wildlife.  When I do put out garden waste, it is  in cans or bags for that purpose.  On the occasion, and it has happened, the collectors were in a hurry, I found they co-mingled the trash with the garden waste. Upon witnessing this, I did as any  good citizen of the world would do, I tattled.  Yep, I did.  We have the mechanism to process garden waste into compost, so let’s do it.  After a few times, it has never happened again.  Before this service  of separate pick ups for trash and garden waste, I  had a pile in my garden where I threw my garden waste.  It never made sense to me to put it in the landfill.

Some may view a compost pile in a pretty garden as untidy, but I don’t.  However, when my garden is open for guests or tours, I do cover it with pine straw.  It really does look better and seems to make everyone happy.

Depending on the time of year I order the mulch, and the demand, will depend on how composted it is.  Last year (2007), with the worst drought in 100 years, it was difficult to get my regular supplier to deliver me this composted black gold.  All our area’s composted leaf mulch comes form the City of Raleigh.  Problem is, the City does not delivery.  And when you need 20 cu. yds, it has to be delivered.

The City of Raleigh has a monopoly on composted leaf mulch, thus  my supplier has to buy it from the City, it cost my supplier more than what he can make himself.   So when demand for mulch is up, as it was in 2007 due to the drought and with folks learning the benefits of mulch, his trucks were so busy delivering more profitable mulch, he declined servicing us composted leaf mulchers.  In the end, I called the owner and asked if he would pleeeeeese make an exception for me since I have been doing business with him since 2001 and he said yes, but only because it was for my garden.  In other words, don’t keep calling on my client’s behalf.  That seemed far.

Last year’s mulch, delivered on February 17th, was sour.  With the demand so high, the City started to sell compost before it’s time.  I was OK with that; not so much my neighbors.  This year, it was prime stuff.

My husband and I debated why it so good.  One theory was that it was still early in the year.  Then my husband offered the economy as the reason, suggesting people weren’t buying as much.  I offered it due to the over abundance of rainfall in 2008.  We had as much in abundance of rain fall in 2008 as we did a deficit in 2007.  As such, those concerned about conserving moisture, didn’t have this fear any longer.  Short term thinking, but probably true  just the same.

Of course there are other benefits of mulching in addition to moisture conservation, but this is the biggy and in the middle of a drought, sales were high.  Not so now;  I received several letters from suppliers offering discounts on mulch – all, that is, except composted leaf mulch.

december-25-2008-109Helen’s Haven is a half acre garden – more garden areas than grass.  Even with 20 cubic yards and laying the mulch 3 inches thick, I could have used more.  I suspected this, so I went about prioritizing the areas to receive it.  As such, I’m OK in the areas that didn’t get  it.  Without this planning, I would have just ran out and, no doubt, would have needed some more in important areas just to finish up.

I hired two teenagers to help me lay the mulch.  A doe and a buck.  The doe worked as the advance team, pruning, deadheading, deadleafing, spreading and such, while the buck and I hauled to her, one wheel barrel at a time.  Nine hours – 27 man-hours latter, we were done.

Composted leaf mulch breaks down faster than many other mulches.  However, unlike others, when it does break down, it adds nutrients to the ground.  This is good stuff.  I tell my clients, if they prefer the look of triple shredded hardwood mulch, let’s still first lay composted leaf mulch and then top dress with their preferred mulch.  I consider it a blessing when they agree to this  since these are my clients, and as a result the gardens I tend.  I want to work in great garden soil, thus increasing  my odds of a great garden season.

Why do I add mulch?  Simple:

  1. Water retention
  2. Soil temperature moderator
  3. Improves soil texture
  4. Adds nutrients
  5. Suppresses weeds
  6. And it looks terrific

So, don’t forget to mulch in the new year!



  1. Kathy said

    We can go to the dump, er, I mean, landfill, and haul composted yard waste for free. I don’t know if they let commercial outfits take it and resell it. I’m not 100% sure of what’s in it, so I only use it on ornamental plantings, not edibles. It looks like partially decomposed wood chips. I don’t know of any place I could get leaf mold in the quantities you describe.

    The best soil amendment I ever used was litter from a horse barn, manure mixed with coarse sawdust. It did wonders for my clay soil, but I’ve been fighting pasture grasses in that bed ever since. It was partially decomposed when I got it, but obviously never got hot enough to kill the weed seeds.

  2. Raleigh has a well organized and capable Yard Waste system. I feel we are lucky in that regard. I do have a source for horse barn manure, but have always been reluctant to use due to the pasture grass issues you described. I am bragging when I say, I don’t have weeds. Oh, sure some Bermuda grass creeps now and then, but a day of weeding is not necessary for my gardens. This mulch is the best weed surpresser.

  3. kk said

    I love the smell of partially composted mulch first thing in the morning….

  4. Look at the steam coming off that black gold! 🙂

    Composted leaf mulch from a city — you finally gave me one reason why living in the city is better than the country. 🙂 All of our trees are in the woods, not in our meadows, so we just mow over the few leaves that make it to the grass. Our woods are full of sweet gums and black walnut trees.


  5. Hey Cameron, you have Chapel Hill gravel, I’m envious of that!
    Happy New Year!

  6. Do you see me jumping up and down and waving like a fool. Yep, I’m a leaf mulching maniac. Our leaf compost yard is huge, wonderful, smells good, looks good, and it’s mostly all mine. Seriously…not many people use it. The city uses a lot as they have a keen landscaper who knows the benefits.

    So listen and don’t drool on my puter…but I go about 500 feet down the road and take a right and I’m there with my truck and haul home all I want…….For me, it’s an ongoing process. Something always needs leaf mulch doesn’t it. And we had a bumper crop of leaves this year. Our trucks ran nonstop through the neighborhoods happily sucking away. Music to my ears.

    I don’t have a doe or a buck though. Well maybe I have a buck. MrD could be called a buck fairly easily.

  7. I just want to stay here with our gardening buds and admire your mulch.

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