(Yes, you read that correctly.) Translation: A lot of trouble or complaining about a small problem. In this case, a mulch problem…

“Keeping up with the Jones’.” It’s a thing. Another cliche: “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.” But what if status quo is only perpetuating misinformation? A freshly mulched garden looks lovely and well-groomed, but within lies a deceptive fungal plot ready to hatch and wreak havoc on your home.

Mulch by definition is material such as decaying leaves, bark, or compost, spread around or over a plant to enrich or insulate the soil. Mulching does have many benefits to your plantings and your soil. Besides the obvious intimation of landscape aesthetic, it also serves to regulate and protect soil temperature and moisture. It promotes water conservation and weed prevention, enhances soil nutrients, and helps to remove residual effects of pesticides, fertilizers, and heavy metals. A thin layer of 1-2″ is sufficient. Types of mulch include Wood, Rock, and Synthetic. Look for naturally sourced wood mulch NOT commercial or construction debris-based, which will contain contaminants.

Mulching is nearly a science of its own. While it is simplistic, it involves a complicated ecosystem. The trouble with mulch lies in over-mulching, which nearly everyone does. In excess, it deprives oxygen from plant roots, causing plants to re-root in mulch, then die out when the mulch dries out. Large, bark/wood chip mulch deprives soil of Nitrogen and takes longer to decompose, at least a year. Mulch piled against tree trunks actually promotes bark decay. Instead, follow the rule of the ‘Casey Trees’ Organization, the “Three-Three-Three” Method: “A 3′ diameter mulch circle around a tree, 3″ thick, 3″ AWAY from the trunk.”

Laying mulch too thickly smothers roots of trees and shrubs in search of air and water. Excessive hardwood mulch can become toxic to plants due to buildup of elements. Avoid mounding at shrubs, especially azaleas and boxwood, as their surface roots will grow into mulch, eventually starving the plants as mulch decays. Perennials smothered in mulch will rot when their natural cycle of dormancy is too wet.

Roger Davis, Senior Gardener at Longwood Gardens, recommends two types of Mulch: “Triple-shredded hardwood bark” and “Leaf Mold”, (tree leaves on their way to becoming compost). *(See Recipe at end of article.)


The University of Delaware explains: “Mulch provides a food source for fungi that are natural decomposers, breaking down plant material and utilizing organic matter. Without fungi, dead leaves, twigs, and branches would clutter forests and landscapes.” While a necessary decomposer, unfortunately this means your mulch pile is also a breeding ground for various home offenders such as: slime molds, stinkhorns, bird’s nest fungi, and artillery fungus.

At first glance, these seem only a negligible nuisance. However, left undisturbed, mold and fungus can wreak havoc on your home. Black stripes on your roof, green slime on your siding and flatwork, or miniscule black spots that appear on your siding are the result of a humid, fertile, breeding ground that has been fed by mulch.

Artillery fungi, the most pervasive of these offenders, is so tenacious that complete removal is nearly impossible. Naturally occurring in mulch, not only will it transfer onto your home, but also your plantings. Without proper removal from your home and mulch, you are sure to have a repeat offender. If caught immediately, these spores may be scrubbed away with a brush and soap and water. However, if the material has dried, it must be scraped off, being careful not to re-litter the soil or mulch, which will, of course, mean re-infestation. Even with successful removal, these tarry spores leave their mark and will stain siding. Worse still, replacement of siding is the only solution to complete removal, and that is completely out of your pocket.

One solution to combating the prevalence of artillery fungus is incorporating mushroom compost (or mushroom soil) into the mulch. Mixing in 20-40% mushroom compost into your mulch is sufficient to reduce growth of artillery fungus. Doing so is both economic and proactive for your garden, the planet, and your budget.

THE LESSON: Don’t placate your garden with good intentions. Do your research to find the right solution for your plantings, not to fit in your neighbourhood. Be deliberate, not deceived. And when it comes to removal of mold and fungus, no one FIGHTS GRIME like we do.

How to Make Your Own “Leaf Mold”: (According to Washington Post)

  • Gather the fallen leaves from Autumn.
  • Shred with your mower.
  • Put into compost pile or store in plastic bag.
  • Use next Spring as Mulch. OR
  • Spread chopped leaves directly onto beds in Autumn.
  • Let Nature take its course. Soil creatures convert leaves into humus.
  • Better for the planet. Better for your pocket.


How to protect your garden without the use of toxins.

In today’s superficial world, we tend to think of failure with such permanence, such disgrace. But failure is only permanent if we don’t learn anything… if we walk away without asking questions, without analyzing, without making improvements. If we don’t learn anything, we can’t change anything.

Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

When it comes to gardening, Edison’s sentiments may resonate with our experience. We definitely know what does not work. Gardening, like any endeavour, takes knowledge, hard work, and dedication, but also a bit of dynamic ingenuity. What works one year may not work another. Weather, environment, and ecology play a role as well. Gardening has been relegated to a “hobby” rather than a necessity for living. Could this be part of the problem? Could its demotion be responsible for quick-fix-solutions with long-term-consequences?

Think of your garden like a business. You have a manufacturing plant to produce a product. You have employees. You have customers. You have threats to that business. You have partners to ensure success. You are the CEO, ensuring that everything runs smoothly, knowing that everyone has a role to play. If a machine breaks down, you don’t set fire to the building. You repair the machine.

A garden works in a very similar fashion. There are many contributing ecological elements which can help or harm the success of your “product”. Thinking beyond the ‘end product’, though, is essential if we are to understand gardening as an element of healthful living, as a connection to the environment around us, as well as the impact our choices make.

Here are 5 Key Ways to Protect Plants While Preventing Pests, Without the Use of Chemicals or Toxins.

  1. PREVENTION: Prevention is always the first line of protection. Learning about garden pests is the first step to successfully planning the right tools, plants, and ecosystem that will help our garden to thrive.
  2. BARRIERS: Both organic and inorganic barriers can be used to ward off larger ‘pests’. Fencing, chicken wire, garden netting, cloches, and floating row covers protect the plants physically, while planting Rosemary, Garlic, and Oregano can deter naturally.
  3. BALANCE: Don’t adopt a “mass-genocidal-mentality”. Some pests in the garden are actually beneficial, as they serve as a food source, not only for the “beneficial bugs” in your garden, but also to birds which feed them to their young.
  4. HEALTH: Plants, like humans, are living organisms, which are better equipped to ward off pests and disease when their environment is ideal. STRESS and DIET affect them, too. Knowing the needs of the plant (sun, shade, organic diet) is essential to be well-equipped to fight for their survival.
  5. BIODIVERSITY: Planning a diverse garden also encourages diversity in natural pest control. Interplanting flowering herbs and annuals with vegetables (rather than row planting) confuses pests from isolating their “host plant” and making a meal out of it. “Beneficial bugs” such as ladybugs, bees, mantis, and net-winged insects require pollen and nectar for food, as well as feeding on pests. Planting food sources such as Mint, Cabbage, Sunflowers, and Carrot creates a diversity of pollen and nectar producing flowering plants which encourage their survival, to the benefit of your garden.

In our technologically stimulated world, it is important to ground ourselves in the reality that we are connected to our environment. With long-term thinking and careful planning we can successfully protect our investment, while protecting our environment.