Category Archives: Mulch

Garden Cleanup

March in St. Louis is a good time to start to cleanup your gardens. It’s warm enough to work outside and most of the plants are just starting to bud out.

The first thing to do is bring your arsenal of weapons. I use lopers, hand pruners, lawn trimmer, rake, a leaf blower, hedge trimmer and even a sawzall for larger branches. Make sure you sharpen your tools before using them. I use twine to bind the larger pieces and paper recycling bags for the small stuff.

Hopefully, you will know the difference between your annuals and perennials. In general, I prefer to cut both groups off near the base and leave the roots in the soil to decay. For shallow rooted annuals, it may be easier to just pull them out of the ground.

Clean from the outside in. You want to stay off the soil as much as possible so that you don’t trample plants and compact the soil.

This is 1 of 3

I cut off most plants as close to the soil as possible.

You may notice that I use concrete blocks to define my garden. I find that it has a few advantages. It helps to define the garden and slows down the bermuda grass invasion. It also catches seeds and provides a lot of new plants in the spring.

Some plants require a bit more finesse. Each plant is a bit different and you will need to know its growing habit.

  • Buddleia – I cut to 9″ above the ground
  • Hydrangea paniculata – just trim off 6″ of the top growth. I am going for a eight foot hedge.
  • Roses (Knock Out) – I cut back to 18″
  • Trees – yes I even cut back one tree, hackberry, to a six foot height.
  • Viburnum – cut back to keep its size in check.

I do add a layer of compost/mulch after everything is cleaned up. It not only makes things look good, but also feeds the soil. I don’t use any fertilizer. In St. Louis I like the Black Forest mulch which is fine aged mulch mixed with compost.

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Filed under Compost, Misc, Mulch, No Dig

Mulch/Compost 2017

mulch-2017 -600

I bought four cubic yards of Black Forest mulch from St. Louis Composting for a total delivered price of $155. It’s a combination of fine wood mulch and compost. It’s a very nice mix that looks great. It’s easy to spread, but took a week for me to put it all down. I really could have used five yards.

Unfortunately, the mixture was still very hot and burned the lawn in the center. I’m hoping that the grass will come back. Next year pay Linda to spread the compost when she cleans the garden.


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Saint Louis Composting Visit


I visited Saint Louis Composting with my Meramec Grounds Management Class.  Roy was our leader. Roy Gross at or 314-581-6372

Here are my notes

Composting is done mainly in Belleville’s unit.

Takes 180 days to make mulch from bags to finished product.

Black Gold is all compost – includes food products. I could use this for mulch.

From bags to compost, it loses  2/3 of it’s volume.

They turn it every ten days

Leaf mulch are just chopped up leaves – use for perennials – not composted.

Black Forest – mulch and compost – what I like for a mulch.

Colorized mulch is their biggest seller for commercial sites

Forest fines – double ground mulch with compost added.

Mo Bot Garden Compost is Black Gold compost – note the bagged product is much more expensive than the bulk.

Soil dome – dry soil plus Black Gold- 6% compost

Compost can combust.

They get material from all over STL. 5 areas
Belleville is 5 times larger 110 acres

Dyed mulch …..
Mulch is made of ground up logs
Dye is the same toxicity as table sugar and is environmentally safe
The advantage is that the color lasts for a longer time
Color is safe.
It’s probably the biggest volume of material they make
Don’t spread 48 hours before a rain or it may bleed,

Compost weighs 1150 pounds per square yard
Dye they use is Colorbiotics.

Rain Garden mix – Very sandy..60% or greater sand – Less than 10% clay

Green rooftop mix…
Has hatite (not sure on spelling) light weigh aggregate + sand + compost
Hatite is a rock which is heated and expanded and has a lot of micro pore space.

IDEA …..could I use hatite instead of charcoal?

There is no soil in this product
Has high porosity
Mercy hospital has a huge courtyard in between the buildings which has this material. They may call it their healing or meditation garden.

They do a lot of growing mixes.

They make the mix for Missouri Wildflowers

They also take in food waste from grocery stores restaurants and produce row
Get 550 tons per week that they add to the compost.
Started 4 years ago.
Brought up to 155-160 degrees
He says this is just a small amount of what is generated. He estimates this is less than 1% of the actual waste.
USDA says we waste 30-40% of the food produced.
They don’t take meat – only vegetables and a little dairy plus bread products

Problem with dog waste in plastic bags that people put in yard waste. Plastic doesn’t decompose!

They water their compost to help the process.
Turn the rows every ten days

Top dressing a lawn
Core aerate seed etc. Then spread compost over the top.

In St. Louis, these companies do this.

Shady Creek Nursery – Fred Stumpf

West County Gardens – Midland and Lindbergh

You can use Black Gold – It’s a little larger in size.
Let it set for a week and then use a mulching mower to go over it.

They have a machine to do this for large lawns

They make a finer compost than the black gold.
It’s the same only smaller size particles.
It’s called Field and Turf Enhancer.
Roy has a guy who applies this …maybe I can get his name
Try this next year.
Synthetic Fertilizer are basically salts and if you keep adding salts to the soil,you’re beginning to kill off the microbial action.

Study at Harvard – added compost to lawn?
When you get the organic matter in the 5-10% range,then the microbes will take nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil. This is the same as adding 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

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Free Leaf Mulch


If you’d like to save a few dollars on mulch, you can bag your own over by 8015 Dale Ave – 63117. It’s a self-serve facility that has old ground up leaves that should work well for most people. They won’t look quite as nice as the picture above, but will save you quite a bit of money. If you can get a friend with a pickup truck the job will be much easier. I’ve been told you don’t need to be a resident – it’s open to anyone.

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Soil-Compost-Fertilizer in the Garden

Today I attend a program done by three experts in the St. Louis gardening community. Below are my notes from their presentations.

Paul Roberts – teacher at Meramec

Does not use fertilizer on the beds at Meramec CC.
(Note – these are not brand new beds, but ones that have been tended for 25 years. I’m sure your new garden soil is not as good.)

Earthworms are good. He even likes moles as they aerate the soil.

Uses tree chips from aroborists every two years as a mulch.

He does not incorporate organic matter into the soil.

He tells of one instance when a person actually had too much organic matter in the soil – 20%.

Recommends chicken manure as a fertilizer if you need fertilizer. Available at Hummerts.

Roy Gross – St. Louis Composting

A lot of soil in the St. Louis area is 1% to 2 % organic matter.

Build organic matter to 5% .

In general, he doesn’t like tilling except in some very new gardens with poor soil.

If your grass needs help in the fall – first aerate – then add 1/2″ Black Gold mulch.

Rain gardens are 30″ deep.

Pat Bellrose – Fahr Greenhouses

Compost is supposed to be turned every 5 to 7 days. If you do that it won’t smell. (My back hurts just thinking about that.)

PH – acidity

Compost has a PH of 9.
STL County water has a PH of 9.5
Most plants like a PH of 6.5 to 7.
My Conclusion – check you soil PH – every year.

Leaf Mold is not true compost.

Pine Bark has a PH of 4.5 to 5

You can use Iron sulfate to change PH quickly to more acid soil.

He uses a soil mix of 2 parts compost, 2 parts pine bark fines, 1 part rice hulls and 4 pounds iron sulfate and 5 pounds gypsum/yard. for his new plants in the greenhouse. No Peat Moss. Plants seed to like it even though the scientific analysis says it shouldn’t be that good.
This is available at St.Louis Composting – SLC-Pro Mix One
You have to buy it in bulk, but could bring in 5 gallon buckets.

He uses a water soluble fertilizer – 200 parts per million.
Note – that’s equal to .0002

Sand is for concrete – not soils.

Turface is Good

Cation Exchange Capacity –

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Mulching Notes

2015 – I used 5 cubic yards of compost, Black Gold. When they dumped this, it covered an area 15 feet wide and 12 feet long. It was supposed to be screened to 3/8 inch, but I had some very large chunks in the mix.- I could have used at least 6 yards. I would wait until later in the year – say June 1 so that seedlings have time to emerge. I’d suggest going back to Black Forest Mulch in 2016. Note – October 19, 2015 – everything in the garden did VERY well and I did not fertilize anything in the garden.


This year (April 7 -2012) I decided to use a product called “Black Forest Mulch” to cover my many gardens.

It’s a mixture of finely ground wood mulch and “Black Gold” compost. It’s got a coffee grounds appearance, looks great and doesn’t smell as bad as some mulches. I bought it from St. Louis Composting.

This year I used 4.5 cubic yards of mulch and could have used five. (This equals 122 cu. feet.) Our small truck which we borrowed from a friend holds 1.5 cubic yards per load, so it took us three trips to get it all.

At $21/cu. yard the cost of the mulch with tax was $102.00 Note – it is now $22.00. If you compare that to buying it by the bag the savings are fantastic. At one garden center, 1.5 cu. ft sells for $5/bag. It would have taken me 80 bags to get all the mulch I needed at a cost of around $440 and 5 trips to the garden center. A standard full-size pickup will easily take two cu. yards or three yards if it is mounded up.I may consider having the mulch delivered to the house next year depending on the delivery cost. It costs $60 for delivery.

Before I put on my mulch , I spread out my charcoal and fertilizer mixture, so the mulch went over that.

The take-away is do your research and find out where your local composting service is in your area.

Mulch Option #2


If you find a sale, you can buy mulch at a reasonable price at some big-box stores.  At a cost of $1/cu foot, it would cost $122 + taxes. This is what we tried in a new kids garden area.

At, oak bark mulch cost $26/cu. yard. This would equal a cost of $117 plus taxes.

If you’re just looking for plain mulch the on sale mulch might work for you.


2013 – July 20 – 3 cu yards Black Forest Mulch.

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Buying Compost and Mulch – Options

I’m working with a couple of schools and they are asking about buying compost and mulch and how much to buy. Here’s what I figured out.

A cubic yard = 27 cu. ft. (3 x 3 x 3)

A 10′ x’ 10′ garden (100 sq ft.) if you cover it 1/4′ high (3 inches) = 25 cu ft. (approximately equal to a cu. foot.)

So for 100 sq. ft. you would need a minimum of 1 cubic yard of compost and mulch for a 3 inch coverage.

St. Louis Composting has a nice calculator which allows you to put in your dimensions and it will show you the cubic yards you need to buy. (click here)

Another option I suggested with one school is to put 6″ to 9″ of Super Soil down over the existing soil after killing the grass and weeds. I have tried this on one part of my garden and it worked great.


As you see below, if you only need a small amount of mulch or compost, the best deal is Home Depot, but it you need five or more cubic yards, it would be better to have St. Louis Composting deliver the mulch to your location. Of course you need to figure in your time and car expense to drive to Home Depot and pickup the mulch.

$ for 27 sq. ft. Delivery Cost Total Cost
Home Depot $32 $00 $32
St. Louis Composting $18 $66 $84

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Filed under Butterfly Gardening, Mulch, soil

Planting in Mulch – a Test

I did something this week that I’ve never done before as a gardener. I started a butterfly garden and planted all my plants in 9″ of mulch. Now this is not something that I’d recommend or normally even try, but the “maintenance” people had dumped a whole pile of mulch in this one area, the previous fall. Even though we tried to move some of it, it was just too much of a job for the time we had. I loosened up the mulch  so my little helpers, 15 Brownies, could plant and then we just made a hole in the mulch, put in our plant and filled in with Miracle Potting Soil. We top-dressed the entire area with the remaining soil.

I’ll report in the fall how well this method works.

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Mulch and Soil by the Cubic Yard

StlCompost-800If you want to either start a new garden or enhance the one you have, you’ll usually end up buying bags of dirt, compost and mulch at your local big box store. I’ve got another option – at least for my St. Louis friends.

St. Louis Compost has a gigantic composting facility which has five types of compost , five types of soil, and 11 types of mulch. From my calculations, the prices are 50% of what you’d pay at the big box store, but you do need a truck or trailer to actually pick up the materials.

They can deliver for approximately $50.

My favorite mulch is the Black Forest. It is very fine and melts into the soil. By the bag, they sell it for $3 for 2 cubic ft. The big box stores only give you 1.5 cu ft for the same price.


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Filed under Fertilizer, Mulch, soil