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Trying to improve my soil

Posted by northerner_on Z5A ONCanada (My Page) on
Wed, Apr 27, 11 at 3:36

Hello all:
I have been trying to improve my soil the 'organic' way, first by making compost to use in my beds. This was a bit of a disaster because in my neighbourhood one must have a compost bin in the back yard. For me this is in a shaded area so the compost production has been almost nil. Last fall, I decided to use nature's bounty: I bought a shredder and shredded all the leaves from my very large maple, and used it as a mulch for all my beds. Now it is spring, my perennials are sending up new shoots and I have moved away the mulch from around the crowns of the plants to provide oxygen. I will be filling in some of those areas with annuals in the next month or so. I am a little uncertain about how to go about dealing with this mulch now. Do I just remove it where I need to plant my annuals? Should I leave it on all summer or will it attract pests? I am afraid of snakes which made their first appearance in our gardens last year. Will this be a habitat for them? I have quite a thick layer down - about 4- 6 nches- so of course most of it is still there. How should I proceed? Thank you.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Trying to improve my soil

Wow, that's a lot of mulch! Decreasing the thickness to 2" should be sufficient to keep the weeds from growing. Plus, since you are using organic mulch, you will likely have to reapply it once or twice during the summer season anyway. I guess it also depends on how soggy it is. I've mulched/covered for winter many things with just straw (not very soggy, right?), but not removing it fast enough in spring caused some distress to my hydrangeas.

In terms of snakes, just in my experience, they like undisturbed places and hide in all sorts of nooks and crannies over winter. But if your check frequently on your plants/mulch around them, they are going to go to some "nicer" area.

RE: Trying to improve my soil

Your compost in the shade is not a problem since the sun is not the source of heat in a compost pile. Bacterial activity generates heat as they digest the material in the pile but they need a balanced diet with just enough but not too much moisture. Too much moisture, too wet material, dispaces the air the aerobic bacteria need to get to work and generate that heat and one of the most common problems I see with compost piles not heating up is the material is simply too wet. on occasssion I find the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio is out of wack, but if it is fairly close and the bacteria have enough air they will go to work and generate the heat most people find necessary to know their compost pile is working.

RE: Trying to improve my soil

Northerner, if you read any articles on 'compost' and further on "mulch", it will describe better what you must do to achieve better results.

You live in a zone that winter provides a lot of moisture in the way of snow, rain, ice, snowmelt which adds greatly to the moisture level of the soil of your garden plot.

By mulching, such moisture is retained by not allowing evaporation or such drainage that the mulch material puts up a barrier to.
If the plot is in a location where the sun doesn't shine as much as you'd like, or maybe not as much as the plants could do better in, the mulch is holding onto excess moisture levels for too long into spring.
By pulling the mulch back, letting the ground lose some of that moisture, the plants then have a better chance of survival.
When there is a need to conserve moisture, then the mulch is put back...and renewed. This usually occurs later in the spring when the early rains have stopped.
Thus in southern parts of Ontario, late May, June is a good time to see to mulching.
By this time, the plants have achieved some degree of growth and need moisture and by mulching at this time, the soil is enriched by having its moisture level retained during the hotter times of summer.

So if the plot you have the leaves is in an area where the sun doesn't allow proper 'drying out', then by all means, do pull the mulch back and wait until the better time to give the mulch back to the plot.

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