Q: I am planning to mulch by shrub beds this fall. What material works the best?
M. K. of Belleville
A: Mulch can be great stuff to use in beds because it conserves moisture, keeps the soil cool, reduces weeds, and can provide an attractive accent to your plantings. Each different kind of decorative mulch has its own positive and negative aspects.
Shredded hardwood mulch accomplishes the above listed qualities at a reasonable cost. As it decomposes, the mulch adds valuable organic matter to the soil. Shredded bark also holds well on slopes. But a thick layer of mulch does not completely eliminate weeds.
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Cypress mulch lasts longer then hardwood mulch, but usually costs two times more, has more of an orange color and retains this color for a longer period of time. It also decays a lot slower. But cypress mulch is also getting to be a lot harder to find because southern states are protecting the cypress trees and not permitting this timber for harvest.
Some mulches are low-maintenance, but require a fabric or plastic barrier to be placed down first to reduce the growth of weeds. Stone of various sizes can be used, but later on makes planting of perennials and annuals quite a chore. Over time, some of the stones can be found in the lawn areas and can be dangerous if hit by a mower. Stone is hard to remove so be sure that you really want it before putting it down.
Mulch is usually sold by cubic yard. A cubic yard of mulch usually covers 108 square feet with three inches of mulch.
Q: I plant spring flowering bulbs every few years. They always look great the first spring and then produce fewer and smaller blooms each year after. What am I doing wrong?
E. V. of Swansea
A: Most hybrid bulbs decrease their production each year. It is common for these bulbs to produce fewer and smaller blooms and then to completely stop flowering. If you examine them underground, the large bulb that you planted has now formed bulblets. These smaller bulblets need about three years before they have stored enough energy to flower.
You can dig up the original bulbs after they have finished blooming in spring and remove the smaller bulblets. Then, add a teaspoon of steamed bonemeal to the soil, but make sure none of the bonemeal touches the bulb. If you have the patience, you can plant the bulblets in another location but it will take about three years for these bulblets to grow large enough to produce large flowers.
The Missouri Botanical Garden plants fresh bulb beds every fall for the bulb show in spring.
A little trick that I learned in Holland is to buy one single bulb of a strong contrasting color and place it somewhere in your bulb bed. It is called the “signature bulb” because any great artist who has finished the artwork will sign it. When you do your bulb bed, you need to sign your work as well. This then becomes a great conversation bulb.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Maureen Houston, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do it now
Save tender plants such as coleus, wax begonias, impatiens, or fuchsias for indoor growing and becoming starts of plants for next spring. Dig the plants and cut them back about halfway and place them back into the original container. Or, you can take cuttings of the shoot tips and root them.