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By Darrah Cole & Anthony Ruggiero

Over the years the Greenway Conservancy has worked to refine, simplify, and improve our organic, sustainable care across the 17 acres of The Greenway. Starting in 2010, we began mulching all of our garden beds with a generous covering of a compost-enriched, aged bark mulch after our regular spring cleaning. This provides excellent moisture retention and weed suppression, while breaking down slowly to add much needed organic matter to our soils.mulch 3

Throughout the 10 years of the Conservancy’s care and management of The Greenway, we have adjusted our strategy to leave most perennial plant material (liked dried grasses and flower stalks) up, and leaves in place over the winter. In the spring, perennials are cut back, beds are lightly cleaned, and our usual bark/compost mulch blend is applied. Choosing to “leave the leaves” in place over the winter season accomplishes a few things for The Greenway:

  • Allows for natural decomposition to take place, recharging the soil and providing a food source for soil-borne microorganisms.
  • Provides habitat to sustain overwintering beneficial insects and pollinators.
  • Reduces labor hours by lessening the volume of material that is removed from our beds each year.

mulch 4In 2016, the Conservancy started exploring leaf mulch, also called leaf mold, as an alternative. This is a product made locally by grinding up leaf debris collected from fall cleanups and composting them for one winter season. By mid to late spring it is ideally a fluffy, partially decomposed, chocolatey brown, fine-textured mulch alive and active with aerobic bacteria, fungi, and other organisms.

Using leaf mulch more closely mimics the natural cycles that occur in untended forest and grassland ecosystems wherein each year, leaves fall off trees and plant material dies, accumulating on the ground. This natural accumulation is a much different material than the mostly woody product which many landscape mulches are comprised of.  Debris that accumulates on the ground is broken down by various micro and macro organisms, supporting a healthy soil life.As these soil microorganisms further break down the organic matter they also feed off each other, providing nutrients and helping to create healthy growing conditions for plants. This natural soil cycle is called the Soil Food Web and our use of leaf mulch on The Greenway is aimed at enhancing this process in our garden beds. Many of the Conservancy’s organic practices are built around the Soil Food Web, and the encouragement of healthy, vital, and active soil biology.

mulch 5We have expanded our original leaf mulch trials to include the areas along The Greenway’s Pollinator Ribbon and sections planted with North Eastern American native plants that generally have a more relaxed design. As we do with all of our management practices at the Greenway Conservancy, we will continue to reassess, research, experiment, and adapt them as the needs of the park change over time.