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Gardening and landscaping have become more popular and the price of supplies has drastically increased in recent years. Mulch - which is anything that covers the ground and smothers weeds - can be expensive from the garden store. Here are some inexpensive sources of mulch for your yard and garden.
- Ask your local landfill if you can take some flattened cardboard home for your garden. They usually will if you call ahead for permission. Or obtain large pieces of cardboard elsewhere, for example, an appliance store. The cardboard will stay flat better if you use a string trimmer to clear the area- trim as close to the ground as possible, being sure not to damage bark of shrubs or trees with the trimmer. If the ground is dry, water it. Put down cardboard, overlapping edges by at least 6". Weigh down the cardboard with bricks, large rocks, or best of all, a heavy (4") layer of mulch such as woodchips. This is most effective when the ground is damp and the growing season is active- late winter is ideal in many climates. You can accomplish the same thing by putting down heavy layers of newspaper and covering with mulch.
- Place a square of used carpet on the proposed garden area and leave it over the winter. By spring, all the weeds will have been smothered and it will be easier to start a garden here. Move the carpet to the next area and repeat. Cover the carpet with woodchips for improved aesthetics. In late spring, rake off the chips, remove the carpet, and rake the chips back onto the weed free area to keep new weeds from growing.
- Get a permit from your local Forest Service to collect rocks. In Idaho it costs five dollars. Rock makes a great mulch and will extend the growing season by retaining heat into the night. This is less environmentally friendly than woodchips, and small rocks may well work themselves into the soil and make it harder to dig weeds out.
- Many tree services and electric companies will deliver a free load of woodchips. Some electric companies remove plants that grow near wires and shred them. The electric company will deliver a load(dump truck) of not cleaned wood chips. Look in the yellow pages. Woodchips make perhaps the best mulch, except on vegetable gardens. Coarse wood chips allow weed seeds to fall down through them, then never get enough light to germinate. When the chips rot, they will improve the soil and you can add more. Use a generous layer- at least 4".
- Ask your local coffee shop if they throw out empty burlap coffee bean bags. (These also make a great wrap to protect shrubs through the winter.)
- Many cities or municipalities will collect branches and leaves in the fall, which are ground or chipped into a mulch. They often are available for free to local residents at a service center or some other location. You will need to contact the appropriate office in your area to check. Be sure to bring your own rake or shovel, containers or pickup truck.
This video presents a unique way of finding inexpensive mulch.
- Don't use colored newspaper or ads for mulch in a garden because of the chemicals it contains. Black and white newsprint is fine.
- Avoid placing mulch right up against the base of trees and shrubs- it encourages insects and diseases, and risks burying the crown. Leave a 6" ring clear of mulch.*
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