Planting in Mulch Beds

Some of Better Farm's chickens have been hard at work digging up worms and helping to aerate soil between garden rows.
One of the most common questions people ask about mulch gardening is how one should go about planting in the layered beds of compost, hay, cardboard, newspaper, and other biodegradables.

Two words: dandelion weeder.

My favorite garden tool.
By its very nature, mulch gardening creates thick layers of biodegradable mulch materials that help to fertilize your plants, block weeds, retain and regulate moisture, and provide an excellent insulator in cold and warm weather. But that can make starting seeds or transplanting appear daunting. It's not! All you have to do is take your dandelion weeder, create a hole for your seed or seedling, and plant away. I was out in the garden yesterday, finally getting peas in the ground (the stubborn ice and snowcover kept us from planting over St. Patrick's Day, as we usually do).

All I needed to do was stab the weeder into the top of the mulch and making a stirring motion with my hand to hollow out a little cavity for the pea seed.

Using my finger, I pressed the pea into the soil underneath. If you're transplanting, it can help to press in some potting or topsoil as well to anchor your plant's root system. Ditto if it's your first year mulching, as you won't have already-decomposed dirt below the surface. I like to time my planting schedule to just before I know it's about to rain—that keeps me from having to water my freshly planted seeds and seedlings.

No worries for the peas (or sprouting garlic, chives, asparagus, sage, leeks, or oregano) that tonight the weather is dropping into the teens temporarily (seriously, this is getting old) because the mulch provides natural insulation. Those of you in the North Country with anything unprotected outside, tonight will be a very important evening to bring any container plants inside, and to add mulch to any uncovered beds. If you have trees you wrapped for the winter, we recommend waiting until at least May 1 to unwrap the trunks and branches.

Direct your mulch-gardening questions and tips to

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.