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Adventures in gardening: The joy of mulch

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    Suzanne Leonard
    Weather Broadcaster

    Friday, May 24, 2013, 11:24 AM -

    With the May long weekend marking the unofficial start of summer last weekend most gardeners have been busy. Regardless of where you live in Canada most of us know the conventional wisdom - best to wait until after the long weekend to plant. Just as well, as there’s been snow and frost in a number of provinces this week - sheesh! So it’s even more important to keep close tabs on the Weather Network’s forecast – you’ll know when to cover up any vulnerable plants and also find out when rain’s coming. That means you can figure out the best time to put down grass seed or fertilizer so it gets ‘watered in’ without you having to lug around the hose. If you ‘use’ the weather effectively you can really cut down on your labour!

    I’m happy to say that I’ve finished all my garden clean up and pruning and I’ve added compost where needed – see last week’s column for more on the vital importance of ‘healthy soil’. I’ve also edged all the beds (cutting along the edge with a sharp shovel to create a clean line) – which means I’m now up to the finishing touch, mulch.

    In my garden: Forget-me-nots

    In my garden: Forget-me-nots


    Mulch – quite simply there are no negatives to using mulch, only positives. While there are many different types of mulch available (plastic, fabric, straw, pine needles and so on) a popular and economical choice is bark mulch - it doesn’t compact or blow away, and there are different sizes and colours to choose from.

    So, why mulch?

    • It looks great, giving the garden a neat but natural, finished look.
    • It smells great, giving off a woody smell - especially after watering or rain.
    • It IS great for your garden – the main benefit of mulch is that it helps retain water and cuts down on weeds. Over time, a good quality organic mulch breaks down and adds nutrients to your garden.

    In my garden: Suzanne and 24 bags of mulch

    In my garden: Suzanne and 24 bags of mulch

    Confession – while I’m a huge fan of mulch I will admit that mulching has become an annual ‘adventure’ for me.

    Question: how many bags will I need and how long will it take to put this ‘finishing touch’ on all my hard spring labour? 

    Answer: always more and longer than I think! Some years I’ve actually bought over 40 bags. 

    No, that’s not a typo. The work can seem a bit daunting, but the words of Thomas Edison may help (see the end of this column.) 

    So here’s me this spring, ready to go with 24 bags (60 litres each) and hoping that will be enough!

    Protect your investment - all that great soil, plus your plants - and save yourself time and energy. Mulch away!


    Although a big pile of heavy mulch bags can seem daunting it’s relatively quick to empty and spread each one around. Your mulch layer should be close to 2”/5cm deep. Depending on the size of your garden this can mean a bit of labour and sweat, but what a payoff - your garden looks better instantly. If you’ve never mulched before you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

    In my garden: Doronicum up close

    In my garden: Doronicum up close

    Favourite Perennial

    This is one of my absolute favourite perennials, Doronicum or Leopard’s Bane. It blooms in mid-spring and adds a beautiful mass of colour to the garden. If you’re a big fan of daisies it’s a ‘must-have,’ the first of that family to bloom. Doronicum prefers mainly sun but tolerates woodland conditions well - the vibrant yellow swath looks spectacular in my shady corner. It spreads nicely, this patch has grown from just three plants seven years ago. It’s zone 2 – which means you can grow it in northern locations like Prince George, Edmonton and Kapuskasing.

    A shout-out for a favourite local garden and landscape design company pathwaystoperennials.com – this is one of many great recommendations they’ve given me over the years.

    Spring ‘to do list’

    • Edge your flower beds by cutting a clean line along each edge with a sharp shovel.
    • Weed like crazy!
    • Plant new perennials, annuals and shrubs as your plant hardiness zone allows.
    • Watch for signs of bugs, treat plants as needed before damage accelerates.
    • If grubs are a problem in your area, treat your lawn with nematodes.
    • Apply late spring fertilizer & weed killer to your lawn.
    • Keep a close eye on the weather, cover up tender plants, buds, herbs, etc if frost is forecast.
    • Enjoy your Forget-me-nots but remember they’re prolific self-seeders if left alone after blooming.
    • Snip off dead blooms on spring bulbs (daffodils, tulips, etc) but leave foliage to die back.
    • Remember, healthy soil makes for healthy plants – less need for fertilizer, less risk of disease, and lots of blooms – so before you do anything else make sure you’ve got that healthy ‘foundation.’

    Favourite Weather Network viewer photo

    This comes from Roger Lupton in Kingston, Ontario. While I’m a huge fan of perennials over annuals – buy once, plant once – annuals offer many versatile and colourful options for the garden. The African Daisy is a popular one that comes in a wide variety of colours, and is a long lasting bloomer for full sun flower beds or pots.

    I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions. You can add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Be sure to also join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast.

    It’s May in Canada and the outdoors is beckoning, what are you waiting for? Happy gardening adventures!

    "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
 Thomas A. Edison

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