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Forget stones, stick to organic mulches

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This is the mulching time of year, be it topping up your permanent mulch, or preparing to apply a winter mulch.

If this is your first foray into mulches, skip the stone mulch. Popular as they are, the stone mulch is an imported style that doesn’t quite transfer to the prairies. Certainly we can duplicate the look — it’s the maintenance factor that falls short.

The use of stone mulches originated in the southern U.S., in dry arid areas, as a result of strict lawn watering restrictions. If you can’t water your lawn in the desert, the grass transitions from green to perpetual brown. If it’s going to be brown anyway, why not switch it out with stones?

Vary the sizes and colours, add some drought-loving succulents, and you’ve got a lovely, climatically appropriate alternative to the lawn. Brilliant solution! No more water, money, or time wasted on maintaining the lawn. In fact, not much maintenance required at all.

Move that solution to the heart of the prairies — one of the most fertile places on the planet — and you’ve got a recipe for screaming high maintenance.

We live in an organic mecca — sun, moisture, soil, and a multitude of plants generating organic debris. You can put down whatever mulch you want here. Makes no difference to our freewheeling organics. The wind blows them everywhere, and they get into everything, including the spaces between stones in stone mulches.

Give it three or four years, add some weed seeds to the mix, and suddenly there’s exactly the right conditions for seed germination. At this point, the landscape fabric that is usually installed between the soil and the stones is of no help. The weeds are germinating on top of the fabric.

In an organic mulch, the weeds have no guts. Give them a nudge or tug and they practically topple over if they’re sprouting up, or pull back the mulch and dig them out if they’ve grown big. Those same weeds in a stone mulch wrap their roots around every rock they encounter. Give them a pull, and they’ll snap off at their base, which basically means "I’ll be right back." Pull the stone mulch away so you can dig the weed out? Not going to happen unless the mulch is very fine. It will be time-consuming.

For our climate, stick with an organic mulch.

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