Three steps forward, two steps back

Our new home has a lot of space, and as I’ve written, sizable chunks have been transformed from lawn grass to garden. For pure efficiency and eco-friendliness, getting help with occasional tasks, like mulching, is the best option. Who wants to deal with 60 bags of mulch and the resulting plastic, or moving a huge pile of mulch? I could be spending time on more value-added gardening tasks.

We brought in a landscape company last year to help this, aided by the recommendation of a good friend. The mulch was a real help to keep in moisture, reduce weeds, and prevent runoff during last year’s and this spring’s heavy rains. But with all that rain and natural decomposition, it needed to be refreshed.

Last week, we had the landscapers back. And while nothing initially seemed amiss, within 24 hours, about half of the plants and grass around the beds had scorched and brown areas. Some, like the lamium (dead nettle – now quite literally), tiarella (foam flower), and alchemilla (lady’s mantle) were completely decimated. It would be too painful to show the damage, which was complete. Others, like the astilbe, salvia, and echinacea (coneflower), had varying areas of scorching and withering on their lower third.

Seeing how the astilbe suffered from sour mulch just gutted me.

The allium (flowering onion) leaves were bleached and withered, but the flower heads seem fine.

It took several careful hours of trimming or cutting back to the ground — time that I frankly didn’t have to spare. And we received more heavy rains, which may help dilute the acidity and resolve the issue. Time will tell what survives. I’ll report back.

It can be hard to avoid, but be careful of sour mulch, and also mulch that is too hot from the pile. Sour mulch results from using supplies that have been stacked too high and not able to “breathe” properly, leading to issues such as high acidity, which are then released to the tender nearby plans.

Fortunately, some parts of the garden didn’t fare as poorly and we’ll keep fingers crossed that they stay strong. Below are a few of the latest photos. Bees are having a field day! And for the first time here, I’ve seen a hummingbird enjoying the nepeta (catmint). It seems to have taken up residence. I’ll take that any day of the week.