Monday, January 31, 2011

To Mulch or Not to Mulch

by Jon Latimer

At the last meeting of the Landscape Committee, the committee chair reported on planting practices and plant culture information garnered from a closed meeting she held with an outside landscape company. That meeting excluded all incoming members of the Princeton Landing Landscape Committee, even though they will take office next month and will be involved with any decisions made based on information gained at this meeting. Beyond that, the information that was reported is simply wrong.

The chair told the Landscape Committee that the landscaper said that mulch raises a soil’s pH, making the soil more alkaline. Therefore, using mulch will eventually kill acid-loving plants in Princeton Landing such as rhododendrons and azaleas. The chair went on to say that she checked these facts and they are true. She also made it clear that she would like to eliminate the use of mulch in the community altogether because of its cost.

This raises two questions. First, where did the landscape chair check her facts? The most widely held view among gardening experts is that mulch has little or no impact on soil pH. Long-term scientific studies in Iowa and Connecticut have confirmed this. Whatever effect mulch may have is more than compensated for by the use of fertilizer (which can lower pH).

Second, experts agree that mulching is essential for the proper care of rhododendrons and azaleas. Mulch protects the roots of these shallow-rooted plants against extremes of heat and cold—and against drying out. Failing to mulch also promotes the growth of weeds, which compete with the roots of rhododendrons and azaleas for water and nutrients. In addition, removing weeds by hand is likely to injure the shallow roots of these shrubs. It is clear that our plants will die much sooner from lack of mulch than they will from using it.

It is difficult to understand why the landscape chair would be so adamantly against mulching and so willing to put our large investment in landscaping at risk—especially when her opinion is based on such erroneous and misleading information.


Joey said...

After driving through Princeton Landing today, I was struck by the patches in the lawns. They just seemed out of place for a neighborhood that otherwise looks kempt. Other communities I visited in the area do not have this issue. Is it this a shared concern with your neighbors?

Paul Nolting said...

We've noticed spots in the turf, too. Inconsiderate dog owners are a big part of the problem. There are quite a few dogs in Princeton Landing. Owners walk them on other people's lawns—most go to the same place day after day. Dog urine and feces damage the turf. Many dog walkers don't clean up after their dogs, even though that is required by Association rules and Plainsboro Township ordinances. If you happen to live along the Loop Road or close to it, you are especially likely to have your front lawn used as a doggy toilet by inconsiderate neighbors.

jplatimer said...

In addition to the steadily worsening problem of dog waste in PL, the association does not reseed often or thoroughly enough to prevent or restore bald spots in the turf.