Mulching Strategies

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Mulching is the practice of placing dead plant material on the surface of soil to achieve a mix of effects: 1) suppression of unwanted vegetation, 2) reduction of evapotranspiration, 3) import of nutrients, 4) reduction of erosion, and creation of a permeable soil surface. The timing, material, depth, organization and application methods vary depending on the situation, available resources and equipment, and desired results.

Windrow Mulching

This picture shows a windrow mulching in a lowland orchard grass and bentgrass pasture on a Giles Silt Loam soil in august following a may mowing with a scythe

This strategy attempts to use the natural productivity of a field to produce a deep mulch within a strip, to support conversion from pasture to woody vegetation. The pasture is mown and material is gathered in a strip, either with a scythe, or mowing and windrowing equipment. A spring cutting and windrowing may produce a strip of dead pasture where planting is easier, the following season the process is repeated to provide a summer mulch for the new planting.

A windrow mulching system could begin with a cover crop such as winter rye, planted densely in early fall, following summer fallow tillage to control competing vegetation. The winter rye rapidly establishes a monospecific stand, and produces biomass by early summer, when it is mowed and windrowed to produce woody planting strips in the following winter.

Wood Chips

  • Also called Ramial Chips, when provided by tree services.
  • Competition for chips has increased over the last two decades.

Spoiled Straw/Hay

  • Horse barns and dairies may have hay that has molded, and is not fit for consumptions.
  • After Thanksgiving holidays, many supermarkets have displays that include bales of hay that are saturated and need to be disposed of.

Chop and Drop

  • Growing material on site purely for the purpose of turning it into mulch.

"Cut and Carry"

  • Areas within or near a site can be cultivated for production of mulch, that is then carried or transported to a planting strip.

Slash Piles

  • Woody debris or logging slash can be loosely piled to create areas resistant to ungulate browse.
  • Mulch suspended on much slash can supress weeds by increasing the effective "depth" of the mulch, requiring more growth to reach light.