Cover your beds with mulch
Mulch makes sense. Three inches of hoarded, year-old leaves deter weed growth, conserve moisture, and provide food for plants as they break down.
Photo/Illustration: Melissa Lucas
My garden is large—perhaps an acre and a half—but simple, as befits a former cow pasture. A 100-foot-long perennial border follows the contours of the east-facing hillside. Behind it, paths run athwart the slope in the shade of overhanging maples and among deciduous shrubs underplanted with ferns and hostas.
The lawn stretches north between the long border and a huge, old juniper hedge. The so-called “new borders,” dug in 1990, partially enclose this panel of lawn. Beyond these beds lie shade plantings and the woodland garden. A crescent bed planted chiefly with daylilies is the most recent addition.
It has always been a trick, keeping up such a large place. But settling for tough, ordinary perennials—like daylilies (Hemerocallis cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 3–10), rudbeckias (Rudbeckia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–11), sedums (Sedum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), and catmints (Nepeta spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8)—worked well enough. And mulch solved what otherwise might have been a real maintenance problem.
Introduced to the benefits of organic mulch 25 years ago, I’ve been covering the perennial beds with year-old leaves ever since. This management technique has allowed me to garden, almost singlehandedly, for a great many years. I gather leaves into an expansive pile in the fall. In spring, I mulch every square inch of soil between the perennials with 3 inches of these hoarded leaves. This layer of leaves shades out weed seedlings, conserves moisture, and breaks down during the season, providing organic plant food.
Shredded wood-chip mulch, purchased in bulk, is the next best thing. Brid and I have been using it in the wilder parts of the garden: along the paths, on the shrub plantings, under a pair of old apple trees, and on the crescent bed. It doesn’t break down as quickly and is heavier than the leaf mulch. It also lasts longer and has proved the solution to managing these large, rough areas. These efforts should be all that is necessary for the season, except for occasional weed pulling. It has been a struggle, however, to complete the job before summer arrives, and as we are both busier than before, we now need help in the form of some professionals.