Totally Silly?



Like most of humanity, I am a largely inexplicable and highly individual mixture of profligacy and frugality.  I think I should only wear the nicest Italian shoes, which are no longer affordable for the middle class.  So I wait like a cat in the bushes watching a bird, until they are discounted to the point that they are at least reachable.  Kinda profligate, I know, though the  shoes do tend to last 10 years and look extremely pretty all the way.  What it is that I am totally cheap about?  Mulch. God makes it, in the form of fall leaves and grass clippings.  And I DO NOT think I should pay much for it when it surrounds me everywhere.

Here’s another confession: I don’t always recycle my yogurt containers.  The individual packaging is wasteful to begin with, and then sometimes I don’t feel like washing them out and just throw them in the trash.  On the other hand, there is one ecologically perverse form of commerce that drives me completely crazy: Bagged mulch trucked into the Lowe’s and Home Depot of my tree-lined city from God knows where. This makes zero sense to me when taking down struggling sugar maples and spruces that have outgrown their yards keeps numerous small business owners, the power company, and the city busy for much of the year.  There is a nice tree guy in town who will deliver ten yards of chipped trees for $70.  Ten yards is an intimidating mountain.

My problem, however, is that I don’t have a parking space for that mountain of sweet-smelling spruce and maple. I’ve worn out the patience of my neighbors, too, by suggesting that we “share” a pile dumped in their yard that I don’t get around to moving for a year or so.  Of course, fall represents a bounty of unearned riches, as my neighbors assiduously rake the fall leaves OUT of their flower beds and place them in neat paper sacks, which I then collect in my wheel barrow and dump ON my, not coincidentally, much more vigorous and healthy flower beds.

Last fall, however, I was distracted and only managed to collect a dozen bags, when I probably needed 40.  What to do?  Well, I just noticed sacks of shredded paper at my new office.  Free carbon!  Looks like mulch, albeit BRITE WHITE mulch. Research suggests that the inks will cause no one to expire, especially not on the flower beds.  So I’ve been loading up my car with them–now not just the town eccentric, but the office eccentric, too–and spreading them around.

It’s quite a striking look.  The only challenge is keeping the shredded streamers off the perennials, where they hang around and blow in the breeze, like the dissipated aftermath of one very peculiar party.



  1. Oh, I do it too. I do find if I do it a bit thickly it can mat down and if rained upon forma barrier, which is more weed-proof, but of which I worry may also prevent oxygen flow in the soil.

  2. Convince your office that they need one of the new shredders that shred both ways, so the paper is nice and crumbly, not streamers. Don’t they know from Argo that the streamers can be reconstructed?

    I use the shredded paper in my compost container, it loosens it up beautifully.

    How do you prevent the leaves from blowing back onto the neighbours yard? I collect them all too, but I’m not going to shred them all with my lawnmower.

  3. The world needs more eccentric people. I gather the leaves, half-assedly try to shred them and leave them in great piles atop my veggie beds and between my trees. In order to prevent them from becoming airborne and annoying the neighbors, I put some chicken wire and big pieces of concrete from an old sidewalk (see wife, I told you we needed to keep those and that they’d come in handy) to weigh them down. Come Spring the soil is awesome.

    • Great going….anything goes, so long as it makes sense to you.
      I am doing my saving by making note pads for grocery lists out of all the envelopes I get in the mail: the back are always white and clean…it relaxes to sit there and cut out tidy strips of old envelope (with an old letter opener) & staple a few together…instant tiny notepads…at no cost to anyone!
      Yes, it’sbecome an obsession….hate to waste all that white paper…the mulch idea is also good!

  4. When I first saw your photo, I thought you’d discovered a really great white-flowered ground cover 🙂

    How do you keep the wind from blowing shreds everywhere?

  5. Oh, I’d be much more reassured if I saw the research pointing to the harmlessness of the ink micro-particles.

  6. Well that bright white, probably won’t stay bright white for long, given rain & sun. I’m also the neighbor who collects others’ leaves for my plants. They think I’m crazy each Fall & probably right up to the moment I hand them a jar of blueberry jam or tomato preserves or green salsa.

    Just before Easter each year, the upper grades @ my son’s school put together path of ‘drawings’ made with dyed sawdust (similar to mandalas or Native American sand drawing but lots of them in a chain). When I realized the teacher in charge of the Alfombras project intended to throw out all the material afterwards, I asked her instead to have the students put it in an ornamental natives garden in the schoolyard. The result was stunning! Even now, after rain & the brutal Western sun, the mulch is still colorful. Very little watering is needed, and no weeds!

  7. I think one of the reasons some people prefer the bagged mulch from stores is that it is composted & supposedly sterilized so that it doesn’t contain weed seeds and won’t attract termites. As opposed to fresh wood chips, which will attract termites, so it shouldn’t be used near a house, deck, garden structure, fence, etc. The fresh wood chips also aren’t great for kids because of the splinters.

    • Blair please don’t spread misinformation about fresh wood chips. Termites tunnel into lumber. They sort of need the tunnels for darkness and protection. Mulch is not up to the task of tunnel making. A termite cannot tunnel into a wood chip and a termite certainly cannot tell the difference between a slightly aged store bought chip of wood and a fresh one from a tree trimmer.

      Splinters? Good grief. Keep your kids out of the flower beds and teach them to walk upright. I suppose store bought wood mulch is guaranteed splinter free. Good grief.

        • Well Blair you will certainly think twice now before spouting off incorrect information, won’t you, so mission accomplished. And if I really was being incredibly insulting and mean I would have attacked you personally not the old wife’s tale your peddling.

          • Christopher, most of your comments are well-informed and kind. But your comment about the splinters and Blair’s kids was a little below the belt, and a personal attack. Sometimes it’s not as important what you say, as how you say it.

            Have to wonder why you want kids to stay out of the flower beds, anyway….

  8. At one of my community garden plots, I’ve started doing more chop-and-drop. I generally compost fruit & veg trimmings but use ornamental and herb trimmings as mulch. Yarrow stems, comfrey, borage, nettles and violas have all gotten chopped and spread around the vegetables. I don’t mind if violas, nettles, and borage germinate all over the place — they’re easy to pull out. Next time the lavender gets trimmed, that’s going to be used for mulch, too.

  9. I have a friend deliver 15+ cu yards of shredded trees in the Spring. Dumps it in my driveway. When he knows I need it, he makes sure the chipper is sharp, and waits until he gets a load of “nice” chips. Some of my neighbors rake their leaves into an old sheet in the Fall and dump in my yard. I grind them up somewhat with my lawn mower and pile them into beds, or just in the back yard where they get mixed with grass clippings from other neighbors in the Spring who won’t stop bagging their clippings. They are happy to donate as they all love seeing my flowers.

  10. If you have a coffee roaster in town, they probably bag up their coffee chaff that blows off the beans when they are roasted. I get a pickup truck load every few months (but the bags will fit cleanly into vans, suv’s, etc.) and spread the chaff in the vegetable garden and some flower beds. The stuff has a lot of selling points: 1) free, 2) light weight, 3) totally organic, 4) weed free, 5) can be used as ‘brown’ component in composting, 6) safe to use as bedding for chickens, 7) tills in easily, 8) nice golden brown color and did I mention that it’s light weight and free?

    • That’s a great idea. I’m calling the local roaster right away. We are a commercial grower and we’re always looking for inexpensive non-chemical means of weed control in our plants. Cocoa shells and buckwheat hulls work well, but cheaper would be even better.

  11. Oh! I have been a closet shred user for so long! It’s so good to have a support group! If you sprinkle grass clippings over them, they are camouflaged, they stay down and people don’t look at you funny. 😉

  12. I don’t trust the shiny paper (like most magazine covers). But normal newspaper-type paper (remember newspapers?) I shred and add to my compost pile. I also wad up used tissue and paper towels and toss them in a separate bin (not bathroom tissue; eww). When I clear off a compost pile I throw this accumulated carbon on the bottom and start adding kitchen waste and what not above this over the next few months. I am a little leery of using shredded trees for mulch these days – I never know where they’ve been (or what herbicides and such they may have picked up).

  13. Hmm, mulch. I have been using my (cross-cut) shred to build up beds with my composted leaves.

    I had a big foundation hole in my yard where a 5-bay garage was torn down. The landscaper quoted me $4K to fill and seed it, with a few rhododendrons and other shrubs. I’m sure it would have been beautiful, but I didn’t have $4K.

    I got the local guys to dump all their leaves into it. They were thrilled not to have to haul them and pay to dump them. I waited a mere 2-3 years, and now I had the richest soil EVER, except for the oak leaves, which look like they just fell there. I’ve been planting in it for about 2 years now, and the plants thrive and spread and bloom. It’s huge, so I have been at a loss as to how to mulch it. Of course the weeds have now discovered it too – sumac, ajuga (which I love, but don’t really want to carpet the entire garden with it), milkweed, and some other determined spreaders. Bittersweet just getting started. Maybe I’ll get those guys to dump more leaves in the fall.

  14. I love the motivation here, but aren’t the bleaches in such white paper not-great for soil microbes? I know it varies widely on the type of bleach used- some promote dioxin levels, but others are not bad. Worth researching. As I understand it, brown paper (like grocery bags and untreated butcher paper) should be fine.

  15. It is a great idea to share a truckload of delivered bulk supplies with neighbors, but of course your neighbors won’t always need mulch. I applaud your creativity with the office paper – but isn’t the aesthetic rather strange? I almost thought you were a bit tongue-in-cheek with this confession 🙂
    Many things can be used for mulch, to be sure. Our company delivers to customers’ houses but we also let people just pick up however much mulch (ha) they will be needing – so they don’t have to go buy bags from the store (which are convenient but overpriced in comparison).

  16. Funny how mulch is hotly contested in some quarters. I agree with Twin ^ here, brown paper sorta takes away from a lawns aesthetic don’t it 😉

  17. I like to use the single ground mulch myself just to avoid the splinters. I was using the double ground but it was ground so fine it seemed like I would have it all over me by the time I got done installing it.

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