Mulching The Beds

The simplest task in the garden can be so pleasing, don’t you think?  It is easy to transform something that is assuredly past its best into something full of promise.  Take this aquilegia for example:

Just pull away all the dead growth (it comes away easily), and you reveal …

… the bunched up tiny fists of new growth.  (Ideally you should leave all that dead growth in place to protect the nascent growth from heavy frosts, but I need to get all this done now).

Tidying up a single plant is pretty gratifying but tidy up a whole bed and you can chew off a big chunk of self-satisfaction and and swallow a whole mouthful of smugness.

The Miscanthus transmorrisonensis that has been looking pretty good since I planted it last spring, is now past its best and shredded with every gust of wind.  Annoyingly, I find its leaves all over the place – so it’s time it went.  It also has new growth emerging, so I’m cutting it back now while I can still do so without damaging those young shoots.

Sadly, I don’t possess a shredder so all this material has to be carted out to the bonfire site rather than the compost bins.

Once the miscanthus has been cut back, the bed needs to be weeded:

Post and rail fencing (with rabbit netting attached), separates the bed from Margaret’s field.  This makes it  difficult to keep grasses and nettles from encroaching but it doesn’t matter too much; during the growing season the miscanthus hides a thousand sins (and a thousand weeds).

I then mulch the bed with my precious leaf mould (of which I have plenty this year) and Bob’s your uncle.  (Actually he happens to be my Dad.  Hi Dad).  The Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) that I planted along the rocks at the front has taken hold really well and should provide a gently breaking, low wave of white flowers all summer long.  These plants were all self sown seedlings from elsewhere in the garden, so didn’t cost me a penny.

After I’d finished, some of Margaret’s sheep came over to see what I was up to.   Unimpressed, they eyed me warily, sniffed and wondered off.

The new, small triangular bed (the Kitchen Bed) has also been mulched.  This was planted up recently with box edging and an Acer palmatum dissectum centre stage.

I then went on to do the Eve Bed (so called because its centrepiece is a standard Virburnam tinus ‘Eve Price’).  Incidentally, the naming of the beds is for my benefit only.  No-one else (you aside) knows these names.  They serve only to ensure that I know which ones I’m talking about when chatting away to myself.

As soon as I knelt down to start tidying up the Eve Bed, the Stinky One clambered over the box edging on her short legs and parked her bottom on the heuchera.  She was after an ear rub and perhaps a biscuit .  (We share similar aspirations in life).  She got both.

I recently lifted these heuchera and split them.  I was able to get two, and in some cases three, plants from each.  They don’t split particularly easily but I just stick what seem to be unlikely survivors back into the soil and they do take.  Trust me.  Eventually I want the soil beneath the viburnam to be a carpet of continuous heuchera.  It’s getting there.

Solo (aka the Stinky One) wandered off eventually to stare at some ducks and I was able to apply the leaf mould.

Summer 2011

When it appeared last summer, the heuchera flower colour was rather pinker than I’d been led to believe by the photo on the label.

Summer 2011

But the overall effect wasn’t horrendous and boy, did they flower for a long time.  Months!

Well, that’s some of the smaller beds mulched.   I still have more of them to do and all the bigger ones too.  Yikes.  Best get on with it.  Bulbs are already emerging so I’m up against it.  Mulching a bed after bulbs have started to spike through is much more time consuming, as you can imagine.  I’ve no time really to be sitting about chatting with you lot.  Sorry, but I do have to crack on.

(In case you wondered, and I’m sure you know all this, mulching suppresses weeds, protects roots against hard frosts, helps retain moisture and will eventually be taken down into the soil by earthworms to increase the levels of organic matter (humus*) in the soil. This in turn helps to create a better soil structure by causing the soil to clump into aggregates.  Aggregates allow better aeration and drainage in clay soils, while the addition of humus to sandy soils aids moisture retention.  Humus also increases the nutrient holding capacity of the soil, rather like a sponge, but is not rich in nutrients itself; unlike say, well-rotted manure.

Here endeth the lesson on soil science.  Don’t worry there probably won’t be a test).

* add another ‘m’ and you get something very different, and altogether tastier.

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29 thoughts on “Mulching The Beds

  1. Actually WW were you to walk about the Priory, it wouldn't seem that I've been that busy. Still tons and tons to do (and being rained off today doesn't help).

    I feel bad that I've introduced Solo to the world as the Stinky One – hope she never finds out. She'll be mortified. She actually had a bath recently and still has a hint of baby shampoo about her. Just a hint mind.

    Dave

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  2. Hmm. You've confused me here Petra (I know, I know – easily done). Yup, leaf mould is from the bins but why “Oh, no wait a moment?” Phone ringing? Kettle boiled? Monty Don at the door? You must tell me. I shall never sleep.

    Dave

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  3. Read a very interesting study a while ago, GS. The RHS (I think) did a trial where roses were cut with a hedge trimmer rather than by conventional means. And apparently it made no discernable difference to flowering! Sounds like you're ahead of the game.

    Dave

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  4. Thanks for that, Sis. I used to have a similar proprietary thing: a length of rigid platic that rolled up into a tube which you then fed into a large canvas sack. Same principle. I used to work in a garden (a very large one mind you) but the owner insisted on all the garden waste being carted off to the tip. Tiresome to say the least.

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  5. Hi Sara, I should think your sedums will be fine. I always cut mine back in the early winter as I don't like the look of the old growth but find the new 'buds' charming. Similarly, I cut my grasses back relatively early though these I do then mulch.

    D

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  6. Dogs eh, Janet? Who'd have one? Well. Me for one. And you too it seems. They think most things in life are for their benefit – which generally, of course, they are!

    Leaf mould is holding out well. I've used about half so far and barely touched the garden compost but still loads to do.

    Dave

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  7. Look at me, Stacy. Personalised comment responses. I'm very cutting edge me. Very of the moment.

    The soil has now mostly had three years of leaf mould/garden compost or mushroom compost added so it is getting better certainly. And obviously I planted the clematis there so the seed heads would mimic the sheep. Obviously. Well spotted.

    You're right about Solo. You wouldn't want to mess with her, I tell you. She's er, strong willed.

    Dave

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  8. Don't know that I'm faster than you Holley, just pretty much full-time! Oooh, the thought of a shiny, new shredder makes me go weak at the knees. Does that make me weird, do you think?

    D

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  9. Hi Helen, I used to have a brick path about twenty feet long bordered on either side by ferns (it was very shady). I used to call it 'The Fern Walk' until, that is, Jim's snorting every time I referred to it as such made me stop. Pretentious, moi?!?

    Hmm, I don't really find that my heucheras get tall and leggy – I only mulch with leaf mould or mushroom compost so they don't really get fed. I pull off the dead flower stalks and when dividing, I pull off most of the leaves to cut down on transpiration. But that's about it. You could certainly cut them back but I would wait till the spring.

    Dave

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  10. Wow, you've been busy. Its been too frosty to do any work here. So after my sudden burst of energy last week it has been frustrating to find myself confined indoors once again. It is incredibly satisfying tidying up the garden, especially when pulling back dead foliage reveals the zingy green of new growth. The 'stinky one' is very cute but I'm wondering whether that is because they haven't invented smelly vision yet!!!

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  11. I do try and be very precise when chatting away to myself, Alberto. Otherwise I can get terribly confused; much more so than usual.

    D

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  12. Well, keeping busy keeps me warm. That and sitting on the heater in the greenhouse of course. Don't be taken in by the Stinky One. I was.

    D

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  13. Hello there. Now I suppose that all that lovely leaf mould came from those wonderfully constructed compost bins, which you have so beautifully described in one of your posts…???!!!! Oh, no wait a moment…….????!!!!
    Love the dog!

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  14. I have a little tip – seeing your handled bin thing in one of your pics. If you cut the bottom away from the bottom so that it is hollow (got it?). You then put this inside a bag (strong variety black) – and then as you push your twigs, cuttings etc down into the bag the bag doesn't split. I know you don't need to worry about this because you have compost bins etc.. but some of us have small gardens and so stuff that doesn't go in our little compost bins goes to the dump!! Just saying 🙂

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  15. Very satisfying work. I must cut back our grasses, sedums etc. soon, in anticipation of lots of growth this year as they find their feet. I do worry that more frosts will zap them without the protection though…

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  16. Very neat and tidy. You're lucky to have so much leaf mould. I have to eke ours out and only deserving plants get mulched with leaf mould or compost. Two bins go nowhere nowadays.
    The other thing that happens when I do a bit of a tidy up is that our dog thinks it's for her benefit if you get my drift..

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  17. Your soil looks good and rich, even before you put the mulch on–more of your handiwork? I like how the clematis(?) seeds accessorize with the sheep.

    The landscaping crew that “does” the public places in my neighborhood was just out with their chainsaws trimming things up yesterday. I understand their need to do a quick and dirty job so they can get on to the next one, but ouch. If Solo had stared at them like that, they would have done their work properly.

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  18. I've been trying to tidy up a bit, too, but you are faster than I (or perhaps it's the trick photography). ;0 I have been wishing for a shredder, too. Isn't it exciting to see those young shoots coming up!

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  19. I've been busy tidying and mulching borders – got my slope (aka daisy border) to do this weekend. I give my borders names as well so I can refer to them, always feels a little pretentious though.
    I struggle with Heucheras as I hate it when they get tall and leggy – is it worth cutting them back do you think?

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  20. I'm too going to anticipate the grasses trimming this year, with the warm winter that we're having I bet all the grasses will start sprouting earlier than end of february-march, so I may make a move too.
    I like eve's bed and the euchera flower colour. It is very useful naming precisely garden places and being very accurate when chatting to ourselves, otherwise it could be a really messy.

    Alberto.

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  21. Goodness you have been busy – and at such a cold time of year as well – I can't stay out longer than an hour before rushing back inside to warm up – what a wuss – your beds are looking so tidy – a bit of clearing makes all the difference, and the colour of the Heuchara is gorgeous. Love the Stinky One by the way.

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