AHHH, Yes you may take a deep breath, everything is in the ground, water system set up, things are growing, sun is shining and so now what? We pray for rain & wait of course for the bounty of our hard work to come rolling in….
but wait one more thing.
It feels to me like this may actually be the single most important thing about southwest gardening.
All that precious water simply evaporates away if you don’t mulch, all those little weeds grow up too quickly if you don’t mulch….
and that soil, well it just bakes to hard clumps if you don’t mulch,
and what about all those critters who need to be kept moist and cool, they are lost without mulch cover!!…
So my friends mulch if you can, and generously!! Here is an article that will tell you all you need to know and more about mulching from Organic Gardening and here is another about a straw mulch extremist who I adore, Ruth Stout.
But if you would rather not click away just yet, here is the short of it:
I use old cottonwood leaves, because they fall on my garden and my neighbor rakes all that fall on his yard, bags them up, and passes them over the fence to me so it is a no effort system, so if you have such a no effort system, do that!!
But I also use straw. I prefer old straw, half rotten and wormy if possible. I try to buy a few bales every year and rot them down a bit, but if you used some for a chicken house, compost bin or garden bench you want to retire this season, perfect!! If you must buy new, well do what you have to do, but they seem to be going up in cost every minute!!
Now a word about straw…Straw is a wonderful mulch for Southwest gardening. If you live in a wetter area like I know some of you do, straw, when wet a rotting can harbor mold, slugs and all kinds of stuff you may not like in your garden if you live in wet place so read the article above to find what the best mulch is for your area….
…Here in the southwest straw is great but only one problem…..it blows away!! Most likely you have wind in your garden, and once dry, straw blows away very quickly, so here are a few tips on making straw mulch stay put.
1- Sheet Mulch-Straw bales come apart in layers, or sheets. Leave them be!! Don’t shred the straw into a million strands, though kids love to do that, leave the sheets and just lay it down flat, like tucking in those little veggies under a blanket (kids learn to love that too). The bales will naturally come apart in sheets about 2 inches think, and that is fine, wonderful & thick and good. If you work around what is planted and make a huge blanket over your garden, only what you leave holes for will grow. This method is great because the straw is matted together and doesn’t blow away as easily.
2- Pre-soak your straw– even if it is older, straw can always benefit from pre-soaking. I like to use our cattle tank, but a wheel burrow works just fine too, or a baby pool, whatever you have. Break the hay into sheets, lay in one layer in the bottom of your pool, and cover with water. Let steep over night and the next day take the sopping wet straw and tuck those plants in. Also a great job for kids, (who don’t mind getting wet and dirty)It is ok if it fall apart a little bit, it is inevitable. If you can’t pre-soak, post soak. Mulch well and just water the heck out of it with a hose. If your garden is on drip irrigation you may need to do this anyway once in a while to just keep it down.
3- Weigh it down– Traditionally mulching was done with rocks in many fields out here in the high desert. Rocks keep in moisture, create thermal mass, and suppress weeds…so why not mulch with them now? Many people still do rock mulching, but I find a combination works well when straw mulching. Flagstone is great because it covers a lot of surface without being to hard to carry and you can step on them, river rock is good too…I actually had a pile of old tiles I use for my jewelry markets lying around (resting this season), so I layed them on my mulch to keep it from blowing away and so far so good, though my garden looks a bit like a kitchen floor which I am not so sure about, hmmmm…..
But I tell you, since I did this mulching a few days ago my garden seems to be beaming with delight, I truly think the plants love mulch.
So mulch, well and mulch often and happy waiting for that garden bounty, I know I am!!