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Gardening: The Mulch Game 

When that special tree meets just the right mulch, it's a match made in heaven.

Chip Woodson: Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome once again to The Mulch Game, where three gardeners play to win the affections of our botanical beauty through the winter season! I'm your host, Chip Woodson! This week we've got a real Southern belle. She's a Cornus florida who wants a white-flowering wedding. Say hello to the Dogwood. [Cheers] Tell 'em what you're looking for, honey.

Dogwood: Hello, Chip. I'm looking for a mulch that will keep me warm all through the winter. [Wooo!]

Chip Woodson: All right, all right. That's enough. Now let's meet our contestants.

Gardener No. 1 is a suburban dad who works in the yard when he's nagged, watches football, enjoys pickling on the weekends and mows the yard in black socks!

Gardener No. 2 is a radio DJ who likes velvet paintings, pastel suits and making topiary sculptures in the shape of fast cars and the female body!

Gardener No. 3 is from the Pacific Northwest, wears only hemp, eats only hemp and lives in a house with a grass roof! Say hello, fellas!

Gardeners 1, 2, 3: Hello!

Chip Woodson: OK, Miss Dogwood, take it away!

Dogwood: Um, Gardener No. 1 — what would you do to get me through the winter?

Gardener No. 1: Well, I guess it depends on if you're in the front yard or the back yard. That darn Jefferson next door, he uses real nice cypress or cedar chips for mulch in his front yard, so I guess I would too. The chips I bought were a bunch of different sizes, so the ground stayed pretty moist and airy. I used to spend top dollar on cocoa bean hulls, which are great for everything and smell good, but that stupid dog of mine loved to eat them, and now he's buried in the back yard. Now, if you're in the back yard, you'll get the sawmill special: good ol' fresh pine chips and a little sawdust from the local mill. Those guys just give it away! Mix it with grass clippings, bark and twigs, and you'd be set. I could also lay down four or five sheets of newspaper, wet 'em, soil 'em and put down some wood chips to keep the weeds out and keep the soil warm. A good cheap option. Might even use The Wall Street Journal for a nice tree like you.

Dogwood: That's ... nice. I feel domestic already. So, Gardener No. 2, how would you apply the mulch around my base?

Gardener No. 2: Oh, sweet Southern lady, I would take the nicest hardwood mulch, all mixed up with some bark and leaves, maybe a few pine needles ...

Dogwood: Ooh, that's a nice mix ...

Gardener No. 2: Oh, yes, and let me tell you this: I do believe that depth is important. I would spread that mulch a good six inches all around your roots, and you better believe that I'd make sure to pile it against your sexy trunk, make a cozy little mulch volcano to keep you warm all winter long.

Gardener No. 3: Oh! Awful! You're trying to smother this poor creature, trying to keep all that moisture in! You want rodents to move in? You'll keep air out! Too much mulch just breeds problems!

Dogwood: And what would you do, Gardener No. 3?

Gardener No. 3: First of all, I'd make sure to use a nice, uncolored mulch made from waste wood: It makes use of old shipping pallets and prevents any more wasted trees. Three inches deep, no more. As long as you keep the mulch fluffed, you won't get that matting that allows weeds and disease to creep in. And I sure wouldn't pile it against your trunk — those delicate vascular tissues need to breathe.

Dogwood: How kind!

Gardener No. 3: And to protect you from weeds, there are plenty of good inorganic products to lay down: landscape fabrics and geotextiles are a sleek and stylish replacement for that old black plastic — much better for a tree of your beauty. The chipped wood mulch breaks down about the slowest of the organics out there, so you get your nutrients, protection and time for yourself ... to grow.

Dogwood: Oh! Chip, I think I've made my decision!

Chip Woodson: I think I'm in love, too.

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