Written by Lee Wyatt (last updated February 25, 2019)
Mulch can help to beautify your garden and protect the plants you are trying to grow. In addition, you can use it in many other areas of your yard, such as around trees and in flowerbeds. Mulch can be very expensive, however, if you purchase it from a nursery. There is an alternative—you can make your own mulch.
The fall is the best time to begin making your mulch. When making mulch the goal is to make enough to cover your garden in the spring. You don't want it to break down completely like you would if you were making a compost pile. You do, however, want it to break down slightly. The winter months will break your mulch down to where you can use it in the spring.
You need to determine just how much mulch you will need in the spring to cover your flowerbeds. For mulch to do any good it needs to be at least two inches deep. Think about what size of garden area will need to be covered. Now estimate how many square feet that would be. For example, let's say your garden is 8 feet wide and 16 feet long. This is 128 square feet (8 x 20). Multiply this by the number of inches of coverage you want (2) and you end up with the number 256.
Now, to figure out how deep your mulch pile needs to be, start by figuring out how many square feet you want for your pile. For example, if your mulch pile will be 3 feet wide and 3 feet long, that means it covers 9 square feet (3 x 3). Divide 256 (the number you derived earlier) by 9 (the square feet in your mulch pile) and you end up with just over 28. This is the number of inches deep you'll need your mulch pile to be.
The main ingredients of your mulch will be leaves, grass, and branches or limbs you prune from trees. When making your mulch pile there are some things's that you will need:
Now you need to pick a place to create your mulch pile. Set aside a place or section of your yard that you can devote for your mulch pile. It doesn't matter what is under the mulch pile. You do want to be careful, though, of not placing the pile over bulbs or shrubs that you want to keep. Anything that is under the mulch pile may die.
Begin by raking and piling your leaves. Don't let the leaves get wet if they haven't been shredded yet. It is quite difficult to shred wet leaves. You want to keep them dry until they are shredded.
With either a lawn mower or a wood chipper shred the leaves. Place the leaves in a pile where you have set aside for your mulch pile. As the leaves continue to fall keep shredding them and adding them to the pile.
Take any fallen limbs from your trees and cut them into pieces with your chain saw. Most people don't own a wood chipper; the best thing to do is to go to your local rental store and rent a wood chipper. They are fairly inexpensive to rent for an afternoon. Be sure to read all the directions on how to use the wood chipper, with an eye toward safety. Put all the tree limbs into the wood chipper and make wood mulch. The wood mulch can be kept in separate pile or it can be added to the leaves. You need to be careful when using a wood chipper; they can be dangerous.
When the leaves have reached about 14 inches deep, add a layer of grass clippings. The grass will add the nitrogen that is required to help break down the leaves over the winter. Add some water—just enough to get the leaves wet but not soaked. Mix the leaves and the grass also the wood mulch (if you are going to combine the wood mulch).
The mixture is ready to be covered with either the tarp or plastic sheeting. Leave the tarp on till spring. In late March or early April mix the leaf mulch again. It is now ready to use. This type of mulch is very light and easy to apply to the garden.
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