I'd asked my friend and garden guru Otahal* and his crew to do the heavy lifting and spreading. Because they had an unexpected opening in their busy schedule, I had to scramble to find a soil yard that could deliver on short notice. I had used a soil yard on Saums Road previously - for products other than mulch - and so I called them to see whether they could accommodate me. When they said yes, I placed an order for 6 yards of hardwood mulch and they promised to have it here within a couple of hours. Did I have any idea of the source of their hardwood mulch? Had I ever made a visit to their soil yard to view - and FEEL - the product I was buying? Friends, I had not ... and it was a grievous error on my part.
Only after the driver of the dump truck had unloaded the mulch on my driveway and I felt the first stirrings of concern, did I query the origins of the mulch. It was not reassuring to hear the driver say that shredded wood pallets were amongst the materials used to make the mulch. As Otahal and I surveyed the mulch, my concerns grew. At that point, there was nothing we could do but soldier on and hope for the best.
Y'all know what kind of summer we endured here at Wits' End. As the mercury climbed over 100 day after day after day after day after day after day after day, as the days rolled by (a little Sondheim moment there) - and rain failed to fall - I despaired as I watched the mulch mat together and form a barrier to repel my watering efforts. I fluffed the mulch where I could, when I could but my paltry efforts weren't enough to make a difference.
A few weeks ago, as I began planting some of the newly purchased shrubs and perennials I'd bought to add more structure to the gardens, each time I pulled back the mulch layer, I was horrified to see just how dry and lifeless the soil beneath had become. The most significant indication of its lack of fertility was the absence of the earthworms that grace other areas of the gardens. I decided there and then that something had to be done.
I'd seen a compost sifter/screener on Pinterest that I thought would work for screening the mulch. I talked to my home improvements guy, Brent Cook**, and he agreed to build a similar one for me in exchange for some of the computer assistance I've given him over recent months. Within a couple of days, I had a sturdy screener***, with notches on front and back so it could fit on top of the wheelbarrow. And for almost three weeks now, I've spent most of my time in the garden removing and sifting mulch, placing the discarded chunks and shreds in empty pots and tubs. The picture below is most but not all of them.
It doesn't look so bad in that picture, does it? Let's take a closer look:
When it comes to mulch, my friends, please learn from my experience! First and foremost, know what you're buying: take the time to visit the soil yard and check out their product(s). Some soil yards have samples of their offerings in their sales office but after this experience, I would ask to view the actual pile from which they'll scoop before committing to a purchase. If they balk at letting you do so, walk away and find another vendor. Save yourself time and money and a dump truck load of regrets!
* Otahal and I went to junior high together and he was one of my late friend MB's great loves. A lifelong love of plants caused him to ditch his job as an industrial pharmacologist and become a garden designer/grower/installer. He and I collaborated on the front gardens last year.
**If you live in the Katy/West Houston area and need a reliable contractor, I've been very happy with the work Brent Cook has done for me over the last 14 years. E-mail me if you'd like his number.
***The compost screener was built from 1x4's and 1/2 inch hardware cloth. It took them all of 20 minutes and it should last me for years.