Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Ewe Should Mulch Your Garden: Using Animal Wool as Garden Mulch by Kara Olyowski

Wool mulch in my garden: Kara Olyowski

Mulching is a key practice in any garden, providing numerous benefits from moisture retention to weed suppression. While traditional mulches like straw, wood chips, and leaves are commonly used, there's an unsung hero in the world of mulching: animal wool. This season I intertwined two of my passions, gardening and fiber arts, and I’m experimenting with wool mulch in my herb garden. Let's dig into why you should consider this natural and sustainable material for your garden.

What is Mulch?

Mulch is “any material that provides protection and improves the soil when applied to the soil surface.” There are many different types of mulch from organic (wood chips and grass clippings) to inorganic (gravel and rock.) Using mulch in your garden helps in many ways. By applying a thick layer of mulch it helps suppress weeds. It allows the soil to stay moist longer by slowing down evaporation from the sun. Mulch also helps combat erosion by providing a barrier to hard soil for rain to fall on and cause runoff. Lastly, mulch will break down over time and add to the soil’s nutritional capability and texture. These are all great reasons why spending time now will pay off dividends later in your garden!

What is Wool Mulch?

Wool mulch is essentially the fleece of sheep or other wool-bearing animals, like llamas or alpacas, that hasn't been processed into yarn or fabric. It can come in various forms, including raw fleece, felted wool, or wool pellets. Every year farmers and ranchers shear their wool-bearing animals and have what is called waste wool from the process. This is less desirable wool for yarn that comes from the animal’s belly, neck, legs, and backside, but is perfect for use in the garden. You can find waste wool on Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, Craigslist, and talking to local producers at 4-H events and county fairs. 

Llama; photo by Kara Olyowski

Benefits of Wool Mulch

Wool mulch has all of the same benefits as typical organic mulches. In addition, wool can hold up to 30% of its weight in water making it an excellent choice for retaining soil moisture in our dry climate. Wool takes a long time to break down and as it does, it slowly and steadily releases valuable nutrients, like nitrogen, into the soil for your plants. When you look at the texture of wool under a microscope, you will see tiny scales. These scales look like barbs to slugs and snails and deter them from crawling on the mulch and onto your plants. Lastly, using wool makes use of a renewable resource that might otherwise go to waste.

How To Use Wool Mulch

I am using raw llama fleece in my herb garden. First, I made sure the fleece sections didn’t have any vegetable matter or twigs in it. I spread it around each of my plants, creating a layer about 2-4 inches thick. Some companies are realizing the benefits of this resource and are creating wool pellets. These wool pellets are being marketed as a fertilizer and not as a mulch.

Incorporating animal wool into your mulching routine is a great way to promote healthier plants and more efficient water usage. Its unique properties make it a good choice for gardeners seeking sustainable and effective solutions. Give wool mulch a try, and your garden may just thank you for it!

For further information you can check out:

4 Reasons to Introduce Wool into your Garden

The Use of Wool in Compost and other Alternative Applications

Mulching: CMG GardenNotes #245

These are my photos:

A picture of my herb garden with wool mulch

A picture of a llama before he is sheared.

Friday, May 31, 2024

How Does Your Inner Garden Grow? by Jennifer Hamlin


Photo: Anna Shvets, pixels.com

Have you ever felt refreshed in some fashion after just visiting a local garden nursery or simply sitting outside? Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson coined the term for this phenomena, effectively known as biophilia. Wilson’s theory suggests humans are intrinsically drawn to the natural environment, to plants, and all living things and that we benefit from this symbiotic relationship. This innate calling to nature is embedded in each of us.

As many gardeners inherently know….though often considered very hard work….gardening is also therapy. From the therapeutic aspects of physically digging and tending a garden….to the mental, emotional, and even spiritual space gardening allows our souls to explore our internal and external world more deeply. This connection is actually supported by a great deal of scientific evidence as to how gardening or “green therapy” benefits our health in a variety of dimensions.

As a horticultural therapist, not only to do I love to garden personally, but I have the immense pleasure of watching how gardening has a profound impact on my patients and clients on a regular basis. I’ve worked with all ages, some with a disability (cognitive and/or physical), some who are life-long gardeners and some who have never had any interest in tending a garden. What’s especially interesting to me in my work is how the benefits of garden-based therapy benefit everyone, regardless of their skill or interest level. It is easy for me to see the theory of biophilia in action in every case. There is an increasingly large body of research (Thompson, R., “Gardening for Health”) in support of positive outcomes for integrating some level of green therapy into our lives. The most important aspect is truly just being in, around, or exposed to greenery and it’s increasingly beneficial when our skin comes into physical contact with plants and the soil! Research highlights health benefits including lowered blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, increased nutritional intake, decrease in reported depression and other mood disorders, and even lowered levels of needed medications for many chronic illnesses!

Another example of how gardening can support our overall wellbeing is recognizing how the natural cycles within nature mirror our own experiences in many ways. For example, a garden must have a season of rest every year. This season varies by climate and location, but regardless, the garden must rest in order to be effective and produce and so must we. We can learn a great deal from taking our cues on the rhythms of life from nature. So too, we benefit from learning about and practicing resiliency when watching the same in the garden, tending the weeds, managing the pests, and stopping to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Becky Martinez, www.1stAveFarm.com, Garden Journal
 I recently had the opportunity to meet with the owner of 1st Avenue Farm in Denver, Colorado (1stavefarm.com), Becky Martinez. She knows first-hand how gardening benefits our overall well-being and is passionate about sharing in both her local community and those abroad. She’s authored a Garden Therapy Journal (available on Amazon) with thought provoking journal prompts which take the natural processes in nature and encourage the reader to “dig-deep” within their own experience to till the soil of their soul. Topics include creating space for our roots to grow and pulling the weeds that stand in the way of our growth!

Taking time and space to dig in our gardens….both in nature and within our souls is always time and effort well-invested. Wishing you a bountiful harvest with both this season!!


Further Reading:

·   The Well-Gardened Mind, by Sue Stuart-Smith

·    Seedtime and Harvest: How Gardens Grow Roots, Connection, Wholeness, and Hope, by Christine Purifoy

Source: Thompson R. “Gardening for health: a regular dose of gardening.” Clin Med (Lond). 2018 Jun;18(3):201-205. doi: 10.7861/clinmedicine.18-3-201. PMID: 29858428; PMCID: PMC6334070 Accessed: May 23, 2024, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334070/


Wednesday, May 8, 2024

New Plant Hardiness Zone Map by Amy Norwood



The United States Department of Agriculture recently revised its Plant Hardiness Zone map.  Much of the Denver metro area was changed from a zone 5b to a zone 6a.  As a result, some plants that were previously considered unable to survive the winter here (annual plants) are now viewed as able to survive the winter here (perennial plants.)   

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

More Plants for Hummingbirds by Amy Norwood

Cuphea Photo: White Flower Farms

If you’re looking to attract hummingbirds to your outdoor space this season, this blog has an excellent post titled “Plants for Hummingbirds,” dated May 20, 2021.  It mainly talks about two perennial flowers in an in-ground flower garden, Sunset Hyssop and Red Birds in a Tree that are very attractive to hummingbirds.  But, what if you want to attract hummingbirds but you don’t have an in-ground flower garden?

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Grow Lights to Assist Seedling Growth by Brenda Sterns


Have you wondered if all the hype surrounding grow lights is true and if these lights will help your seedlings grow better?  Chances are, your online quest for answers left you tangled in contradictory advice. (I've been there myself while delving into this topic for Master Gardeners.) Perhaps you're now teetering between abandoning the idea altogether or impulsively snagging lights adorned with all the persuasive catchphrases, hoping for the best.  Today, I hope to explain the cases where supplemental lighting is beneficial and guide you through the key specifications to consider when purchasing grow lights.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Two Great Flowers for Summer Outdoor Pots by Amy Norwood

Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' All photos by Amy Norwood
Outdoor flower pots are a joy of summer.  As with all plants, the rule “right plant, right place,” applies to flower pots.  Your flower pots will look their best if they are planted with flowers that match the pot's location in sun or shade.  Here is a suggestion for a pot in each place.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Heat Mats for Indoor Seed Germination by Brenda Sterns

As March brings 50-60°F warm days combined with all the winter snows, our yards are showing slight signs of life. For many of us, this tinge of greenness ushers forth images of what our 2024 gardens will hold.  What will we grow – vegetables, annuals, perennials?   We know the last frost date is two months away and now is the time to start seeds indoors.  As you eagerly grab your seeds, pots, and soil to start your best garden ever, take a moment to think about heat mats.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

How Plants Communicate When in Danger by Nancy Shepard

Graphic: Phys Org

I’ve always loved the smell of a freshly mowed lawn. Little did I know that this smell is produced by the blades of grass signaling distress from being injured. Research has shown that plants emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere upon mechanical damages or insect attacks. Undamaged neighboring plants sense the released VOCs as danger cues to activate defense responses against upcoming threats.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Benefits of Snow in Your Garden by Jeffrey Blake


Photo: Artem Meletov

Snow indirectly contributes to nitrogen input in the soil through a process called atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Nitrogen is a crucial nutrient for plant growth, and it can be added to the soil in various forms, including through precipitation like snow.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Is Plastic Mulch worth my time and money? By JoAnnette Charles

I thought that plastic mulch would make my gardening easier, and it can… but only if you do it correctly. It is typically used to increase the temperature of the soil to improve the yield of warm weather plants like tomatoes and peppers. I wanted the additional benefit of fewer weeds and less wind erosion since my community garden is in a very windy location. Next year, I will use it again, but I do things very differently based on what I’ve learned.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Are Gnats in Your Home Making You Nuts? By Amy Norwood

Adult fungus gnat showing the distinctive, curved “Y” fork in the wings. 
Photo Credit: B. Schoenmakers, via Wikipedia.

Do you have tiny flying insects in your home?  These insects don’t pose a health risk to people or animals, but they are very annoying.  They can be controlled if you know which tiny flying insect you have.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

A mysterious water drop (or two) on houseplants?! by Vicky Spelman


I found a drop of water on the tip of one of my dieffenbachia's leaves.  What?  I checked to see if there was a ceiling leak.  Thank goodness no, but... then what caused this water drop?