A Gardener’s Notebook

Save trips to the ‘old watering hole’ by mulching

Special to The CambrianJune 19, 2014 

Marian and Mike Willis fill their 100-gallon tank with water for their garden and for friends and neighbors who are unable to transport it themselves.

DON SATHER

Locals who were never interested in gardening are quite conversational on the matter these days. Their communal meeting place is the “watering hole” at the Rodeo Grounds where nonpotable water is available. Cheerfully, or sometimes not, they wait their turn to fill their containers with free water and make friendly conversation with one another.

They take time away from golfing, airplane flying, fishing and work to keep their landscapes green. Containers vary in size from watering cans in the back of luxury cars to 500-gallon tanks on trailers. As residents wait for available hoses, they express confidence (a nice way of putting it) that Cambria Community Services District directors will soon provide a reliable water source for residences of Cambria.

Many people at the “watering hole” make the trip at least twice a week, less often if their gardens are mulched. Mulch is material applied to the soil surface. What materials can be used for mulching and how deep it must be to be effective are common questions.

As mulch breaks down it conditions the soil. It becomes moisture retentive and protects the soil from runoff during heavy rains. Remember “the good ol’ days” when “runoff” was an issue? I never thought I’d miss it.

Many kinds of materials can be used for mulch. I prefer “organic” mulches that improve the soil, rather than newspaper, plastic and rocks. The mulch you choose depends on your aesthetic taste, garden design and the depth of your pocketbook. Here are some common types of mulch:

  • Decorative bark chips can be bought in bags or by the truckload.
  • Shredded bark decomposes slowly and adheres to hillsides.
  • Leaves can be used as mulch but should be put through a shredder before spreading.
  • Wood chips are branches or limbs that have been put through a chipper. They are inexpensive, or free, if obtained from tree cutters in the area.
  • Pine needles are slow to decay, so they will last for years. They should be applied at least 4 inces deep. While they’re acidic in nature, it takes years for them to affect the soil pH to any degree.
  • Peat moss decomposes slowly and has a low pH; good for acid-loving azaleas, rhododendrons and conifers. Peat moss is not a renewable resource and bogs are disappearing, so use sparingly.
  • Compost is not officially a mulch but a soil enrichment. Compost should be worked into the soil rather than placed on its surface like mulch.

If you haven’t mulched your garden this year, consider doing it now. You’ll save on trips to the “old watering hole.”

Tip of the month …

A rule of thumb for applying mulch: If particle size is over 2 inches, apply mulch 3 to 4 inches thick. Small particles can be applied 1 to 2 inches thick. One cubic yard (27 cubic feet) of mulch covers 108 square feet 3 inches deep. A 2-cubic-foot bag covers 8 square feet 3 inches deep. (Remember your junior high school math? I don’t.) Keep mulch a few inches away from stems and trunks to avoid rot. Do not mix mulch into the soil. As it breaks down, it will deplete the soil of available nitrogen. Eventually, it will decompose and nourish the soil from the top down as in a natural setting.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambriagardener@charter.net; read her blog at centralcoastgardening.com.

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