Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Too mulch of nothing

My sisters were down in Carmel this past weekend working on my mom's house, which we are slowly turning into a vacation rental. They let me off the hook, due to my work schedule, saying that they were primarily going to be mulching the front yard. Now though there is always a plus side to being let off of physical labor, there is one disappointing aspect of this in that I did not manage to glean what mulching actually is.

Laugh not, gardening fans! I know it has to do with some sort of soil preparation, but I haven't ever really done any of it. I'm a bit perplexed, because I thought it might mean adding nutrients, but as they put bark over it that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

This should be solved in short order, but "mulch" is a great word and it wouldn't hurt to, uh, dig into it a little...


Oh, okay--the bark is the mulch. Mulch is a protective layer of something put on top of soil to keep it from eroding, seal in the nutrients, suppress weed growth and so on. Although bark is attractive, you can use a variety of things, like hay, compost, even things like plastic or manure. (Bark is sounding better and better.)

(The following video is not of my sisters, but, let us just say a "dramatic re-creation". Plus, it contains a gardening tip.)

To tell you the truth, I always thought that this stuff was just called ground cover.

As to its etymology, it comes from the Middle English molsh, which meant soft or moist, and goes back in turn to Old English melsc or milisc--mellow or sweet. It's related to the Dutch mals (soft), Old High German molawen (to become soft), and the German mollig (soft again). I don't really think of bark or gravel as soft, but things change.

And though this genuinely isn't intended as an advertisement for our vacation getaway, if you happen to be planning a stay on the Monterey Peninsula and are looking for a pleasant place to stay there for a few people, feel free to email me for details.

As I didn't do any of the mulching, a little plug here seems only fair....

The front courtyard. Sadly, no mulch.


  1. I have never worn a pink bandana or jeans with pink flower trim, so that is definitely not me!

    And to add to the mental picture of the REAL Graham sisters laying down the mulch, picture a front yard covered first in old newspapers. This is one way to kill all the grass and weeds; cover the area in newspaper and then cover in bark or ground cover mulch. We chose ground cover mulch which is basically ground up bark with smaller nuggets.

    In this particular scenario, we felt ourselves to be virtual Christos, making paper yard art. The other thing about doing it this way is that it is slow going, due to the endless desire to read every other article before you on the ground. We lost a lot of time reading, squatting down in the dirt like that.

    Kind of wish there was a photo to share of THAT!

    The yard looks great now. We added a metal bench, potted plants and even a bird bath (in keeping with family tradition). So, yes, any one who wants a homey vay-cay rental in beautiful Carmel...

    Mulch love, J.

  2. See, this blog is full of all kinds of useful gardening tips! Which is kind of surprising since I don't garden.

    For those of you who don't know us well, yeah, the squatting down in the dirt reading newspapers before we surrender them to a higher purpose is definitely a Graham kind of activity. I hadn't heard about the bird bath, but it is oh so apropos.

    Ground cover mulch. Also known as ground cover.

  3. Interesting. Mulch up my way means a dump truck full of shredded tree bark (usually Hemlock) gets piled in my driveway, and then I have to spread it around bushes, plants, trees. It has become very popular the last 10 years or so, it seems. Good luck with the vaca rental, the pic looks very nice, and relaxing.

  4. Mulching (it's easier if you think of it as a verb) is the practice of building up soil, or putting compost around the base of a plant to make a protective and/or nutrient layer."

    It is important not to allow mulch to build up to encircle hardwood trees, and plants like primroses, which need roots to be closer to the surface will not thrive unless they are "planted proud".

    Your post is very informative on the origins of the word.


  5. I thought “ground cover” was what your buddies laid down from the fox hole so you can advance a few more yards under enemy fire.=====================================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  6. Kathleen, if you think I'm going to complain that there is too mulch punning going on here, you would be wrong.

  7. Maria, you affirm my original sense that mulching has a soil health aspect, at least sometimes.

    "Planted proud" is a nice phrase.

  8. Sean, hemlock sounds a tad dangerous. I guess the bark isn't what they use to make those poisonous doses in murder mysteries, then.

  9. Peter, your post makes me think that mulch has a comic sketch potential, ala Monty Python. Imagine them bringing a truckload of Sean's hemlock to the Front.

  10. This gives me an opportunity to share today's find, the word "theriac".

    The hemlock in question is Tsuga canadensis, a joy to behold.


    The poison offered to Socrates, (Conium maculatum?), is a very different kettle of fish.


  11. Thanks for clearing that up, Maria. I won't worry about the dogs and small children around Sean's house now.

    <a href=">theriac</a> was definitely a word I didn't know.

  12. The word "mulch" itself has much comic potential. As does "gulch."

  13. Hmm, "gulch." I suddenly have a strange desire to read Westerns.

  14. Yes, I don't know why that -ulch sound is so funny, but it is.

  15. Don Martin's sound effects in his old Mad Magazine cartoons are a reliable catalogue of funny sounds in English.