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« Japanese gardens anyone? | Main | The podcast of Linda Chalker-Scott - and why garden writers should consult with garden professors »

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I like the fence. It looks as though the design allows a bit of air flow while screening the sitting area. What fun to meet 'The Professor' in person. I have long admired her books and writings.

What a treat. 'The Professor', her garden AND the Cafe Flora. I hope the myth of the dangers of woodchips is dying.

I think the question of wood chips/no wood chips depends on where you are and what you plant. Here in Colorado, local horticulturists recommend against wood mulch because the kind of xeric plants you plant here -- dryland plants that thrive in soil with low organic matter, like penstemons -- are not going to appreciate being smothered in a heavy mulch.

I use pea gravel.

I agree with Astra. Here in New Orleans, I found out we shouldn't use wood chips due to Formosan termites. (One drip of water an hour is enough for a nest off ground; a heap of wood chips is a feed pile.) Pine straw seems to limit their ability to colonize in it, and helps just a tiny bit with the alkalinity here.

As Naomi said, the termites tend to be the bigger culprit. Not the nitrogen.

I don't think the concern about wood chips is that they leach nitrogen (that might be considered a good thing!) but that the microorganisms that decompose them use nitrogen in the soil so it is not available to the plants.

Here is the definitions of leach:
Make (a soluble chemical or mineral) drain away from soil, ash, or similar material by the action of percolating liquid, esp. rainwater.

Here is an example of leaching: some herbicides and pesticides are leached into the groundwater.

One consideration is that hort advice that works for one part of the country, may be exactly wrong for another part. Laine and Naomi and Astra's points all bear that out. Here in the wet climate/clay soil southeast, I've seen mulches of fresh woodchips turn a hedge of healthy hollies yellow in a matter of months from tying up nitrogen in the soil (As Laine says, it's not an issue of leaching N).

I've worked with scientists: chemists, marine biologists and archeologists. What they all made a point of sharing was that even the best experiments leave big gaps in our knowledge base.

As for the the practice of using wood chips to suppress most weeds, I can see that working in climates like the PNW (which is similar to the British Isles--that's the only part of the country where most English gardening books can be used faithfully). The four times I've been in the PNW with other gardeners we marveled at the wimpiness of the local weeds. Here in the southeast, wood chips will work for suppressing whichever annual weed seeds were covered up and some of the perennial weeds. It also makes a good seed bed for the next generation of annual seeds that land on it and it doesn't suppress perennial weeds like bermuda grass or japanese honeysuckle, no matter how thick you put it down.

Bottom line is that wood chips are a cost-effective mulch material, but there is no silver bullet for weeds. And while the extension does have valuable information that I wish other garden "experts" would avail themselves of, it's also true that the history of science shows a not infrequent dismantling of things scientists all once knew to be true. Viva la scientific method. :-)

BTW, that is a nice looking garden.

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