Several years ago, my sewer line broke and when the nice plumbers replaced it — for several thousands of my nice dollars — my front yard looked as if a conga line of groundhogs had burrowed under it.
The sewer pipe shot out from beneath my picture window, under two maples, past the sidewalk and into the street, laying bare the clay underbelly of Lincoln.
I’d traded basement sewage for crappy curb appeal.
But I decided to use my budget-buster as an ecological and economic opportunity.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the chemical-sucking symbol of suburbia, and keeping a field of grass growing meant water and fertilizer and mowing and money.
Besides, my yard was small and shady and grass didn’t want to grow there, so I reached out to my gardening friends, who plied me with free hostas and ferns and coral bells. I bought a Japanese maple on clearance and a few oak-leaf hydrangeas and hired a laidback landscaper named Brian, who carved out places for the plants and a path for walking, all of it bordered by the remaining tufts of grass, pretty as a picture.
We covered it in mulch.
So. Much. Mulch.
Once upon a time, I admired mulch. Other people’s mulch, spreading out in lovely lines around trees and shrubs, framing flower beds and smothering weeds.
Now mulch has become my cross to bear. Mulch in the mower blades, mulch on my sidewalk, mulch draining my bank account.
The wrong mulch.
Not enough mulch.
In the past five years, I’ve purchased mulch by the bag and mulch by the borrowed pickup load.
I snagged a portable mulcher that turned backyard twigs into baby-sized mulch best-suited for hamster cages.
I’ve hauled away extra mulch from strangers’ driveways and hauled plastic tubs around in my hatchback all summer to raid the free mulch pile at Holmes Lake.
(By October, my yard looked like the sample mulch section at Home Depot. Red mulch! Brown mulch! All-natural mulch! An embarrassment and yet another impediment to my winning Yard of the Month in the East Campus Community Organization.)
So last week, for the sake of uniformity, I had the California Redwood Forest delivered to my driveway.
Five yards of mulch. The equivalent of 50 bags, or two trips to the chiropractor.
Over the next few days — before winter returned and turned my mulch into small moguls for skiing squirrels — I’d turned a mountain into a molehill, pitchforking every last speck into my wheelbarrow and dumping it across my yard.
It wasn’t quite enough.
And I wasn’t going to take out a loan to buy more.
But I did call the Mulch Hotline and got Ben Broxterman, the guy who’d taken my order at General Excavating last week.
A nice guy who lives in an apartment and doesn’t have to deal with mulch after hours.
“Over time, most of it just blows away, it’s so finely shredded,” said Broxterman, assistant manager of the landscaping department.
Heavy rain can wash it away, he said. The dead wood decomposes. The dyed mulch fades. Dogs dig in it.
We discussed birds making nests from mulch. (My theory.) And squirrels digging holes in mulch. (Much to my dismay.)
We talked about the popularity of mulch — last year, Broxterman told me, they sold 2,800 yards of just one of their five types of mulch. (That’s 36,400 bags, or a month in traction to you and me.)
We talked about the importance of mulch, keeping moisture locked in, keeping the ground warmer for plants in autumn, the aroma of certain types of wood (cedar) repelling pests.
We talked about how I’d just missed out on the company's Mulch Madness sale. (Mark March 2019 on your calendar. Or visit a dead ash tree pile in a city lot near you.)
Spring is prime time for mulching, Broxterman told me, although some folks “top dress” their shredded ground cover again in the fall.
Before we said goodbye, I asked what his department does when mulch sales slow down.
“We sell a lot of rock,” he said. “For the people who want absolutely no maintenance.”