Recycling in the garden (composting) and using mulch makes common sense for the landscapes.
The practice of composting and mulching has grown increasingly popular in the past few years because the riches Mother Nature provides are an economical way of producing rich soil and protecting plants from weeds, diseases and lack of moisture.
Composting is a convenient way to recycle leaves, grass clippings and trimmings from a yard. Almost any organic plant material can be used in the process. Materials such as twigs, spent flowers and vegetables, leaves and chopped-up brush can be used for a compost pile.
Avoid items such as diseased plants and weeds, since they can spread funguses and viruses. Invasive weeds can reseed.
Kitchen items such as fruit and vegetable peelings and coffee grounds can be composted. But avoid adding meats, bones or dairy products. They may attract unwanted animals.
Also, avoid pet waste. This could harbor parasites unhealthy to humans.
You can build a compost bin in a variety of ways. The simple, most common way is to buy or build a 3- to 4-foot-wide container. The container will compost faster than big open piles outside and are visually more attractive.
Put the bin in full sun and on a well-drained site close to a water source. For sufficient heating and decomposition, the pile needs to be at least 3 feet high and 3 feet wide.
For best results, mix various materials with browns (leaves, etc.) and greens (peelings, etc.). Then make it four parts of brown to one part green.
Next, layer 4 to 6 inches of a brown material on the bottom of the bin. Then add a 2- to 4-inch layer of green material such as new grass clippings and vegetable scraps.
Moisten lightly each layer as you build the pile. Do not saturate it.
Alternate the brown and green layers until you fill the bin.
Cover with a lid or tarp to keep the rain out.
The composting process will begin as the materials start to heat up and decompose.
To manage the pile, watch as the pile shrinks due to decomposition and add new materials to the top. Usually in two to three weeks in warm weather, the pile should heat up.
As this process evolves and cools in the center, turn the pile and move the outside materials into the center and the center to the outside of the bin. The pile should heat up again. Check again in a few weeks to keep the process going.
After a few months, the process will produce dark, crumbly textured, earthy-smelling compost ready for spreading in the garden.
Mulching is also an important and beneficial gardening practice. Mulches conserve moisture, protect root systems from extreme heat and cold and control weeds. They also provides a barrier between soil-borne diseases and plant material.
When mulch decomposes on the topsoil, it adds valuable plant nutrients back into the soil. Mulch prevents erosion on banks and sloping landscapes and prevents compaction from driving rains.
Excellent choices of mulches available in the yard are fall leaves, grass clippings, pine straw and chopped up limbs and stumps. A mixture of several different organic materials provides the most attractive and uniform appearance on the soil surface. You can also purchase pine straw or bark chips.
Spreading the material
Spread mulch under trees, shrubs, flower and vegetable gardens, and container plants. Apply 2 to 4 inches of mulch about 3 inches away from the trunk or main stem of a plant.
Be creative. Unused mulch can easily be an additive for a compost bin. Adding these nutrient-rich products into the soil is a wonderful way to keep a landscape healthy, disease-and weed-free.
Call the Hall County Extension office for added information about composting and mulching.
Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or email@example.com. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.