Randi V.W. Eckel, PhD

March 13, 2015

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The Ides of March are almost upon us!

We are finally thawing out here in the Northeast and it is good to see the ground again. Birds have switched over to their spring mating songs and gardeners and hikers are eager to see buds swelling on trees and flowers emerging from the ground. I haven't heard spring peepers yet, but I'm keeping my ears open as our vernal ponds thaw out... Our southern friends have already started seeing flowers - A friend of mine day posted a picture the other day of Plum Blossoms in her back yard! Ok, Ok, she's in Albuquerque, but still!

To Mulch or not to Mulch, that is the question...

To Mulch or not to Mulch, that is the question... So spring is here and you are eager to get out and clean up your gardens. I had a lot of discussions this winter about mulch. The biggest discovery that I made was that a lot of folks who plant wildflower seeds feel the need to then cover them with several inches of mulch. I do not know why! If you have planted wildflower seeds, please do NOT do this. A heavy layer of mulch will prevent many seeds from growing - including the wildflower seeds!

Instead of creating great barren swaths of mulch with tiny islands of plants, let's think about this first.

In nature, plants grow with companions. Unless you are in a desert, plants are not naturally spread out with large sterile areas between them. Diversity and complexity in a landscape creates not only visual interest, but balance and habitat. Birds and wildlife will find cover. Predatory insects such as Praying Mantises and Assassin Bugs will find safe haven and, along with the birds you are now encouraging, keep herbivorous insects in check (while they feast on them to raise their young!). Amphibians such as toads and salamanders will find your garden and make themselves at home.

A more biologically balanced way to 'mulch' your gardens is to plant low-growing ground cover plants to fill in between your other plants; some groups have taken to calling this "Green Mulch" and it creates a much more natural environment. We have many beautiful herbaceous perennial groundcovers, short native grasses, and graceful sedges that can create a lovely, and living, mulch for your garden. They will also conserve moisture by shading the ground, and discourage weed seeds from sprouting by taking their place. Your garden will look great and the Birds, Butterflies, Salamanders and Turtles will thank you!

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