Mulch, Compost, Cardboard: Cover that Dirt, for crying out loud!
Updated: Feb 7, 2018
When I see completely barren soil with no trace of debris, I feel a sad tug in my chest. Out of the many existing social norms around landscape that I disagree with, this is the biggest.
Somewhere along the line someone decided that a beautiful landscape was a landscape free of debris. Considering how out of touch some humans are on a number of issues, it is not very surprising some people think this. It is surprising that we have maintained this as an aesthetic norm for so long because it does not support the health of the soil or plants.
Think about how this system formed in nature. Debris by definition is simply the remains of natural product that was once alive that has fallen somewhere on the ground to be cycled back into the Earth. This goes on infinitely. Leaves from trees for example are a great example of debris with a purpose.
Think about trees. Trees are incredible for so many reasons but one is that they were designed to grow and stay in one place for the duration of their long lives. A system exists to support their full range of nutritional needs without them being able to go out and seek them out. With fallen leaves and even fallen branches, trees generate their own nutrition and it recycles throughout their lifetime, depending on the type of tree either constantly or seasonally.
Still not ready for a messy looking garden? There are ways you can cover up your dirt and also find an aesthetic that works for you.
Mulch helps to insulate the bare dirt underneath and will discourage water from evaporating. It also provides nooks and crannies for microorganisms to thrive as well as food for them to eat. Mulch is debris specifically from trees such as decaying leaves, bark, wood chips or compost. Mulch tends to be the top layer of a garden or garden bed. Depending on your access to materials, you can also use cardboard and paper shreddings as a top layer.
Compost is a natural and organic fertilizer. Compost can include a number of natural debris items such as grass clippings or more mature hummus from onsite composting. Grass clippings and the green of plant debris hold a tremendous amount of nitrogen. The finer chopped up the material, like grass clippings, the more readily available and digestible the material is to microorganisms who are busy helping to decompose it. There are a number of ways for debris to be utilized in a garden while creating an aesthetically appealing and orderly appearance. This could include a three bin compost system, compost piles, compost berms, etc.
Compost and mulch are highly recommended for your entire garden/landscape. The compost in conjunction with the mulch on top create a diverse food supply for the #microorganisms and creates win/win scenarios with the surrounding plants.