How to Grow Your Own Mulch

I can’t say enough good things about mulch. We have several blog post that mention the importance of mulch but if you want to learn more about why it’s so great check out this post, Mulch Ado… The Best Mulch for Your Garden.

If you’re on board with the importance of mulch but trying save money or make your garden as efficient as possible this is the perfect post for you.

Having a well mulched garden doesn’t have to cost a lot or require a lot of outside inputs to your garden. Don’t let those perfect Pinterest gardens with tons of beautiful, golden straw evenly spread around each plant fool you! Growing some or all of your own mulch is totally feasible and chances you already have some growing without even realizing it.

Use weeds.

As long as you don’t let them go to seed, even weeds make excellent mulch. In what some people call the “chop and drop method” you just go through your garden cutting your weeds and dropping them around plants.

Plant your pathways in a clover.

If you’re using permanent beds you can plant your pathways in a perennial cover crop like clover. Clover will add nitrogen to the soil as it grows plus your pathways can be mowed and used to mulch your beds.

Use your lawn.

You don’t need a hayfield to grow a significant amount of your own mulch. If you mow any lawn area at all you should invest in a bagger for your lawn mower. Grass clippings can immediately be dumped in the garden around plants and are great for adding nitrogen to the soil.

Don’t remove dead material from around perennials.

I’ve said this before but “cleaning up” your garden is not only unnecessary but harmful for your garden. By removing dead plant material you’re removing nutrients and homes for beneficial insects. The only only exception is when you need to remove plant material that you know is home to a pest like if you had a lot of asparagus beetles you’ll want to remove the dead asparagus fronds in the fall.

Plant some cover crops.

Cover crops are not just for large farms or when you’re resting a garden bed. Cover crops like alfalfa and buckwheat are perfect for sneaking in any small available garden space to grow and cut for mulch.

Check out this post for more great ideas, Cover Crops for Great Green Manure, Mulch, and More.

Grow comfrey.

Comfrey is an excellent choice for mulch because of its deep tap root. It brings nutrients and minerals up from deep in the soil and using its leaves as mulch will make these accessible to other plants. It’s also a hardy perennial and will easily tolerate being trimmed back for mulch.

Use any extra plant material you have.

If you think about the plants you grow chances are you’re probably already growing some of your own mulch and are just composting or tilling it in instead. Try thinking of every non-edible plant material as potential mulch. When you pull pea plants off their trellises when they’re finished for the year use them to mulch around your next crop. Did you grow hardneck garlic? Lay down the stalks as mulch after you harvest the bulbs. Even peanut shells can be used for mulch.

Try growing some of your own grains.

Most grains offer mulch as a secondary product. Whether you’re interested in rye, wheat, or rice once you’ve threshed the cereal off the plant you’ll be left with a lot of straw. This straw is perfect mulch. Did you know older grain varieties are much taller than modern varieties partially because straw isn’t valued in modern commercial agriculture?

The importance of mulch in your garden cannot be understated. Whether you’re trying to conserve moisture, add nutrients to the soil, create habitat for beneficials, or just cut back on weeding mulch is an integral part of maintaining a healthy garden. Using these tips you can mulch your garden without spending tons of money or relying solely on outside inputs.

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12 Edible & Medicinal Flowers to Add to Your Garden

Early in my gardening career I made the decision that I wasn’t going to “waste space” in my meager garden on flowers. Foolishly I thought that all they were good for was looking pretty. Slightly older and wiser me knows that flowers are for so much more than looks. Flowers are key to a productive garden. Some varieties are loved by pollinators, others draw in beneficial insects, and some even help repel unwanted pests! 

However if you’re a super practical gardener with some serious space restrictions you can get even more benefits out of your flower plantings. These varieties of flowers provide all the typical advantages and are either edible or medicinal. 

Edible Flowers


Short Stuff Sunflowers

While sunflower seeds are an obvious edible benefit to growing sunflowers few people know that most of the plant can be eaten at different stages. Sunflower sprouts and very young plants are wonderful tossed into salads. The petals are a bit bitter but can also be used sparingly in salads. Young stalks can be peeled and used like celery, the leaves can be cooked like greens, and the unopened buds can be used like artichokes.

Bachelor’s Buttons

Polka Dot Bachelor’s Buttons

Bachelor’s buttons are a great way to add a lot of beauty to any dish. They can be eaten fresh in salads or used as a garnish. They’ve even been used to adorn cakes. They also hold their color well when dried and make an excellent natural food dye.

Breadseed Poppys

Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppys

The only part of this flower that’s edible is the seeds. Breadseed poppy pods are filled with poppy seeds that are great for baking. If you love lemon poppy seed muffins this might be the right flower for you!


Helen Mt. Johnny-Jump-Ups

Like bachelor’s buttons, johnny-jump-ups make a tasty addition to salads or add a touch of natural beauty as a garnish. They can have a mild wintergreen flavor.


Outhouse Hollyhocks

This one usually surprises people but hollyhocks are entirely edible! The roots, leaves, and flowers can all be eaten though it’s typically just the young leaves and flowers that are eaten fresh. They’re actually related to the mallow plant and the entire plant has a variety of medicinal uses.


Jewel Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums are hard not to love. Their bright orange flowers and lilly pad like leaves add a bit of charm to even the most organized vegetable garden. They’re also delicious and the flowers and leaves make wonderful salads.

Medicinal Flowers


Echinacea Purpurea

Echinacea is a beautiful perennial flower and a potent medicinal. It’s frequently used to strengthen the immune system.


German Chamomile

A lovely little flower that makes a wonderfully relaxing tea, chamomile really deserves a spot in every garden. It’s easy to grow and easy to use. It has an apple-like flavor and fragrance and is also anit-innflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-spasmodic.


Though it looks much like chamomile, feverfew is a seperate medicinal herb and as the name suggests has long been used to treat fevers. More recently a study published in the British medical journal Lancet reported that 2-3 fresh leaves of feverfew eaten daily over a period of time reduced the severity and frequency of migraines.


Resina Calendula

Another powerful medicinal, calendula is frequently used in salves and lotion to help heal skin irritations. However it also makes a tasty tea and has anti-innflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.


Wild Bergamot

Bergamot is often used to make tea and was used by several Native American tribes as a carminative. It’s also a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies making it definitely worth adding to your garden.


English Munstead Lavender

Generally thought of as a calming medicinal herb (try making some tea) lavender is also a tasty culinary herb. It can be used to flavor beverages, breads, cookies and more. 

If your space and time are limited it can be really important to get the most out of every square in of garden space. Thankfully there’s no reason to give up the beauty of flowers to do that. These varieties can help you grow a productive garden by providing you with food, medicine, and food for pollinators and beneficial insects as well.

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Adding Perennials to Your Vegetable Garden

When planning our gardens we often think of annual food crops. Plants like peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, and sweet corn come to mind first and are the powerhouses of most backyard gardens. However perennials are an excellent addition to any garden. There’s a lot more to perennials than just their longer lifespan.

Why Grow Perennials

You can increase your food production.

Perennials can increase the amount of food you produce and therefore decrease your environmental impact. They’re often some of the first foods up in the garden and sometimes the longest producing. Plants like rhubarb, chives, and salad burnet will help fill your plates with local food when most of your annuals are still just tender seedlings.

They require less work.

Growing more perennials means less time spent starting plants each year. Just keep the weeds back, provide basic care, and enjoy your harvest.

Many perennials require less water.

As they grow for more than just one season they are generally able to develop deeper, more extensive root systems than annuals so they’ll need less careful watering.

They’re better at gathering nutrients.

Another advantage of their well developed root systems, perennials are often able to access nutrients from deep in the soil that annuals cannot. Perennials help bring these to the surface for them and the plants around them.

They improve soil structure.

Their root systems even help improve soil structure which helps not only them but any annuals that you grow near them. The soil health also improves because it’s not being disturbed each year. Nutrients are added through a top down system as parts of the plant die back or you add mulch around them. This process is just like what happens in a natural ecosystem.

How to Get Perennials

Perennials don’t have to be expensive! Browsing catalogs and visiting your local garden store can lead you to the impression that a garden full of perennials is going to be an expensive one. It’s doesn’t have to be though. Many perennial plants are easy to start from seed or divisions from existing plants which can sometimes be acquired for free or cheaply from friends, neighbors, or your local garden club. Ask around!

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers many perennial plants and seeds that can get you started without a big investment. Below are just a few of the perennials SESE offers that are easy to add to your garden.


Adding a lot of flavor with little effort, chives are super hardy, beautiful, and easy to grow. Plus once yours get established it’s easy to divide your plants and they make a great gift.


Though not a true fruit, rhubarb is the first fruit like food you’ll be able to get locally each spring. While many garden centers only sell rhubarb plants they’re actually quite easy to grow from seed. You can find a great post on growing rhubarb here.

Perennial Onions

For some, growing a patch of perennial onions is enough to supply all their onion needs without having to start tons of onions from seed each year.


Thyme makes and excellent perennial ground cover with the added benefit of smelling nice and being edible.

Salad Burnet

Often said to taste like cucumber, salad burnet will come up early and feed you long before any actual cucumbers will be available.


A highly sought after medicinal, ginseng takes awhile to grow but is well worth the wait!


Sage is both edible and medicinal and simple to grow from seed.


On top of being a commonly used culinary herb, oregano’s small white flowers also do a great job of attracting pollinators.

Garden Huckleberry

These dark blue berries are one of the few berries that are easy to grow from seed and they make excellent jam. You can read more about them here.


This flower has a lot going for it. Echinacea is not only beautiful but a great species for attracting pollinators and it’s highly medicinal.

Lemon Balm

As a member of the mint family, lemon balm gets established and spreads so easily you may actually want to make an effort to keep it contained.

Don’t be afraid to add a few perennials to your garden this year. They’re quite affordable and have many benefits. Even if you decide you need to change your garden layout most can be transplanted without harm later on.

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Saving the Past for the Future