Q. I use woodchips around my vegetables, fruit trees and landscape plants. When I turn it over after the first freeze, what should I add to counter the effects of rotting wood?
A. That is a drawback to woodchip mulch used around vegetables. Older information recommends straw mulch around vegetables but that can be weedy, doesn’t rot very quickly and can be difficult to turn over and mix in the soil. Straw decomposes slowly in the soil.
|Viragrow's Red Star Mix & Mulch Will Work|
Use woodchips on soil surfaces around plants that don’t need the soil turned over every year such as fruit trees and ornamentals. No need to turn it over. Woodchips rot from the bottom as long as it is in contact with wet soil. Replenish it by adding it to the surfaces of these areas. Four to six inch depth is ideal.
Better to use a surface mulch that decomposes quickly around vegetables and herbs like shredded newspaper, grass clipping and even sawdust. But my favorite is pine shavings sold for animal bedding. It is shaved pine mostly and decomposes quickly in moist soils.
|Animal bedding like this clean and cozy horse bedding works best for vegetables because it's made of pine shavings. These disappear in the soil much faster than straw or woodchips around vegetables.|
Spread only enough to shade the soil surface to keep it cool and shade it; maybe ¼ inch deep or a bit more. It “dissolves” in the soil quickly during warm weather. I use it to cover the soil surface when germinating seed or planting transplants in raised beds during the hot and warm months.
|Pine shavings such as animal or horse bedding works great as a mulch and vegetable beds because it decomposes so rapidly and poses no problems when it's turned under.|
If you’re not vegan, used animal bedding is valuable because the nitrogen from the manure and urine is already mixed in it and prepares the wood shavings for decomposition. Otherwise decomposing pine shavings “gobbles up” some of the soil nitrogen when it rots. Not a huge problem but this can happen if the soil is kept on the “lean” side from a lack of added nitrogen to the soil.
Did you know tons of horse bedding is taken to landfills in Las Vegas? Horse bedding makes a great soil amendment. Lost gardening resource and these horse owners are looking for ways of getting it used rather than dumping it. Sounds like an opportunity.
Rake the woodchips aside when planting or replanting vegetables. Spread it back around the plants again after planting. You only need enough room to dig holes for transplants or for direct seeding. Once the plants are up and growing, the mulch can be put back.