Fresh wood-chip mulch and a mix of compost and slow-release fertilizer will improve the soil, thereby producing a better crop of plants or vegetables. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
I'm no stranger to the skills of gardening on the cheap because I began gardening when most young newlyweds, regardless of their career paths, ranked at the low end of the income scale. So, I've always been into bargain hunting and recycling.
When it comes to caring for the landscape, cutting back on soil conditioning and mulching may save in the short term, but in the long run it costs time and money. There are lots of ways to get the job done without spending big bucks. Here's how to tidy up and mulch garden beds for almost nothing.
Ground wood chips are great for mulching around trees and shrubs -- a tree service working in the area will usually drop them off for free. Gardening books may warn against using fresh wood chips as a mulch, suggesting they rob the soil of nitrogen. However, I have used fresh wood chips in our landscape for several years and have never found that to be a problem. Here's the secret. Before applying the fresh wood chips, spread an inch or two of a mix of compost and shredded leaves to the surface of the soil. Then, top it off with a dusting of a slow-release, organic-based fertilizer.
Now that recycling of yard waste is mandatory in Michigan, many municipalities provide their residents with no-cost or low-cost compost. So give city hall a call to see if there's some available. More is better, but you don't have to use a lot of compost. A quarter-inch will do.
Because the snow fell early and stayed around, lots of folks didn't have time to get the leaves raked off their lawns. There will be lots of leaf litter that will be free for the taking in the next few weeks.
In areas where weeds have sprouted you can hand-weed or cover the space with layers of newspaper six sheets thick after layering on the compost and leaves.
Many shrubs, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, are shallow-rooted, so cultivating around them can cut and damage the roots. To fertilize them, I use Holly Tone, http://www.espoma.com">www.espoma.com, which is formulated for acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, holly and evergreens. Apply it at the rate recommended on the bag. The Espoma fertilizers contain beneficial microbes that help digest the organic materials, providing usable nitrogen and other nutrients for the plants.