It’s a nice sunny September day in Seattle and I’m in my happy place. What better topic to match my mood than mulch?
For those of you not familiar with my fixation on woody mulches, I’ll refer you to an article in MasterGardener Magazine here. Briefly, I am a fan of coarse, chunky organic mulch, particularly arborist wood chips or other chipped material from trees and shrubs.
Rather than send this material off to the landfill, it’s so much better to use it as a protective layer on top of your landscape soil. It’s a cheap, natural way to protect and nourish your plants, and provides a great habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms.
Practically speaking, how does one move a mountain of mulch? Shovels don’t work well, and compost forks have too much space between tines. My favorite tool is the mulching fork. It’s relatively lightweight, well balanced, and makes quick work of wood chips.
Sometimes you’ll find twigs in your mulch pile, or might have your own woody prunings that you’d like to use as mulch. My second favorite tool is my electric chipper/shredder. It’s powerful enough to deal with small branches and twigs and helps me create a more uniform mulch. Plus, I reuse my yard waste and keep the nutrients on site rather than throwing them away.
I don’t own stock in either of these products (my faculty salary doesn’t exactly allow me to be an investment tycoon). They’re just a few of my favorite things…
We never know who to blame (or, rarely, thank) for roadside or median plantings. State D.O.T.? Local municipality? Subcontractor to either of the previous?
A few years ago, this appeared in the median of the Highway 460 bypass – the main road leading to Virginia Tech:
I am somehow reminded of Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons…
Two hedge rows. One of green Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii, cultivar unknown); the other of the purple form (Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea) Side by side, they make their way up the median, alternating from the right-hand side of the culvert to the left, like two caterpillars in love. Ooooh, lovely! Or at least SOMEBODY thought so.
Issues: 1) Barberry is a prolific fruit-setter and has made several state’s “Invasives” list. It’s outright prohibited in Massachussettes (can’t buy, sell, or import it). In our Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, it is popping up with startling regularity in state forests, road sides, open fields, etc. Interestingly, most of what I’ve seen is the purple form. 2) It’s very thorny. Which means most of the time it is adorned with plastic bags and other perforatable garbage. 3) They are actually mulching, pruning, and weeding this mess, which stretches for at least 2 miles. Best use of state budget/manpower??
I realize purple Japanese barberry is one of the bread-and-butter staples of many nurseries and garden designers. Folks just love the deep reddish-purple foliage. Virginia Tech’s school colors are maroon and orange, so this is the go-to shrub for campus landscapers and ardent alumni desiring that particular color scheme (see below for our “living VT”). Very fun! Growing next to a trillium on our section of the Appalachian Trail? Not so much.
Approximately one gazillion people get their photo made next to the VT logo each year – pretty good public relations for a noxious weed.