|Mulch in Roger and Della's landscape.|
I witnessed an amazing process of mulch application last week. Until now, I thought the basic method of adding mulch was fairly standard: you buy it in bags from a nursery or garden center, you open the bags, and you spread it over the soil; or you buy it in bulk, wheelbarrow it to your garden, and rake it as evenly as possible around the plants. Either procedure is pretty labor intensive, especially for a large garden. Now I know about mulch blowing.
A team from Rocky Top Resources in Colorado Springs applied a new cover of mulch to the gardens of my good friends Roger and Della. A little more than 30 yards of mulch was distributed. That's more than 800 cubic feet, about 400 bags that you would buy at the garden center. The two-man team was able to complete the task in three hours. A team of five professional landscapers would have taken the better part of a full day to do the same job.
The wood mulch began the morning in the bed of a specialized truck that can hold as much as 35 yards of material. A conveyor belt on the floor transports the mulch chunks to the rear of the truck where they enter a hopper that feeds them into the pressurized blower system. Attached to the truck blower is a series of interconnected hoses. As the mulch makes its way through this long, winding snake of 4-inch wide tube, the man at the head adjusts the pressure and flow with a control panel on his belt. It blows out in a gentle spray of wood pieces.
|John blowing mulch.|
John, the general manager of Rocky Top Resources, was the man at the end of the hose. With expert precision he swung it from side to side aiming the spray of mulch into the spaces underneath bush branches and on top of bare patches of soil. In surprisingly little time, a consistent layer of fresh mulch was applied to a very large space.
As the job progressed, the truck remained stationary while the length of the hose changed. At it's farthest reach in Roger and Della's yard, the hose extended well over 120 feet. As he backed his way through the garden beds, John would occasionally stop the flow of blowing mulch, his assistant Jestin would remove a long section of hose, and they would continue with a shorter tube. By the time they finished blowing mulch in the last section of the yard nearest the truck, the hose was only about 30 feet long.
|John and Jestin controlling the hose.|
This was an amazingly efficient method of distributing mulch. A team of workers and countless wheelbarrow loads of mulch would have compacted the very soil the mulch is designed to protect, in addition to disturbing the plants with feet, wheels, and tools. John and Jestin were very careful about where they stepped, where the hose lay, and how forcefully the mulch was propelled from the hose.
|Precision mulch application.|
The mulch blowing truck is one of only two in the state of Colorado. John said that their workload increased from only about six jobs in 2002, after the company first purchased the machine, to daily jobs from March through November in 2008. As both the weather and economy improve in 2011, they're looking forward to a busy season of mulch blowing.
|The mulch blowing truck.|
For many gardens, applying spring mulch is a low-key process. The winter snows and winds have caused existing mulch to shift or settle and you may only need a few new bags to cover bare spots. If you already have a thick layer, simply raking it can loosen the pieces and distribute them evenly.
For new landscapes and others with large areas that need a lot of mulch, blowing is a wonderful alternative. However, there are a few limitations when blowing it. The 4-inch hoses only allow smaller wood chunks to be used, though newer trucks have 5-inch hoses that allow bigger mulch pieces. Fibrous wood mulches like Cypress don't work well in the system. But even with those restrictions, the finished application under current blowing methods looks great.
As with any landscaping job, the cost of professionals doing the work should be weighed against the do-it-yourself option. I like applying mulch and getting intimate with my plants while I spread it, but it would take me about two weeks to complete the task of applying 400 bags. Seeing the same amount expertly applied in three hours makes me a convert to mulch blowing for large jobs; there are many other gardening tasks I could accomplish in two weeks.
Look at your landscape and think about mulch. If you have a big job ahead, think about how you'll apply it. If you have a company that offers mulch blowing like Rocky Top Resources, it might benefit you to take advantage of their expertise.