In the midst of "March Madness" but in contrast to the Final Four frenzy of sports fans, ProfessorRoush spent last weekend in a state of Mulch Madness, made more acute this year by the early and compact Spring here in Kansas.
I find the annual Spring Mulch Madness both cathartic and soul-satisfying. I welcome this activity as a paradigm shift in my gardening year, signaling to me the change from the early days of preparing, improving, and modifying the garden for another year with the later, less participatory period of observing and enjoying the garden's growth and bloom through the Summer. My garden, a chaotic shamble of winter remnants just a few days earlier, is transformed by The Mulching into a neatened and livable space, an idyllic world without weedy interlopers or uncultivated, raggedy plants. The pampered plants seem happier and somehow more wholesome, like children dressed in their new "back-to-school" clothes. The garden now looks, and feels, CLEAN, a signal to my gardening soul that I'm free to move on towards Summer maintenance. I'm past the planting and the pruning, beyond the weeding and the fertilizing. My nest is empty and the babies are out among the world, growing in the sunshine.
The Mulching is one of the bigger annual efforts in my garden from a physical standpoint. I only use "store-bought" mulch in the beds adjacent to the house and around individual trees, but those are still some pretty substantial beds. The majority of my garden beds are mulched throughout the year with mown prairie grass clippings from my "lawn", an activity that helps me to feel both environmentally friendly and "organic", as well as moderately frugal. Yet, I still use approximately 90 bags of hardwood mulch every year in the house beds because I like something more formal and presentable here for home and garden visitors. This year in a single day, I loaded, unloaded, and emptied out 86 bags of mulch, leaving me sore and sunburned, but fulfilled. I'm admittedly still a few short here and there, but most of the work is done.
There are so many choices in mulchy regards; generic hardwood, cedar, or cypress? Colored red, colored black, colored brown, or natural? Bagged or delivered in bulk? I'm sure most or all gardeners go through similar choices every year. Generic hardwood is the thing for me, both because of the lesser cost, renewability, and the rapid breakdown of the material. I formerly spread cypress mulch exclusively, feeling it more "up-scale," but I always had misgivings relating to the loss of cypress swamps and habitat that cause extinction of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. What really made me change, however, was realizing that the cypress mulch broke down extremely slowly and that I had accumulated about 6 inches of caked, inert cypress mulch on top of the beds. I choose brown hardwood mulch simply because I like the brown against the green plants and brick house. I employ pre-bagged mulch, although it's slightly more expensive and of less quality than bulk mulch purchased from a local vendor, due to an innate streak of laziness that I disguise as efficiency. As long as I'm willing to drive on my lawn, I can throw the bags off my trailer within inches of where they'll be used, saving me from untold injuries by an errant, overloaded wheelbarrow, from dumping mulch more by accident than by design, and most importantly, saving me from the labor of wheeling the mulch up and down and around the Flint Hills surrounding the house.
The Mulching, for this year, is over. My gardening soul is at rest for a time. The Garden is ready, gathering strength and momentum as it rushes towards Summer, clothed in new garments for a new year.