With snow on the ground, I've got the time to let my fingers do the walking (on the keyboard), and learn a thing or two. And my friend Pam, a gardening newbie and recent convert to the cult of compost, has got me thinking about all things compost, mulch, and leaf mold. If you're unfamiliar with the cult of compost, its appeal can be powerful and sudden, so consider yourself warned. When I was in its thrall I remember thinking about it while lying in bed. My then-husband didn't find this at all endearing, by the way.
Anyway, confusion abounds on this subject, despite my years of earnestly explaining the distinctions between these terms. Mulch can be anything (even recycled rubber tires) that covers the earth but compost - ah, that's what's left after organic mulches break down. I understand the difference and have always thought of compost as soil-like, therefore not a good cover for soil (not a good mulch) because it's a growing medium and weeds can sprout in it just fine, thank you. It'll also erode away in the rain, right? And it looks like dirt, and some of us don't like that look.
Now Pam here has researched this subject far beyond my own cursory searches and tells me it's the decomposition itself that makes mulch so valuable. It's the process that's so damn good for our soil, so it's best to use organic mulches that break down within a year or less, to maximize the benefits of decomposition. Her research finally led her to the one person who really nailed it for her - Jeff the Yardener over at GardenerYardener. Here's more mulching wisdom from Jeff's blog:
Lesson learned - making good soil is really not difficult. Lay out three to four inches of a fine textured organic material and even the heaviest clay will be transformed in a few years into black loam. By fine textured we mean chopped leaves, shredded bark, or a one inch mix of Canadian sphagnum peat and compost. Bark chunks do not do the job.
My own mulch research, such as it was, led to a source that was new to me. Over at Garden Voices you can search "mulch" and read what the likes of us gardenbloggers have said on the subject, yours truly included. Man, I hope nobody assumes we know what we're talking about because, as I've proven over my 18 months of blogging, we often don't. Clicking on "mulch" in the weird little word illustration in the right sidebar leads to similar results. (I see that everywhere and really don't get it. Is it a substitute for categories?)
Before I stop writing ("The Daily Show" rerun airs in 10 minutes), a bit of gardening humor. I swear to god that Wikipedia's entry for mulch shows the photo on the right with this caption: "Shredded wood used as mulch. This type of mulch is often dyed to improve its appearance in the landscape." Now if you're thinking of writing to tell me my disdain for mulches in phony colors is snobbery, you can just go mulch yourself.