As I sit around on my hiney this winter, staring out at the bleak Flint Hills landscape covered by snow and thinking about changes that I need to make in the garden next year, one change the I know that I need to make is to use less mulch in certain parts of my garden.
"WHAT?" the avid mulchers and composters scream, "BLASPHEMY"! The xeriscapers dryly ask "What are you going to do about conserving water during the arid, hot Kansas summers?" And the weeping organic gardeners query "What will happen to the soil structure?"
Calm down everyone. I said "in certain parts of my garden." You see, it finally occurred to me that, by keeping the entire plethora of my garden beds heavily mulched, I've eliminated the self-seeding of many annuals and short-lived perennials that I've enjoyed in the past. They are slowly disappearing from my garden over the years, or they survive up close to large roses and shrubs where the mulch isn't quite so deep. My pink-salmon Poppies, descendants of a strain given to me by a friend years ago, are popping up less often to delight me with their surprise locations. My beloved blue and purple Columbines, that I have carefully monitored to weed out any pastel or pale interlopers, are dwindling away. My self-spread, unknown-origin Brown-eyed Susan's are fewer and farther between. Beds with six inches of cypress or prairie hay mulch are now barren of these lovely flowers.
So, I'm going to reinstitute some haphazardness into my garden. A few areas of ground left bare here and there, scuffed up to improve the germination of the Papaversomniferum and Rudbeckia hirta clans. Some shady, lighter-mulched areas to encourage the Columbines. Perhaps an entire garden bed lightly raked and thinly mulched in the Spring to encourage the self-sowers to proliferate with Darwinian abandon. And overall, less of the expensive, imported cypress mulch and correspondingly more quicker-degrading home-grown grass clippings that will allow sprouting annuals to reach both soil and the sunlight.