Sunday, June 28, 2009

Garden Karma

Some would say I'm a slovenly gardener. I like to think of it as practicing a little nonviolence in the yard. Instead of harassing leaves with a blower or rake, I leave them in peace. (Go ahead, groan.) Why buy mulch when it is at hand? And mulch you should. 

Lili Singer, horticulturist with the Theodore Payne Foundation, recommends four inches of mulch around plants. "It will insulate the soil so the plants stay healthy and it will hold water in so you're not using as much." (But leave some bare ground directly around the plants. It will keep the roots near the stem from being attacked by pathogens that thrive in warm, moist soil.) 

Think of it as good karma to let your carbon, nitrogen and other garden elements reincarnate on the spot. (Pictured above, Buddha is meditating next to a pile of shrub trimmings.)

Mulch also adds nutrients to your soil. A year ago, Al Renner, president of the LA Community Garden Council, toured me around Solano Community Garden in Elysian Park. He explained that many of the gardeners practice a kind of "throw down/in-place" composting. Put almost nothing in those green bins, he advised, "you can constantly be feeding your bed, not letting anything mother nature gives you leave." (The exception: diseased vegetation.)

When I added fruit trees to my yard this year, I was concerned the soil wouldn't be fertile enough. My garden is largely native plants, so I'd never tinkered with the earth. But Lora Hall of Full Circle Gardening reassured me my soil looked great. "All that mulch is the best thing for it," she said.

And you can breathe easier, knowing that your green "waste" isn't chugging along the freeways, creating diesel pollution.

For more on conserving water and gardening with native plants, check out Emily Green's Chance of Rain blog.


  1. I am so badly in need of a gardening guru, so forgive me a "gardening for dummies" kind of questions, which you certainly don't need to answer all of: Do you shred the waste before just throwing it down in the garden? I have, for instance, a couple dozen post-bolt lettuce plants that I was going to throw into my (desperately in need of help) compost pile, but could is just sort of rip the leaves up, chop up the stem/core, and throw it on the ground? Or would that attract animals? What IS mulch, anyway? Just leaves? Just straw? Do you use grass trimmings, or is that too much of the same old, same old?

  2. TC,
    These are EXCELLENT questions. And, while I'm not guru, I'll give you my take. I mulch with twigs, tree and shrub leaves, tree bark, trimmings from herbs such as oregano, and occasionally artichoke leaf, or other veg branch. I'm experimenting with pulled up mint plants around my blueberries.
    Organic mulches=wood chips, leaf litter, bark, straw.
    Inorganic mulch: crushed rock
    I use clippers to trim branches to a 1-2 feet. Stash piles around the yard and let the leaves fall off. Then if the sticks haven't broken down I might crunch them up a bit more. Or run them through a friend's chipper. You probably know you can buy mulch at OSH, etc. In theory tree trimming companies will give it to you, but a friend of mine says she hasn't had luck with that in LA.

    I would, however, stick those lettuce leaves in the compost. Or chop them and dig some into into a new vegetable bed. You can also dig a hole, dump the greens there and cover it. However, these kinds of high nitrogen holes can stink! Brown stuff=carbon. Green stuff=more nitrogen. Too much green sitting by itself on top of your soil: Pee-yew. And, yes, might attract critters.

    I don't have much lawn, and put trimmings in my compost. You can also leave them on the lawn, which I don't do because of a grass allergy.
    Hope this helps.


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