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Grass clippings, newsprint become mulch in his lawn

May 22, 1998

ShawGrass clippings, newsprint become mulch in his lawn

I turned over an old leaf this spring, literally. It's called mulch.

Mulching is something I avoided for years. It seemed like a lot of work.

After digging holes and planting trees and then watering them, I wanted to take a break, not worry about something more.

But I kept hearing how important mulch is for plants. It keeps water from evaporating; it keeps the soil cool in summer and warm in winter; it enriches the soil; it keeps the weeds down.

Last year I vowed to start mulching. But then I heard horror stories about how some mulch is made from disappearing redwood trees in the West, or pine forests in the South. So that was my excuse to put it off again.

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But no longer. It's easy enough to ask a seller where his mulch comes from. And most mulch sold around here is made around here, out of yard and garden waste. So ecologically it's a good thing.

To be absolutely sure, I checked out the mulch made at Washington County's rubble landfill. Recycling coordinator Harvey Hoch gave me a tour of the operation. On one side are mountains of brush and yard waste brought in by county residents and from Hagerstown's yard waste pickups. On the other side are mountains of mulch and compost. In between is a huge machine with enormous teeth called "The Beast," which chops and shreds the first piles and turns them into the second piles.

Not only do I know where this mulch comes from, I also can think about how it's keeping yard waste out of the old landfill, where it used to make up 15 percent of the volume. So it's a win-win-win situation. The only problem is that it's so successful that the county has run out of mulch. There's still compost, but I don't need that. I get plenty of it courtesy of my pig, Petunia.

That got me thinking ... if I could make my own compost, why couldn't I make my own mulch? I called Sandy Scott at Washington County Cooperative Extension Service, who told me I could get a wood chipper to chop up my woody yard waste into mulch.

But I objected because that would involve another machine, which would require maintenance and burn gasoline, producing pollution. I feel guilty enough about my lawn mower.

Well, she said, as long as I have a lawn mower, I already have mulch in the form of grass clippings. Used correctly, they can be very effective.

The trick is this: if they're still green, they must be piled no more than one inch thick. If they've dried out, two inches thick. Unlike wood chips, they don't have to be replaced every year, and they'll degrade into the soil and help the plants that way, too. Also, like any mulch, they must not touch the stem of the plant.

So I've tried grass, and another homegrown mulch, too - newspapers. A news clipping, which is now mulch, said to use soggy wet newsprint 10 pages thick around my plants. This, too, seems an ecologically friendly, though somewhat unsightly, mulch.

So I've done it, I've mulched, and at season's end I'll see how my old leaf has turned over, or out.

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at P.O. Box 276, Clear Spring, Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

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