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.