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Planting in mulch

 
Posts: 144
Location: Russia, ~250m altitude, zone 6a, Moscow oblast, in the greater Sergeiv Posad reigon.
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I fell really stupid and embarrassed that I have to ask this question, but here it is: can I spread mulch over seeds? I know some seeds need sunlight to sprout and some don’t, maybe I should spread mulch and drop seeds on top of that? For context, I’m really lazy and want to be able to broadcast seed everything, but the question still remains for pushing-theseeds-in planting. Maybe I plant in the fall on top of the winter blanket? I’m so confused and I have analysis paralysis over it. What I’m worried about is that they say that mulch suppresses weed seeds. Won’t it also suppress crop seeds? Do I have to start everything indoors and transplant them outside? That doesn’t make sense, because nature doesn’t do things that way.
 
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I have wondered this too, specifically about the question on mulch suppressing seed growth. I suspect the answer is "it depends." Depends on the mulch, depends on the seeds. I doubt you'd want to mulch heavily, or with anything more long-lasting like wood chips, but I often spread a light layer of straw or grass clippings over seeds I have scattered in (particularly seeds that need to stay moist like carrots and radishes) and that seems to work fine. Then, if I get to it, I can come back after everything has sprouted and deepen the mulch layer around the plants.
 
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Like Matt mentioned above, it depends on mulch type like wood chips or straw for example and what is being sowed. Heavy mulching is the type of mulching that suppresses weed seeds, like 3 or 4 inches or more thick. This thick mulching will also suppress most germination of desirable things that are intentionally sown. Some crops such as garlic and onions for example can needle their way to the surface through thick mulch like this - it's how I plant my garlic. Tiny seeds like carrots and dill for example need to be able to get to the surface unimpeded so I won't mulch those until after they sprout. Some things I sow I will mulch lightly over, just a light scattering of wood chips that don't completely cover the soil, leaving some soil visible. I've had success with this technique sowing large seeds like melons and squash as they can easily lift pieces of wood chip mulch. Once things sprout I'll go back and cover up any uncovered soil around plants that have emerged.

 
pollinator
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For things like squash seeds this year, I just make a little rings of cardboard about 6 inches tall, 6 inches diameter. Then pull the wood chips aside and plant in the ring. Pull your woodchips up around this collar and your plant grows happily into the dirt and up into the sky.
 
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Larger seeds (peas, corn, squash etc.) are able to sprout through quite thick layer of woddchips. The smaller the seed seed is, the thinner layer of finer mulching material you must apply..
 
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Hi all...I'm following the Ruth Stout method of planting which is using hay for mulch. You don't plant in the hay...you pull it back and plant your seeds in the ground. As they grow you push the hay and surround the plants in hay, never covering them. The only thing she planted ON the hay was potatoes which I'm trying. Those plants are huge!
 
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Yes plant in the soil and then mulch on top. Seeds like a constant level of moisture. In general I don't direct seed in the ground unless I already have the mulch ready, otherwise the soil dries out too fast and hampers germination. The seeds never have a problem pushing through a few inches of mulch. I like finer stuff like ground leaves or dry grass clippings at first and wood chips later when the first round has decomposed into the soil.
 
pollinator
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I put a very thick layer of wood mulch around my fruit trees. Get some perennial fruit and herbs going in there. Not seed but plants. St John’s wort, strawberries, rosemary, different sages and even ground cherries. There are probably more but these are what come to mind.
 
pollinator
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Myron Platte wrote:I fell really stupid and embarrassed that I have to ask this question, but here it is: can I spread mulch over seeds? I know some seeds need sunlight to sprout and some don’t, maybe I should spread mulch and drop seeds on top of that? For context, I’m really lazy and want to be able to broadcast seed everything, but the question still remains for pushing-theseeds-in planting. Maybe I plant in the fall on top of the winter blanket? I’m so confused and I have analysis paralysis over it. What I’m worried about is that they say that mulch suppresses weed seeds. Won’t it also suppress crop seeds? Do I have to start everything indoors and transplant them outside? That doesn’t make sense, because nature doesn’t do things that way.



I sometimes spread a very thin layer of straw to help keep a little moisture in and keep the birds from eating the seeds, but I wouldn't mulch seeds more than that.  

Areas I'm broadcast seeding, I only do on bare ground.  After I broadcast, I walk around on the area and step on as many seeds as I can to make sure the seeds have good ground contact, and then again, go back and spread a very thin layer of straw.  
 
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Hi, I'm also following the Ruth Stout method and she said that when planting large seeds such as squash, peas, beans, etc. that she just pushes them through the mulch into the ground but for small seeds she pulls aside the mulch and puts in the seed (like carrot and beet) and then covers with a piece of cardboard and checks it each day until the seed sprouts then she removes the cardboard and moves mulch closer to plants as then grow. I have done this this year and it has worked well.
 
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I mostly mulch with grass clippings, about 3 inches deep. I don't pull back the mulch to plant. That encourages weed seeds to germinate as fast as the vegetable seeds. What I do is drop the seeds on top of the mulch and cover them with sifted compost to the depth they need to be covered. Then I give them a good soaking with a spray nozzle and place cardboard over them with a few small stones on it and wet that down too. This insures a consistent amount of moisture and the mulch on the bottom insures that the seeds don't drown. I check and remove the cardboard when they begin to sprout through the compost. I add more mulch around the plants as they grow.

Eat what you can and what you can't you can!
 
pollinator
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I got the best advice about one aspect of this from another thread (sorry I can't cite it; I read so much on this forum!).

I pull aside my wood chips to plant, which works great for seedlings, peas, beans, and corn.  I had trouble with little seeds because the wood chips fall into the row or hole too easily.  The advice I got was to add a row or tiny hill of soil (or compost) on top of the wood chips, and plant on that.  It needs extra watering help to germinate seeds, but it's worth it.  The entire area is already mulched, and if you use potting soil, you don't even have exposed weed seeds.  It takes very little soil.
 
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Myron Platte wrote:I fell really stupid and embarrassed that I have to ask this question, but here it is: can I spread mulch over seeds? I know some seeds need sunlight to sprout and some don’t, maybe I should spread mulch and drop seeds on top of that? For context, I’m really lazy and want to be able to broadcast seed everything, but the question still remains for pushing-theseeds-in planting. Maybe I plant in the fall on top of the winter blanket? I’m so confused and I have analysis paralysis over it. What I’m worried about is that they say that mulch suppresses weed seeds. Won’t it also suppress crop seeds? Do I have to start everything indoors and transplant them outside? That doesn’t make sense, because nature doesn’t do things that way.



I had a teacher in grade school who siad The only stupid question is the one you do not ask.
What good is this site, or the internet as a whole it we can not learn from it.
I alway tranplant seedling, instead of planting seeds in mulch, so I learned something too.
Thanks.
 
pollinator
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I generally translate the recommended seed depth to the depth of mulch I put on top of the seed. Correlating with what was mentioned above, small seeds get only a light sprinkling of straw, larger ones like squash and runner beans get up to 2” of straw or woodchips.

Something mentioned above about the Ruth Stout method using hay, when I thought it was straw (to reduce weed seeds). Am I mistaken?
 
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so far ive had success with seeds sown into a thin layer of compost (1 or 2 inches maybe) with no more than an inch of straw fluffed over them.
 
Myron Platte
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Thanks a ton, everyone! So, my takeaway from this is that for my purposes and lazy methods, a quarter inch of straw, hay, or grass clippings on top of whatever seed should be just fine, as long as I don’t push the seeds too deep. On a related note, what do you guys know about planting spring veggies in the fall? Don’t the seeds sprout at the optimally earliest time?
 
Scott Stiller
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Here’s one of my St Johns wort plants in mulch around my pear tree.
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[Thumbnail for 2E62D6A7-3FC3-4787-81DD-346D94D6028C.jpeg]
 
pollinator
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Myron Platte wrote:I feel really stupid and embarrassed that I have to ask this question.



Hi Myron, I once read "The only stupid question is the one you don't ask" The really nice thing about Permies.com is that no-one thinks you're stupid and nobody makes you feel embarrassed you've asked for help or advice. It's a safe environment here and one of my favourite places to be.

Mulch and sowing - we use a variety of techniques - if the mulch is thick we'll pull it away and sow into the soil. Sometimes I'll sow into bare earth if it's a new bed we've set up, and then sprinkle on some chopped straw to help keep the moisture in, then add more when I see the plants emerging. This year both sorghum and rice have emerged through chopped straw that is thick enough to cover the soil. Corn came through a thicker layer of unchopped. We have volunteers like borage, Brassica Juncea (mustard greens), wheat (from the straw mulch) and others, that fall in autumn, and appear in spring, through the mulch we've applied, without any help from us. Charles Dowding  (of No-Dig Gardening fame) Mulches with 2" of compost every November (Gee I wish I had that much) So, he plants /sows straight into his mulch.

Re the spring veggies sowing: In nature fruits/seeds fall and some germinate when the conditions are right, so I wonder why we dont do more ourselves of what mother nature designed? Every autumn I promise myself I'll take some of the march/april pressure off myself by doing my spring sowings ahead of time! I know Coriander works really well. I just throw it everywhere it's not already growing, when I see it's ready and it comes up no problem (mulch and all) I reckon the most adapted to the climate would emerge and maybe we' need to sow more than we need, as there would maybe be loss to critters too. I don't have a lot of experience and I need to remedy that, But this is off topic, I must make time to search for a thread about this, there's bound to be a fountain of knowledge here somewhere.

Good to hear I'm not alone in my Analysis Paralysis - Sometimes, by the time I've worked it all out, I'm too exhausted to do it, but in my case I think that's an age thing!
Regards
Lesley
 
Anne Pratt
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Lesley,

I also have intended to do winter sowing but never seem to remember!  Something about spring makes us want to plant seeds!

From what I’ve read, plants that will reseed themselves can and possibly should be sown in fall or winter. Less chance of germinating in October if we wait till February. If I remember correctly, the repeated freezes and that’s prepare some seeds in a way that stratifying in one’s refrigerator really can’t.
 
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Myron,

Your question is perfectly valid.  I, too am trying to remember to plant a cover crop in my woodchips this fall.  My thoughts are that you probably could broadcast peas.  Pushing them in improves germination, but I think broadcasting will work.  Perhaps you could broadcast and then lightly rake to help bury the seeds just a bit.  At any rate, I think you are on to something good.

Eric
 
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Here's my limited experience of sowing early crop seeds in fall. I did it for two years in a row with lettuce seeds and had great results. But then the next year we had a few early thaws that lasted long enough to germinate the seeds and then when it froze over hard again, the seedlings died off especially after the second thaw/freeze cycle. I live in Illinois and our winters have been more erratic the past few years. Self seeding plants such as cilantro did come up this year but were very late - it was early June before I could make use of it. Other years I've had abundant cilantro in April!  
 
Anne Pratt
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Good points, Sile!  I wonder how nature manages it. I suppose by throwing out thousands more seeds than plants eventually needed. If every foxglove seed that one plant dropped germinated and grew up, there would be no other flowers in the garden. No room!

I wonder if this works best for slow-germinating seeds?  I am growing ground cherries, which are incredibly slow to get started. I got interested in them because a couple of plants began showing up in my yard year after year. I thought it was a perennial. The seeds require *weeks* of water and light to germinate. You come to believe it’s a failed experiment when the first tiny bit of green emerges. But late in June I can always find a few plants in that spot - they have withstood the chickens, the lawnmower, being stepped on, and so forth before they are big enough to notice.
 
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