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Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 24 August 2001

If you want to keep weeds from growing in the vegetable garden, salt-marsh hay, shredded newspapers, grass clippings (with no weedkiller chemicals), and plastic all do the job. (Don’t use regular hay or straw; they have too many weed seeds.) You have to make sure the plastic lets enough rain through somewhere, and you have to make sure you get rid of the plastic before it starts to decompose. After the second time I left plastic in place too long, as I tried to pick up thousands of tiny pieces of it, I swore never to use it again. Pieces of old rug make much better non-organic mulch; apply it nap side down.

The natural mulches also add humus to the soil when they break down. But you can add more than that if you use compost, or composted manure. These two also look good, and can be used around ornamental plants. To improve the appearance of your own compost, rub it through a screen with half-inch holes.

Other good-looking mulches for the ornamental garden include various kinds of shredded and chipped bark, shells and hulls from various agricultural products, and stone. I save the discarded shells from pistachio nuts that get eaten in this house, rinse and boil them to get the salt out, and scatter them on my garden paths: they take forever to break down, and weather in a few months to a nice soft gray. I also scavenge stone from the roadside (most people are happy to let you take stones for your garden if they’re not saving them for theirs).

My best scavenging, however, was shredded pine stumps from the hill to the west of Townsend Common. The Methodist church had some tall old pines cut down because they were dying and hazardous; then they had the stumps ground down to the ground, so they wouldn’t be eyesores. I asked the men where they would take that lovely shredded wood; they replied they would find some place to dump it. "How’d you like to dump it half a block that way?" I asked, pointing up School Street. So I acquired about four cubic yards of shredded pine, which neighbors and I have been using for mulch for the past five years. It’s almost gone now, and I sure will miss it.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark