Mulch: no waiting

I have heard of gardeners who compost in place – who chop up debris as they go and leave it in the garden beds rather than carting it all off to cook in the compost pile – but I’ve never tried it. Until today. I was desperate to get outside (more on that when my next column is published) and tidy winter’s mess out of the garden, but since I haven’t yet eradicated the bittersweet from my compost area (refresh your memory about my compost-fail here) it was either bag up crashed winter stems and twigs to take them to the dump or leave it where it lies in the garden.

a fistful of brittle catmint (Nepeta) twigsI am lazy by nature (don’t tell them at work), and thrifty, so the extra effort to shove everything into those stupid brown bags and trash perfectly good compostables didn’t appeal. So I tried the other. I thought that chopping everything up would be tedious but the old stems are so brittle I barely even unholstered my Felcos (they need sharpening and were fairly useless anyhow) and crushed most everything into bits with my new-gloved paws. It was so brilliantly easy (read, lazy) that I honestly can’t believe I’ve never used this method before.

My garden is maybe not quite as tidy-looking as it could be, with bare exposed soil around every still-dormant plant clump, but I don’t like the look of exposed soil anyway — even in spring. Mostly because I know that any vacancy will fill with chickweed by tomorrow. And the garden certainly doesn’t look any worse than it did when the stems were leaning and crashed. Actually, I think it looks a damn-sight better. And I’m willing to imagine that covering the soil with stuff now will cut down (slightly) on weed germination. Not to mention that any seeds I scatter from annual and perennial reseeders will stay put and not drop along the path to the compost. Come to think of it, I might miss the volunteers that pop up in those random places… As for the weeds I pulled, it will be interesting to see if they reroot where I left them. (At least none, not even the chickweed, were in flower yet.)

Do you ever compost “in place”? Why or why not?

One thought on “Mulch: no waiting

  1. Been advocating this for a long time, especially with the fall leaves getting raked into beds. Snow smashes it all down and does my mulching for me. The only thing I find is that I’m beginning to side with the put the garden to bed in the fall rather than with the winter interest crowd. Things look cool until it snows and then it looks all lumpy. And then, come spring, the soil is completely sodden and walking into the beds to cut things down seems like the absolute wrong thing to be doing since the soil gets compacted, undoing all the winter’s work. And spring is busy enough as it is. I’d rather have a crazy fall, I think.

    Susan, I know what you mean about spring soil and I tried very hard not to cheat and step in, so everything beyond arms’ reach is still a mess. I’m thinking of using boards to distribute my weight over the beds like they do at Great Dixter – I’ll keep you posted… And I know what you mean about dubious winter interest – especially this year – but I can’t bear to cut everything back in the fall. It lingers too long here lately and by the time everything goes by I’m beyond ready for a break. By now I’m raring to go again! -kris

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