It's cold and wet as I watch Patches The Cat amble to the nook between the branches of a leafless hydrangea and a short wooden wall that keeps an aggressive English ivy bed contained to its designated home. This is where she likes to stakeout the front bird feeder lying on a bed of decaying elm leaves.
Even though a blast of chilly March air rattles the hydrangea and ruffles the fur of the cat, she doesn't seem to mind. The local bird population appears to have grown with the slowly warming weather giving her more sightseeing opportunities. She's like a kid in a candy store, oblivious to everything except the feathery treats in front of her.
The sense that spring is near is also affecting me. As I scan the backyard from our enclosed porch, I mentally record the "housekeeping" that needs to be done:
Pruning. Picking up dead limbs that have fallen out of the trees over the winter. Edging our various flowerbeds. Cleaning those beds of the remnants of the past few months. Pressure-washing the deck. Cleaning the small water feature by our back fence.
And of course, mulch. I have to mulch.
My wife thinks I'm addicted to it since I buy so much every year, but I think it is more basic than that. It is something very primal like creating fire or drinking a beer when barbequing over that fire.
I think of it as The Call of the Mulch. I love the earthy smell when it is newly spread and the way it can instantly transform a planting bed from winter-beaten to spring-fresh.
Lots of things can be used as mulch. From pea gravel to lava rock to shredded hardwood bark. I prefer the latter. Some people like to use decorative rock for mulch, but I don't. With the exception of some conifers and other plants that like their environment a bit on the warm and arid side, I think most of the plants in my yard prefer the organic decay that comes with using shredded bark.
In addition, most of our flowerbeds aren't geometrical. We don't have a lot of straight lines. Instead we have mostly curvy beds whose edges vary from year to year often getting larger to accommodate a desirable creeper like lamb's ear or a tree whose girth has grown.
But using hardwood mulch means I have to replenish it almost annually. I don't have to use as much as I do the first time I mulch a bed, but I do have to put enough down to discourage any weeds and to retain moisture for the plants to use during dry-spells.
My wife didn't quite understand why I used so much when I first started mulching. I think she believed a truckload could cover the approximately 30 areas where I use mulch. If you can't see the dirt then it must be thick enough, right? Wrong. I usually dress the beds in our yard with at least two or three inches of mulch.
In years past I've always gotten my mulch one scoop at a time, hauling it home in the back of my short-bed pickup. I would clean out a bed or two then get a scoop of mulch. Unfortunately that method would drag on for weeks. I was often mulching into early June.
However, this year I'm considering having all of my mulch delivered at one time. Based on previous years, I will probably need about twelve scoops. I know there will be a fee for the service, but that would be a dozen trips in my truck that I wouldn't have to make.
If I get the beds cleaned out in advance, I believe I could get all of them mulched in a day. It just needs to warm up a bit more and quit raining so I can answer The Call.