Moldy mulch? Don't toss it

07/26/2014 8:32 AM

07/26/2014 8:37 AM

My neighbor Joe was scraping paint off the side of his house last Saturday when he hollered over to me, seated at the edge of a garden bed, “Do you know what you’re going to write about next Saturday?”

Next Saturday? I thought. A week away? Can’t a girl get a weekend off?

Unfortunately, however, I knew exactly what I was going to be writing about.

“I’m looking right at it,” I told Joe.

The subject of my attention wasn’t some scale-tipping Beefsteak or misshapen Jetstar that I could enter in the largest- or ugliest-tomato contest at this Saturday’s Tomato Day celebration at the Extension Center. This wasn’t adrenaline-rushing like that at all.

Instead, it was crest-falling. I had stockpiled a few bags of mulch over the winter. Sometime during the intervening months, critters of some type had chewed holes at the top of each bag (hopefully not burrowing inside for shelter), and spider webs covered the openings.

It was high time to use it up. Summer was roaring back with a vengeance after a week of coolness, and some newly planted areas of the garden needed mulch or they would fry.

So I swallowed my disgust at the sight of the mulch, buried my procrastination guilt, dragged the bags to the garden and opened them, only to see what I took to be white streaks of mold on the clammy dark shards of wood.

I remembered a tip I’d thrown out to you years ago (or to your ancestors if you’re just a kid): If your mulch has gone moldy, spread it out over the driveway and allow it to be sanitized by the sun. After all, you don’t throw away mulch, do you?

As I considered the practicality of doing that, however, it wasn’t too practical. I need the driveway. How long would the mulch have to take up valuable real estate?

So I decided, being lazy and cheap, to spread the mulch thinly under my shrubs and flowers and see whether it wouldn’t just de-mold in place. Then I could come back with another layer of fresh, unmoldy mulch later.

As I started spreading it, however, I noticed movement amid the gunk. The mulch was alive with ants. My memory went back, again, to a couple of years ago, when the garden was overrun with ants. I suddenly knew where they had probably originated.

So I sat with the mulch in front of me, the sun growing hotter, the deadline pressure mounting unnaturally on a Saturday. And I started scooping some of the mulch back up, this time into a plastic garbage bag (oh the irony). Turns out, I thought, maybe there are times to throw mulch away.

Such are the hazards of gardening on Saturday, when everyone else is out gardening, too, and there’s no one at a desk to take questions. When Monday came along and I could ask extension agent Bob Neier about the mulch, it turns out that what I was seeing was not mold (real mold looks more like – don’t read this if you’re eating breakfast – dog vomit), but a type of fungus that I didn’t try to write down and that hurts nothing.

For the ants, Bob said, spraying some soapy water will take care of them.

Turns out you don’t throw away mulch. Unfortunately, by this time, the trash truck had already come by.

Perhaps more importantly, however, I had a head start on my garden column.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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