To buy, sell and swap plants and use our full service, please log in or sign up - it's completely free.

Mulching with compost - how to do it “properly”.

I wrote about mulch recently, mentioning some of the many reasons to apply it.

However, I didn't say anything about how to get it onto the beds: as far as actually applying mulch goes, I didn't realise that there was a technique to it until I noticed someone working in one of “my” gardens, who was doing it all wrong: they were digging out the compost with a big shovel, then heaving out great dollops of it all over the bed, apparently at random.

This left a “surface of the moon” effect, with massive craters and mounds, squashed daffodils, and smothered plants, not to mention all the sticks and rubbish sticking out of it.

Awkward though it was, I had to interrupt them, and explain that there was a better way to do it.

The correct technique, then, is to lift smallish shovel-fulls out from the compost heap, shaking or dropping them into the wheelbarrow. If they do not immediately crumble (and in this particular garden, our home-made compost is dense and compacted), then use the spade to chop vertically down into the barrow, breaking up the clods as you fill it.

Pick out any sticks, stones, plastic labels and rubbish as you fill the barrow: sticks can be either thrown away behind the compost pens or - if they are fairly small ones - thrown into the active pen in order to go round again: but the non-organic rubbish must be put aside for disposal. I usually arrange to leave an old bucket or a plastic plant pot by the compost pens, for this purpose.

Then, when you get to the bed or border, don't use the spade/shovel to apply the compost.

Instead, take your hand-trowel in one hand, and chop it through the top layer in order to make it light, and aerated - “friable” is the technical term. Then lift a double handful (I keep the trowel in one hand, which allows me to take a bigger scoop, and keeps it ready for use) and deal it out in an underarm bowling action. This ensures that you don't crush some tender new growth under the weight: it spreads it out, making it go further (fewer barrow-loads required, heh heh) and it give a more even spread.

It also allows you to get the compost mulch right to the back of the bed, behind the plants, without having to step all over them. This can be important at this time of year, when treading on wet soil will compact it, ruining the soil structure, creating a pan or crust on the top - which makes it harder for water to penetrate the soil - and ultimately making it harder for you to weed it, later in the year.

Keep chopping and bowling until you've used it all, then go back for more if necessary.

The exact same technique works when mulching with chipped bark as well: it usually arrived in large tightly-packed plastic sacks, so it's important to tip it out of the bag into a barrow, then shake or chop it until it is in separate pieces, not in thick heavy slices. Again, take a double handful and bowl it underarm onto the beds. This makes it easy to get an even covering of bark, while not suffocating any plants, and it also makes it go further.

So there you go - it's not difficult, but it makes quite a difference to the garden!

Comments (2)

  1. Grower


    I knew all those hours, of mis-spent youth, in the bowling alley would pay dividends some day hehe

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hahahaha, I sometimes wonder if I'll turn out to be a whizz at bowling, if I ever retire!

Production v5.9.2 (d960957)