Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Great Mulching of 2004

Worm vs carabid larva - a nose-to-the-ground moment.

If any of you ever decide to turn your lot into a bug garden, or plan any major renovation of your garden, then I highly recommend that you first have a plan that maps out what the garden will look like when it is finished and the new plants have grown to their full size. We at the Home Bug Garden Wannabe were fortunate to have a friend, Adrian Thysse, with the expertise and interest in ‘naturalistic gardening’. You can learn a bit about Adrian’s naturalistic gardening and enjoy many a striking picture at Gardening Zone 3b.

The first choice we had to make was how much lawn did we want to keep? I think I’ve already expressed myself about lawnmowers, but to put a more positive spin on it, Dennis vanEngelsdorp has a great slogan “Make Meadows, Not Lawns” (hat-tip to Bug Girl). I didn’t want any lawn, but my wife wanted a bit of green near the pond-to-be. Also, on reflection, all the neighbours have lawns and offending them wasn’t on the agenda, so I decided to keep the first two metres of the front lawn intact (the city owns that land anyway). That way people walking by could have their grass fix and a chance to admire the contrast with the rest of the garden. The rest all had to go.

The mulching begins.

Adrian suggested newspaper, mulch, and patience, rather than removing the turf or glyphosphate. The technique involves laying down a layer of a half dozen sheets of newspaper directly on the lawn and covering it with about a decimetre (4”) of mulch. This blocks off all light and the lawn gradually dies and turns to compost, resulting in a nice bed to plant into. Newspaper may work okay in a dry year, but 2004 was very wet and the weeds and grass started popping through. I then switched to cardboard – that works better, but crabgrass is an amazing plant that can even puncture its way through landscape cloth (don’t use the latter if you are planting perennials into it – the roots tend to run along the underside of the cloth and will be badly damaged if you need to remove the cloth or move the plant). For the really tough spots, I ended up using 1/8 inch plywood – nothing gets through that. Another advantage of this technique is that you spend a lot of time on your hands and knees with your nose in the ground and get to see lots of neat insects.

And so it began, mulching and planting through with things we thought pollinators and birds would like. Yes, the original Home Bug Garden idea hadn’t really developed past the birds and bees stage, but it was a start.

Andrena bee departing a globeflower

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