I broke away from using bagged mulch this year. I have three new sources for wood chip mulch: the local park service, the power company tree trimmers, and landscapers who cut down trees.
The Park Service (Montgomery County, Maryland) had too much mulch and generously delivered a dump truck's worth to an area our neighbors cleared of vines and overgrowth (near the Park Service operations center, so it was great for them, too).
Other neighbors phoned or went out to the power company tree trimmers while they were working in our area, and dumping their freshly chipped branches saved them time.
Thirdly, I got two loads of mulch, one from a lot development site behind my house and another from a Craigslist landscaper who needed to dump his freshly chipped, clean tree.
I used mulch to cover bare roots around a beech tree, creating a dramatic circle with sprigs of ground-cover. I used chips to level out my earthen driveway, which slanted towards our foundation.
To manage a pile of mulch at the end of your driveway, use the shovel at the bottom edges of your pile; it gives and is easy to load up your shovel. I loaded into plastic tubs and wheeled trashcans for easy relocation to specific sites (garden, trees).
I heard that wood chips damage tender roots of seedlings, due to the nitrogenous heat created by decomposition; however, my plants are thriving spectacularly with this mulch. Perhaps the water preserving mulch aspect outweighed the heat nature in my case. Cover your mulch pile with a tarp if it rains, to keep it light and fluffy for easier removal. And sing some good work songs while moving your mountain of mulch.
By Mary K. from Kensington, MD
The only thing I'd worry about is transferring diseases?
Done it for years w/no ill effects. Worst it can do is rob nitrogen from soil. You can add nitrogen, (manures) to compensate if your plants start yellowing. The benefits of the organic matter outweigh the risks. Any one who sings while they work gets my vote. I wish I could give you two thumbs up!
In Kitchener, Ontario Canada where I live, wood chip mulch is available free from the city's landfill site. It is already partially decomposed, so I don't worry about diseases, they have enough to create a huge pile that generates enough heat to kill most plant diseases, I would think. They also offer free compost which is nice black well rotted compost. The only "catch" is that you have to pick it up yourself. I have kept this manageable for myself by using square five gallon kitty litter buckets. 10 of them fit in my trunk nicely. I line the trunk with newspapers to keep it clean, then place the buckets in. I can then take them out one bucket at a time when I get it home, making it manageable for me by myself when no-one is around to help. I have made two trips for compost and three for mulch so far this year! When using the mulch to keep weeds down I put three or four sheets of newspaper under it and that really helps.
I would be very careful about using untreated mulch. Does your city treat the wood mulch before giving it out? Mulch taken directly from chipping machines would not be treated. You can transfer termites and carpenter ants to your home and trees if you are not careful. Free or cheap mulch is great but if you have to pay for termite damage/treatment or need to take down mature trees due to carpenter ants, it is a very expensive way of gardening. Buyer beware.
One of our news stations did a report several years ago about how getting the free mulch is a good way to bring cockroaches around & into your home. I guess the cockroaches like the piles of mulch on the ground & moved in, people taking the mulch took them home!
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