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Recycle Landscape Trimmings into Productive Hugelkultur Gardens

Recycle Landscape Trimmings into Productive Hugelkultur Gardens

By Melinda Myers for Milorganite
Photographs courtesy of Melinda Myers, LLC

Create a raised bed of nutrient rich garden soil from landscape trimmings. Convert twigs, branches, logs, leaves and plant trimmings into a Hugelkultur garden ready for spring planting.

This growing system mimics the natural decay and soil building system of the woodlands. Just like the trees that fall in the woods, the logs and branches in your Hugelkultur bed absorb moisture and release it to the surrounding soil. And as all the organic matter decays it releases nutrients to the plants growing in the garden.

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Since it takes years for the woody plant debris to decay, the moisture and nutrient benefits also last for many years. So all the upfront work reduces the amount of water, fertilizer and effort needed to manage the garden for years to come.

As a gardener you might be concerned that the woody material would temporarily tie up the nitrogen in the garden bed and stunt the plants’ growth. Research and decades, if not centuries, of Hugelkultur gardeners’ experience have found this is not a problem.

You can build your garden in a sunny or shady location. Just match the plants to the growing conditions. Check plant tags, garden catalogues and University Extension publications for the light, moisture, soil, and climate requirements of the plants you plan to grow in your Hugelkultur garden.

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Create your Hugelkultur garden on the soil surface or start it in a trench. Use larger branches and logs for the lowest level of your garden. Avoid cedar and black locust that break down slowly, and black walnut, which can be toxic to many plants.

Fill the voids in this layer with more carbon rich material such as dried tree leaves and straw. Cover this layer with nitrogen rich materials like plant based kitchen scraps, annual weeds that have not gone to seed and herbicide free grass clippings. The layers above the logs and branches are similar to lasagna gardening or pile composting.

Although some gardeners skip the fertilizer, consider sprinkling Milorganite over this layer just as you would when composting. Not only does it feed the soil microorganisms as they decompose the garden debris, it contains 85% organic matter to help build the soil.

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Cover this layer with an inch or two of compost or composted manure. Top it off with four to six inches of topsoil. The garden may resemble a typical raised bed or be a much higher inverted V-shaped mound. The taller mounds provide easy access for planting and care.

Some gardeners use this technique to create the planting mix to fill their raised bed garden frames. Over time the mound will settle and smaller mounds will eventually need the addition of more organic matter.

You can plant immediately or allow your raised bed to settle for several months. Let the availability of the raw ingredients and your gardening goals be your guide as to when to start your Hugelkultur garden.

Once planted, mulch the planting surface with shredded leaves, herbicide-free grass clippings or other organic matter. These help protect the soil, conserve moisture, and as they break down continue to add organic matter to the garden bed.

Recycling plant debris in place is not only good for the garden and gardener; it is also good for the environment.

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