Mulch Volcanoes: Another Bad Gardening Idea

Root Simple reader Donna, in response to my post on decomposed granite as mulch, alerted me to a related phenomenon: the infamous mulch volcano. For whatever reason, I don’t see this viral gardening phenomenon much here in Los Angeles but it’s really common elsewhere in the US.

Mulch volcanoes are generally considered to be a bad idea. It’s thought that the lack of air circulation at the base of the tree can lead to disease problems and you don’t want roots to grow up into the mulch so close to the trunk. When applying mulch you should keep it a few inches away from the base of a tree.

herber bayer grass mound

Artist Herbert Bayer’s EarthMound, 1955. Image: GardenHistoryGirl.

How strange gardening practices, such as mulch volcanoes, get started is really interesting to me. Mulch volcanoes remind me of miniature versions of minimalist art earthworks or Native American mounds. Is the mulch volcano a kind of outsider landscape art? Is the mulch volcano a misguided attempt at putting a human imprint on nature, what landscape architects call “clues to care?”

Decomposed Granite as Mulch: A very bad idea

Decomposed Granite

There’s a well defined architectural vocabulary house flippers use in our neighborhood. Flippers buy a crumbling 1920s bungalow, paint the front door orange, add a horizontal fence, redo the interior in a Home Depot meets Dwell Magazine style and then turn around and sell it for a million bucks.

When house flippers tackle a yard they tend towards the “low-maintenance” landscape (in quotes because there’s no such thing as a low-maintenance garden). One of the favorite tools in the flipper landscaping toolbox is decomposed granite (DG) used as a mulch. Put some plastic landscape fabric down (blocks rainwater in our climate, fyi) and top that plastic with DG. They then punch some holes in the DG/plastic and pop in succulents and maybe a rosemary bush or two. By the time the yard becomes a sad, desertified tangle of unhappy succulents and crabgrass, the flippers are long gone.

I’ve got a big issue with DG as mulch. In order for DG to look good, it’s got to be compacted and soil compaction is really bad for plants, including hardy natives and succulents. It stifles the life of the soil, and does not build new soil. And eventually, the plastic will fail, and the weeds will come through (some come through even when the plastic is new), and whoever is left holding the bag a couple of years down the road will be pulling decaying bits of plastic out of their garden for evermore.

What’s a better approach? Wood chips. Pile it on thick. Skip the plastic liner. Eventually your new plantings will cover any bare areas if you space them correctly. It looks good,  and the mulch breaks down and turns into soil. You will still need to weed but that’s called gardening. Save the DG for walkways. Or use mulch on your walkways too. Mulch is free or low cost. Just ask your local arborist to drop off a load.

From the Archives: Loquat Leather

loquatleather

Judging from the reaction to Mrs. Homegrown’s post yesterday it looks like some folks have a loquat obsession. Welcome home brothers and sisters.

At the risk of tooting my own loquat horn and repeating an old blog post, Mrs. H neglected to mention my controversial 2012 loquat leather experiment and recipe. You’ve still got to de-seed the damn things but at least there’s no need to skin them. Plus it makes use of booze.

I’ll admit it’s not a thrilling fruit leather but it’s not too bad.

Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:

My philosophy is simply that if one is going to go through the trouble of making fruit leather, preserves, pies etc., one should use outstanding fruit. The flavor tells in the end. After all, the starving times are not upon us. Even Erik can’t get super excited about this fruit leather–as I recall it tasted mostly of lemon and booze.

Then again, some people may have outstanding loquats–it sounds so from the comments on the last post. The ones we have access to just aren’t fantastic for preserving–too watery, too light. I just learned that there are over 800 cultivars of loquats, so there’s going to be lots of different loquat experiences.

Saturday Linkages: Saris, Punk Rockers, Poppies and Young Agrarians

Sari as Insulation: http://notechmagazine.com/2014/04/clothing-insulation-with-different-drapes-of-typical-sari-ensembles.html …

Humanoid wasps’ nest built over an abandoned sculpture: http://boingboing.net/2014/04/24/humanoid-wasps-nest-built-ov.html …

Punk rock homesteading resources: http://punkrockhomesteading.com/e-books/ 

Two new California poppy species: http://www.pensoft.net/journals/phytokeys/article/6751/two-new-desert-eschscholzia-papaveraceae-from%C2%A0southwestern-north-america …

Contrasting Front Yards: Turf Only v. Wildlife-Filled | Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2014/04/contrasting-front-yards-wildlife-v-turf.html …

When Pedestrians Get Mixed Signals http://nyti.ms/1aclEcA 

Underground Ferrocement Homes http://feedly.com/e/GRF29x3h 

Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’ http://n.pr/1jLfth3 

When Vegetarians Tried To Build A Utopia of Octagonal Houses in Kansas http://gizmodo.com/what-utopias-have-to-do-with-the-19th-century-craze-for-1564535216/+sarahzhang …

Aeroplane Bar Letka Tu-104: Inside grounded passenger plane is a bar once a Communist hang out now a ratty relic http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/aeroplane-bar-letka-tu-104 …

DIY Beer Bottle Windows for your Cabin, Shed, TIny… http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/2014/04/diy-beer-bottle-windows-for-your-cabin.html?spref=tw …

Repurposed wood log lamps http://www.recyclart.org/2014/04/repurposed-wood-log-lamps/ …

How to build a cheap 3D-scanner mostly out of spare parts http://wp.me/p1SNZL-1 

A Young Agrarian Land Covenant http://garynabhan.com/i/archives/2446 

The Scientific Gardener: Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener by Joseph Tyc… http://scientificgardener.blogspot.com/2014/04/plant-breeding-for-home-gardener-by.html?spref=tw …

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