The Mulch Robs Nitrogen Myth


I was surprised to hear a landscape professional, at a convention I attended last weekend, repeat a common myth about wood mulch, namely that “mulch robs soil of nitrogen.” In the interest of promoting the soil boosting and water saving benefits of mulch we need to send this common misconception into the bad idea chipper/shredder.

It’s true that if you mix a lot of carbon, such as wood chips, into soil the amount of nitrogen available to plants will decrease. This is because soil organisms use nitrogen to process carbon. But this happens only if you incorporate mulch into rather than on top of soil. When you top dress your soil with mulch some nitrogen at the surface will be locked up, but this actually works to your benefit by inhibiting weed seed germination. Far from reducing nitrogen, as mulch decomposes it will actually increase the nitrogen content of your soil. This is one of the many benefits of using wood chips over inorganic mulches such as gravel.

I sometimes get asked what kind of mulch to use in a vegetable garden. I use straw since it’s inexpensive and easy to clean up at the end of the summer growing season. I wouldn’t use wood chips on vegetable or other annuals since they might get churned into the soil even though I don’t ever till or double dig. Wood chips are for perennials.

Now, my Root Simple friends, go forth and tell people that mulch does not rob the soil of nitrogen!

For more information about mulch which includes a discussion of other mulch misconceptions such as allelopathy and termites, see Washington State University Extension’s publication “Using Arborist Wood Chips as Landscape Mulch.”


104 Erin Schanen the Impatient Gardener

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Listen to “104 Erin Schanen the Impatient Gardener” on Spreaker.
On the podcast this week we talk to garden blogger Erin Schanen, the Impatient Gardener. Erin lives in a small cottage in Southeastern Wisconsin. During the show we discuss some of Erin’s recent blog posts and other subjects including:

Websites: The Impatient Gardener, Impatient Gardener on Facebook and Instagram, @impatientgarden on Twitter. Special thanks to Eric of Garden Fork for introducing me to Erin!

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.




Federico Tobon’s Handcrafted Password Generator


Federico Tobon is one of my favorite artist-makers. He was a guest on episode 8 of the Opposable Thumbs podcast, a show which issues a creative challenge for their guests to complete. Federico had to tackle the topic of “crafting security.” His response was to make this beautiful wooden object that, when manipulated, generates strong, multilingual passwords.

Federico’s inspiration was an xlcd comic that has some excellent password security advice:


On the podcast and his blog, Federico describes how he made a clever jig to cut the pieces on a table saw (without loosing any fingers!). He turned an old dysfunctional 3d printer into a laser etching device to engrave the words.

You can see Federico’s art and projects on his website Wolf Cat Workshop.


Saturday Tweets: Gardens, Sorbet and Way Too Many Cat Memes

Is Stickley is the New Ikea?

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You’ll have to pardon the breakout of bungalow fever on the blog this week, but I’ve vowed to spend the summer patching, painting and fixing up things around our almost 100 year old house. One of my projects is an all out war on ugly furniture. Sorry, Ikea, but you’re out. Stickley is in.

Thanks to the folks at you can download a copy of Gustav Stickley’s 1909 furniture catalog as well as Gustav’s brothers Leopold and John George’s 1910 catalog. Gustav and his brothers enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame between the years 1900 and 1915. Furniture trends changed during and after WWI and Gustav’s company went bankrupt. It wasn’t until the 1970s when interest in the Arts and Crafts movement returned.

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We were lucky to have picked up an L. & J.G. Stickley rocker #811 this week that now graces our living room. At nearly 110 years old, the rocker looks a whole lot better than the disposable Ikea couch it faces. If one were to amortize the cost of a well made piece of furniture versus something cheap and disposable I think it’s obvious what’s the better choice.

Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 8.42.24 AMCraftsman furniture seems to have fallen out of favor again with the ascendancy of mid-century modern mania. I’m hoping for a Stickley revival. To that end, please note that L. & J.G. Stickley seem to have manufactured the world’s first futon couch and it’s a lot more handsome than the ones I see discarded on every other block in Los Angeles.

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Lastly, I’m trying to think of the lifestyle adjustments that would justify a weekend in the garage making a copy of the L. & J.G. Stickley dinner gong. How exactly would a dinner gong work out in our 1,000 square foot house occupied by just two people? Would its existence prompt more inspired daily meal prep? Would reheating a frozen Trader Joe’s meal (what a friend calls the Ikea of food) in the microwave justify a bang on the gong? Would it cause the cats and dog to scatter? Should I develop a gong app instead?


My attempt to craft a longer blog post with a clickbait headline, “Is the Dinner Gong the New Killer App?” failed due to lack of source material, but I’d like to share this bittersweet object: a French dinner gong crafted from a WWI artillery shell.