Mulch for your garden

Basic recipe; Lift and separate; Turn up the heat; A year or so

Kelly Heidbreder
Kelly Heidbreder

Mother’s Day is Sunday and it probably doesn’t surprise you that my favorite gift is a big load of compost and mulch. It always includes the labor to put it on each of my garden beds. Nothing spruces up the spring garden and wakes up your perennials like a fresh layer of mulch and the punch of gourmet food.

“Good compost should be dark black and very fine. You shouldn’t have big clumps in it. If it isn’t dark black, it hasn’t finished decomposing.” That is according to Michael Kott. He and his twin brother, Greg, own Clean Wood Recycling and have been creating black gold for the garden for more than 20 years. “We also supply all of the mulch and compost for all of the gardens around Lucas County for Toledo Grows.” Good compost is just like gourmet food for your garden and you can start making it in our own back yard.

Basic recipe

While you are getting into the habit of mowing the lawn, save some of the lawn clippings because Mr. Kott says grass is a key ingredient for rich compost. “Your yard debris will be a big portion of your back yard compost pile. But if you get too much nitrogen from the grass, it can cause your compost pile to have a very strong odor.”

Another key ingredient is brown material such as leaves. “Carbon-based materials like leaves will take away the odor from the decomposing grass. It will neutralize the heavy nitrogen,” he said. “The best compost contains 60 percent leaves and carbon material and 40 percent everything else.”

Most of that 40 percent will be grass clippings and other garden debris such as weeds and other nitrogen sources. You can also add some elements to get the process moving along. Add a scoop of top soil and a healthy sprinkle of slow release fertilizer to jazz it up a bit.

Lift and separate

Your leaves and grass will just sit there in a lump until you activate it. Mr. Kott said you need to stir it around and give it some air. It also needs some moisture. “If it doesn’t have air or moisture, nothing happens. If your compost pile is dry and dusty, then it isn’t working properly.” He recommends stirring the pile after you sprinkle it with some water. “The air and water are essential to get the microbial action you will need to get the elements in the pile to decompose.”

Turn up the heat

As your compost pile starts to decompose, it will heat up in the center. You can even see steam coming from the pile as it does its work. This helps kill any weed seeds “At its peak performance, the pile is heating up to about 160 degrees,” Mr. Kott says. “That is what kills the weed seeds and it will also burn off any chemicals that may have been applied to the grass that is in the pile.”

A year or so

Making compost takes over a year to completely decompose. “If you start your compost pile this fall, it will be ready in the spring of 2016. It takes over a year, but it is worth the wait,” Mr. Kott says. Turn the pile before it freezes in the late fall, then turn it again once it thaws in the spring. “Then it needs to be turned every couple of weeks after it thaws, and don’t forget to give it a little moisture,” Mr. Kott says. “Your patience will pay off once you see your plants really burst out of the ground.”

If you don’t have the time to wait for good compost or mulch, you can find it at one of the three Clean Wood Recycling locations around Lucas County in Toledo and Waterville. I am sure it will be on my wish list for Mother’s Day next year too.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at