Mulching season is here! Every year we add a rich finishing touch to our canvas of great spring colors. A good 3-inch layer of mulch suppresses weeds, cools the roots, reduces evaporation and, over the years, improves soil structure as we plant. All good. However, now that we’ve reduced our non-native lawn space and expanded our planting beds, we need more mulch than ever. Perhaps, there’s a better approach.
This year let’s go one step further and “cover the mulch" with plants, so that in a few short years there’s only a 12-inch edge for mulch. Plants provide the same great benefits as mulch by shading the ground, suppressing weed seed germination, cooling the earth, reducing evaporation, and improving soil structure as roots move through the soil, die, and regenerate. By covering the ground with plants, not mulch, we reduce our carbon footprint. We cut back on all the energy used to make the stuff and then get it to us.
As a designer, I frequently meet with hesitation at this point. When plants grow into one another, customers envision messy planting beds and that just won’t fly in their neighborhoods. That’s when planning for the mature size of plants and implementing a degree of contrast between neighboring groups of plants is really important, or perhaps, absolutely essential. When we emphasize color, height, texture, and/or leaf size variation between groups of plants, the landscape appears organized. For instance, setting a large-leafed group of Oakleaf Hydrangea next to a small-leafed group of Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ gives us a high degree of contrast and, therefore, a degree of order.
We plant geeks have yet another “perfect excuse” to plant more plants, especially natives, all for the sake of improving biodiversity and reducing our carbon footprint. Let’s make a concerted effort to plant more plants, allow fallen leaves to form a thin groundcover layer between plants, and cover only a 12” edge with mulch in early spring. Who wants to pay for it and spread it anyway?
As we begin the busy spring planting season, we would be remiss if we didn’t remind folks that in this country we mow 32 million acres of lawn every week, burning about 600 million gallons of fossil fuels every year. We could continue to site depressing lawnmower stats, but let’s stop talking about the problem and cut to the chase. Let’s fix it.
If you’re following our Journal, we’re thinking about how we use our lawn, expanding our planting beds, and planning for more trees, shrubs and perennials. Right in our own backyards, we have the opportunity to improve biodiversity and ecological function, thereby increasing ecosystem services.
Wow. Now there’s some pressure, but maybe not. To a plant geek (like me, like all of you) this sounds like the perfect excuse to plant more plants. We’re just helping to save the planet, right? So let’s go.
But wait, hold on, one more reminder…. in order to get the biggest bang for our eco-friendly buck, check the shopping list. Native plants provide significantly more ecosystem services than non-natives. You will find our Go-To Native Plant List in the footer of our store. Use it as a great memory jogger when planning for new or expanded beds… and less lawn. Let’s do it.
Welcome to my journal. For over 20 years I've created original landscape plans to help homeowners increase property value and really enjoy their yards. I approach every project as an unique opportunity to develop a work of living art, one that will require minimal care and age beautifully with time. In this journal, I will share some of my field experiences and tricks of the trade with you. Please join the conversation and thanks for visiting.