Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

The electric company removed three big Weeping Willow trees from our property last summer - they were getting into the power lines by the road. They had a giant chipper on a trailer and chipped up the limbs. I had them leave the chips here in a big pile, for future use as mulch.

Turns out, willow is a very soft and light wood. That pile of chips is light grey and the wood chips are intact on the outside of the pile, but just a few inches down the chips are damp, soft, and black - really falling apart and turning into sawdust and black soil. It has a nice smell to it like sawdust, and from the smell there's quite a bit of tannin present.

Right now, I'm pulling weeds in my garden rows and putting down grass-clippings mulch. I've tilled the paths in the garden several times to control crabgrass and weeds, and so far I've only put grass clippings in the rows themselves, around my veggies. When I finish doing that, I'll put mulch in the paths too, so I don't have to fight weeds all season.

Now I'm wondering about mulching my garden paths with those broken-down willow chips instead of grass. I can move the chips with my tractor bucket, and it'd be a lot easier to do that. Since I'll be keeping it away from the plants, there wouldn't be any effect on this year's garden - but at the end of the season it'll all get tilled in. If there's anything toxic in those chips (like if they were walnut) I could ruin my whole garden for future seasons.

I don't THINK there's anything toxic about willow. Pasture grass has grown right up to that chip pile, and grass is growing up through the edges where the chips are only a couple of inches thick. Also, I noticed a few little seedlings (poison ivy, elm, and wild plum) are starting to grow on top of the pile itself.

What do you think? Can I safely mulch my garden paths with this, then plow it under in the fall?

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Ozark - I use my lawn mower to break-up small twigs that fall from our trees and put them (along with leaves and grass clippings) in the pathways between our raised beds.

Twice a year (spring and fall) I remove the top layer from the pathways and add it to the raised beds. By then the earthworms, and our constant walking along the paths have broken down the twigs and leaves to wonderful FREE DIRT.

We don't have willow trees, so don't know if wood chips from them would act the same as walnut. Our trees are oak and maple.

I think it would be okay to mulch your garden paths with the willow chips and plow it under in the fall.

Virginia Beach, VA

I think you should google if it alright. Bellie

Helena, MT

Honeybee, great idea on grass mulch for the pathways around the raised beds. I have a yard service to control weeds in the lawn and have previously wasted the raked grass clippings after mowing rather than use them to mulch the garden. Also, Sam's idea of using wood chips as mulch seems like another good idea. I have an unlimited supply of the wood chips and wood chip fines (Red Cedar), but I have hesitated to use these to mulch in the garden thinking like Sam it might be a problem. I used the wood chip fines to mix with well aged cow manure in one raised bed for Buttercrunch lettuce and it is doing fantastic so I would conclude they would not be a problem as a garden mulch. I do recall however a statement in one of Talpa's posting that wood chip fines in containers take up nitrogen during their breakdown or composting process, in which case the use of these for garden plants may require an extra nitrogen supplement.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

mraider3 - I've used grass-clippings mulch in my garden for years, and I think it has some benefits that aren't so obvious.

We've got a big yard that I mow with a riding mower, and my grass catcher picks up 45 gallons at a time - three 15-gallon "trash can"-like containers get filled with each load. I put those clippings on the garden fresh from my mower and about 6" deep, carefully keeping it an inch or so away from my plants.

The next day the mulch is so hot I can't hold my hand in it. It COOKS any weed seeds and small weeds on the surface of the soil, and then later on it denies them sunlight. I won't have problems with garden weeds and crabgrass for the rest of the season.

Another benefit is purely unintentional - after I start getting mulch down I no longer see any caterpillars in my garden at all. I haven't seen a tomato hornworm for many years now. This may only work in my area, I don't know, but little harmless black brachnid wasps soon come to live in my dry grass-clippings mulch and all summer they patrol my plants like a bunch of fighter planes. They're really active, and I've seen them dragging stunned bugs under the mulch - to feed the young'uns, I guess!

Suits me.

This message was edited Jun 25, 2011 8:28 AM

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

mraider3 - I noticed you said you have a yard service. If you are going to use any clippings, be sure your service has not sprayed them with herbicides as these might kill your vegetables.

Ozark - I haven't seen any braconid wasps in my garden, but black wasps are regularly on patrol. They must have a nest somewhere near my car, because I have to run the gauntlet every time I want to leave the house. So far I've only been stung once!

Virginia Beach, VA

I do not have weeds in my garden also because I mulch heavy after the plants gets established. i use corrugated boxes on my pathways. I do not have raise beds.

I am afraid to use freshly cut grass because I almost lost all all my veggies one year. they almost got cooked!! LOL!!!


Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"Ozark - I haven't seen any braconid wasps in my garden, but black wasps are regularly on patrol. They must have a nest somewhere near my car, because I have to run the gauntlet every time I want to leave the house. So far I've only been stung once!"

I'm lucky to have these little wasps here. I don't know what species they are, or what areas of the country they're in.

There's no question of getting stung by them. They're black and only about 1/2" long - they've very fast and active, I couldn't catch one and get stung if I tried. They're constantly on patrol, at full speed, among my garden plants - you can pick one out and watch it zipping between every branch and checking out every leaf. They're hunting!

I work right among them, pulling weeds or whatever, and they never touch me. They never seem to light on anything except the mulch, and then only when they've stung and captured something. I've seen them dragging immobilized bugs (small grasshoppers, squash bugs) under the mulch, where I assume they've laid eggs that will hatch out and eat the bug. I think they're great!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Ozark - here's a link I think you'll like. Braconid wasps are featured closer to the bottom...


Helena, MT

Dandelions are considered outlaw here so everyone uses a grass service or heavily weed and feed so we now have joined the club. I have not used the grass clippings other than to mulch the lawn with the excess going to the back of the yard on the rock pile. I thought about placing some on the pathways around the raised beds yesterday after mowing but I have opted for another truck load of wood chips next week. The wood chips tend to stay in place better than grass clippings with our constant high winds.

Fortunately we don't have horn worms and very few caterpillars but occasionally I see those black wasps you are talking about with some type of grub scurry back to their holes in the ground. I have hundreds of them each year and I'm careful not to disturb their holes which surround my garden.

I have native grass on the sides of my garden which only gets mowed a few times each year, and I don't allow the grass service back there. I was considering tossing some clover seed out next fall and again in the spring. I don't have any experience in converting grass to clover; however clover does seem persistent when established in the lawn area. Mulched clover might make good mulch in certain situations but I wonder if it would possibly be invasive in the garden???

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

mraider3 - if your neighbors are using weed-and-feed to kill dandelions, you might find there is no need for you to use it too. Unless, of course, you are still getting dandelions in your garden. My hubby eats the leaves.

There are many kinds of clover. Where I am in Charlotte, NC the type recommended for a cover crop is "Crimson Clover". I planted some one winter and when it bloomed in the spring, the bees loved it.

Your County Extention Agent should be able to answer your questions.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"Grass service"? "Dandelions"?

mraider3 - Here I've been thinking your place is under a couple feet of snow half the time, with elk and moose chewing on whatever brush that grows the rest of the time. I thought you'd be more concerned with grizzlies and mountain lions than lawn weeds!

I guess I'm thinking of my friend's ranch where we used to hunt in eastern MT. Now it sounds downright civilized where you are. LOL

Helena, MT

Okay Sam, you got me...I've lived here ten years and haven't seen a moose yet. I use to think New York was nothing but wall-to-wall concrete too until I did a couple of projects there. It's a fantastically beautiful state. Wouldn't care to live in NY City, but the country side is loaded with pines and the scents when it rains are unbelievable. Reminded me of where I grew up in Michigan. As for snow, the city of Helena sits on the side of a mountain and the valley is about 80 square miles. I live smack dab in the center of the valley with mountains on all sides of me. Still snow melting on the mountain tops which means more flood on the Missouri River.

Wind is still blowing cold air and my pepper plants are not looking well. Some of the Jalapenos have black leaves which I just discovered here is an indication of cold weather affecting the plants. Leaving them potted up of course, but I should have left them covered a bit longer. Was thinking about your Lipstick peppers and I think I will order some seed from Johnnies. Funny but I'm already thinking about my indoor gardening for fall and winter. Our fall usually comes early in September and maybe even some snow. I will start my seed in August and this year I am planting a couple of cherry tomatoes, some baby cucumbers, leaf lettuce, spinach and possibly some bush type zucchini.

With all the recent posting on container gardening and the available resources for growing media I have available I can produce quite a bit of my dietary needs indoors as well as outdoors. The fewer the trips to the grocery store the better. Milk, eggs, cottage cheese and cheese top the list. I get a good laugh at my wifeís sister and her husband here who spend about $600 a month on groceries and eating out. We donít spend a tenth that amount and a lot healthier to boot.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Yep, different parts of your beautiful state. My friend had a 7000-acre ranch 17 miles north of Lewistown.

There was a crabapple tree growing too close to their house, right outside their bedroom. All the paint was scraped off the house at that spot, from whitetails standing on their hind legs to get the apples and scraping the house with their front hooves. My friend said he'd got used to the noise they made at night and it didn't even wake him up.

On his ranch, the mule deer were big, kind of wild, and up in the hills. The first year I shot a big muley buck with a magnificent rack, then we found the meat was tough and tasted like sagebrush. Every year after that I'd take a big alfalfa-fed whitetail doe on opening morning, then go fishing and pheasant and grouse hunting the rest of the trip. Good times - but I don't think I could stand a winter there.

Back to the subject, I've started using that willow-chip mulch in my garden and I think it's working out real well. Inside the pile, it's rotted down into black soil-like sawdust. That soft wood didn't hold up long at all, and I bet I'll hardly find an intact wood chip left in my garden next year.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Ozark - I'm glad to read the willow-chip mulch has broken down so well for you.

I'm experimenting with wood chips, too. I'm hoping to expand our raised bed system this fall, or next spring and plan to add lots of leaf mold and wood chips to the mix.

Lumberton, TX(Zone 8b)

Ozark, I have heard of using an infusion of willow to promote rooting in cuttings, so I would guess it would only help in the garden. I never have done it, and I would suggest you google it to make sure.

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