Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener

Follow the yellow mulch trail.  Photo by Stibolt.

Our meadow path is newly lined with yellow mulch.

Follow the yellow mulch road
by Ginny Stibolt

The other day, I was removing invasive wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata) from the back meadow area when I heard the distinctive drone and periodic roars of a tree shredder from across the lake. I threw down my work gloves, hopped on my bike, and found the tree guys working for a neighbor. I asked for their load of freshly chopped wood and they agreed. After all it saved them the time and expense of a trip to the landfill. A little while later I was the proud owner of a huge pile of yellow mulch. Of course, the color of the mulch really depends upon the type of tree being shredded, but for this load, it was the yellow of a newly cut sweet gum and oak trees. 

Tree mulch is sustainable

This is a mix of shredded wood and leaves--the tree parts that have been run through a chipper. As a mulch, it consists mostly of nicely chopped wood chips mixed with some thin twigs that slide through the shredder. This mulch will last for a year or more as a garden or pathway mulch. It will eventually decay and become part of the soil.

Because nothing has been added to it, the look is quite natural, and if leaves fall on it, no removal is necessary--it all blends together. For beds that are in full view, you'll probably want to pull out or bury the sticks as you lay it to reduce the rustic look.

In all respects, this is the most sustainable mulch. Tree trimmers save gas, time, and money by leaving it in the neighborhood instead of hauling it off to a landfill and paying a dumping fee. You save gas and money by not buying it from a store or paying for delivery. Stress on landfill capacity is reduced. Commercial mulch (most often bagged in plastic) uses energy in production, packaging, disposal, and delivery. Also, because the demand for cypress mulch is so high, old-growth cypress forests are being torn down just to keep up with demand and that certainly is not sustainable.

Normally, the tree trimmers are quite happy to leave the load of wood chips in the neighborhood. Once we asked some guys trimming for the power company and they were somewhat reluctant to give us their mulch. I think it was that they were being paid by the hour and were not paying the dumping fee--ultimately we pay for this service through our utility bills. We did get that load, though. Another time the tree trimmers had plans for their load, but it certainly does no harm to ask.

(Update: Over the years we've had more than twenty loads of chips delivered. All of this good stuff has been absorbed into our landscape.)

A new big pile of fresh wood chips.  Photo by Stibolt

A fresh new pile!!

I'd used the last of my previous pile a month ago and I'd been feeling naked, garden wise, without a supply of mulch.  This is why I so quickly left my wedelia chore out back and sought out the woodcutters.  

When procuring a new batch of mulch, we have it dumped outside our fence out front.  This is an easy location for the tree guys to dump their loads. And then my husband and I can take a couple of days to shovel it over the fence.  After shoveling this load, though, I'm lobbying for a gate in the fence so the next pile could be dumped right where we want it. That way there might be fewer aches and pains.

(Update: We did not put in a gate, but made one of the posts removable. This way when a load is coming in, we remove the post and the slats so the truck has a 16' opening to back into. We covered the removable post hole liner with a plastic box so chips are not dumped into the hole. After a load is dumped, there is sometimes some clean up work to do, but it's a minor inconvenience when compared to moving a whole pile. Years later, we gave the fence away, so that problem is solved.)

A day after being shoveled to a new location, the mulch was streaming.  Photo by Stibolt

This load was a nice mixture of oak, sweet gum, and a Christmas tree, probably a balsam fir. One day after we finished pitching it over the fence, this new pile was steaming in the morning sun as its microbes started working. I've already used some of this mulch to apply a new coating for all the paths in the front meadow. The mulch can sit in this out-of-the-way corner of the front meadow until I use it all up and then I'll be listening for that characteristic drone of a wood chipper in the neighborhood again.

Follow the yellow mulch road

I urge you to search out tree trimmers in your neighborhood, so you too can take the yellow mulch road to sustainable gardening. 


Ginny Stibolt is a life-long gardener, a botanist, a naturalist, and a garden writer. You may contact her or read more of her articles posted on her website:

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Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener