Monday, 16 September 2013

Bark is not just for Dogs

Weeding is a major chore in any garden. Here at Easter Mosshat we have a lot of large borders, so keeping them looking their best is a huge task. We need to reduce the maintenance workload here to allow us to focus more on developing the gardens. I've always been ambivalent about bark mulches as you often see them badly done, with thin patches and plastic sheeting poking through. But done properly they can look good and reduce the burden of weeding. As a professional gardener I have seen this done to varying degrees of success, depending on colour of bark, depth and use of plastic underneath to suppress weeds. It was an interesting thought process to get round to thinking that bark could actually be a good solution for the really big beds at Easter Mosshat.

Bark in the bag, ready for mulching

Some internet surfing resulted in varying prices and types of bark, but in the end a visit to a local DIY store produced a special offer. So every time one of us has passed the store this week, a car load of 50 litre bags has come back. The record stand at 40 bags, thankfully in the 4x4 and not my car! This has allowed me to mulch three big beds by the drive: the scented bed that fronts our dry stone wall; the island bed, which is planted to give colour all year round and the tree-line border, which serves to provide visual impact to people coming through the main gate. I have to say I am impressed with the results and can cope with not being able to see the soil! These beds are particularly bad for weeds and moss, so I am eager to see just how much work this will save over the coming year and beyond, and it looks good, which is also very important.

Bark amongst the ferns in the Island bed
There are a couple of ways you can put down a mulch. You can put it directly onto the soil as I have done, or put down a landscape fabric first, then the bark. I opted not to use fabric, mainly as the beds are already planted and fairly well established, so cutting holes in the correct places can be a nightmare of a job. I weeded and tidied the beds first, weed-killing some of the most persistent perennial weeds and mosses. It was then a case of spreading the bark over the beds, amongst and under the plants, covering as much of the soil as possible. Two to four inches should completely deter weed growth. If any weeds do have the nerve to put in an appearance they can be pulled out easily or weed-killed. The other advantage of mulching is moisture retention in the soil in dry periods.

Leaving a soil edge in the borders

Using fabric underneath works better with new beds. Once the bed is dug and levelled you can lay the landscape fabric and spread the mulch over. A lesser depth of two inches is usually required as you have the landscape fabric to help in the weed reduction. The weight of the bark will keep the fabric in place without pinning it. Then cut holes in the fabric where you want to plant you plants, dig a hole and replace the bark around the plant once planted.

Eventually the bark with disappear, working its way into the soil as it breaks down over the years and some topping up will be necessary from time  to time. Until then you can enjoy tidy looking borders and a lot less weeding.

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