With last-frost dates approaching throughout the country, it’s time to start thinking about getting the garden ready for spring. Mulch, as any gardener will tell you, is crucial for weed prevention, moisture retention and soil improvement. It can also cost a small fortune, unless you know how to get yours free. Here’s how to save money on mulch.
City and county dumps: Many municipalities collect branches following significant storms or hold “spring clean-up” drives so residents can dispose of theirs. Often, these county and city entities chip the gathered branches then give them away to residents looking for free mulch. All you need is a truck and a tarp to put the mulch on.
Tree companies: Unless they have a contract with a disposal company, tree companies need some place to get rid of the chipped and shredded branches they prune. Call around to different tree services in your area to find one that gives it away. You might even find they’re willing to drop it off on your driveway, in which case it’s a good idea to leave a tarp out so you can easily pull it to your yard.
Rent a wood chipper: In the past, we’ve gone in with neighbors to rent a wood chipper following major storms. Taking turns, we each fed our fallen branches through the chipper and hauled them back to our own yards. Granted, it wasn’t completely free, but sharing the rental expense between four families made it far less expensive than buying bagged mulch.
Make your own: Since newspapers are printed with soy-based ink these days, they now make wonderful mulch for the garden. I like to work some compost 2-3 inches into the dirt around my vegetables, then lay down several thicknesses of newspaper along the rows. Cover this with fallen leaves or grass clippings, and it will “compost in place” throughout the growing season, improving the soil while it helps retain moisture and prevent weeds.
Bonus tip: Buy straw bales for autumn or Halloween decorations, then spread it around the base of your plants and on top of your pruned roses before the first hard frost. It will act as mulch, while also improving your soil.
Just remember: mulch works best when it’s put down 2 to 4 inches deep. Any more shallow, and weed seeds can still germinate. Remember to pull back your mulch when new growth begins in the spring to prevent rot and deter pests.