I recently had a reader share with me some of the important benefits of incorporating mulch into permaculture gardens, to which I readily agreed. Then I realized, although I have been doing so in my garden, it’s something I haven’t really talked a lot about here. With Portland’s summer finally on it’s way, and reading the news about the longest drought in 100+ years in LA, what better time than the present to push utilizing mulch in our backyards!

Mulch is a real help in the backyard for a few reasons:
  • Retains water which means your plants will dry out slower
  • Insulates plants when it’s cold outside (like a fluffy blanket)
  • Occupies bare ground that would otherwise be occupied by weeds
  • Protects the damp earth from drying out faster by shielding it from the sun
  • Adds organic matter that will naturally compost in place, adding nutrients to your soil
There are several mulch materials you can chose from including grass clippings, wood chips, bark dust/beauty bark, leaves, and so on. I use straw as bedding in my little urban chicken coop, which gets cleaned out once a week. Back in February when I was transplanting new trees and shrubs into the backyard, I covered them all with a nice thick helping of chicken manure-filled straw. The plants enjoyed the nitrogen shot from the chicken manure, and the warmth from the organic material.
Some other tactics I have incorporated include: planting artichokes and comfrey which can be cut back periodically adding mulch, letting leaves decompose in place rather than raking them, using a push mower on the lawn which adds grass clippings back to the soil, under-planting trees and shrubs with squash and melons which will spread out and cover the earth to prevent weeds and add some welcome shade.

I began allowing my chickens to free-range in the backyard all day. Over time they got smart to where the bugs and worms were and began scratching through my tidy straw hills into the ground. Straw went everywhere in the yard and, I’m sorry, but I like to be a little tidy. Around that time Mt Scott Fuel delivered my huge load of 4-way soil mix, in which 1/4 is mulch material as well, in the form of wood chips. My new tactic was to pile the straw back into place and cover with what appeared to the chickens to be run-of-the-mill-dirt. As long as no straw stuck out, they had no idea there was straw in there. I had to be tricksie though – if even a little peeked out they would not rest until they had dug to China.

The new system was keeping me from protecting the soil from weed growth and shielding it from the sun. However, after that reader’s comment, I had a little revelation today that since I have banned the chickens from having free range in the backyard, I can switch back to the old method of mulch on top! As the weeks go on and the chicken coop gets cleaned, I hope to eventually cover the yard again in mulch material – just in time for some hot weather! Well, if you call 80 degrees hot weather, that is…
Happy Mulching!
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Written by Renee Wilkinson