Here's my big excitement this week: I have 8 cubic yards of shredded hardwood mulch in my driveway! Mulch, of course, is the very best thing you can do for your plants. It helps the soil retain moisture, it breaks down into organic matter and improves the quality of your soil, it insulates so the roots of your plants don't bake in hot weather and freeze in cold weather, it discourages the weeds, and it looks nice. What looks nice, though, is a nice fine-grained mulch like cocoa or buckwheat hulls or shredded bark or shredded leaves or even straw—but unless you have a shredder (which I don't), all these cost money. In the past, I've used wood chips as mulch, which is free if you are lucky enough to have persuaded a kindly arborist working in your neighborhood who is willing to give you their excess chips. Wood chips, however, are chunky and pointy, and don't make such a nice cushy bed for your plants. So, setting aside the argument about protecting your plant investment, it's always a struggle between being cheap and being a responsible gardener.
And then, in May, I went to a wedding celebration party at my friends Emily and David's house. David is an enthusiastic and skilled gardener, and he had surpassed himself in getting the yard ready for the party—including spreading lots and lots of shredded hardwood mulch in all the beds. David's gardening style (like most people's) is considerably more precise and less haphazard than mine, but I was swept away by the cozy beauty of those heavily mulched beds. The brown mulch set off the green plants so brilliantly! The plants looked so happy and healthy! The garden looked so tidy and fresh! I resolved right then to mulch my yard in just the same way.
As happens, though, the days and then weeks started slipping away. I promised myself that I would most certainly mulch before we left for Argentina, so the garden would be protected in my absence. That didn't happen either, and so when I returned I found a garden chock full of happy, healthy weeds growing in rock-hard dirt.
I've learned my lesson: after weeks of weeding and watering, I'm now going to be spending the rest of the summer spreading mulch, mulch, mulch, and swearing, as God is my witness, I'll never be mulchless again.