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Ruth Stout’s System of Mulching – Lazy is Genius!

May 26th, 2009 · 5 Comments

The first time I read the Mother Earth News article about Ruth Stout’s No-Dig Gardening, I said

“yesss!  I love this woman. This is one of those lessons of a lifetime.”

Her technique has faced skepticism from all sides but to me, has always seemed to be a fantastic approach:

“mulch everything…and mulch some more.”

Her attitude of “this is who I am and it works for me” comes across vividly in the interview.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

My no-work gardening method is simply to keep a thick mulch of any vegetable matter that rots on both my vegetable and flower garden all year round. As it decays and enriches the soil, I add more. The labor-saving part of my system is that I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or spray. I use just one fertilizer (cottonseed or soybean meal), and I don’t go through that tortuous business of building a compost pile.

I beg everyone to start with a mulch 8 inches deep; otherwise, weeds may come through, and it would be a pity to be discouraged at the very start. But when I am asked how many bales (or tons) of hay are necessary to cover any given area, I can’t answer from my own experience, for I gardened in this way for years before I had any idea of writing about it, and therefore didn’t keep track of such details.

However, I now have some information on this from Dick Clemence, my A-Number-One adviser. He says, “I should think of 25 50-pound bales as about the minimum for 50 feet by 50 feet, or about a half-ton of loose hay. That should give a fair starting cover, but an equal quantity in reserve would be desirable.” That is a better answer than the one I have been giving, which is: You need at least twice as much as you would think.

I have been moving towards this style of easier gardening because of my lack of time to pull weeds (or general lack of success with weeding).  After I put the kill mulch technique to work, I bought 10 bales of straw from a local hay salesman and started mulching many of my vegetable garden beds, especially around the tomatoes.

“What a time saver!”

My tomato plants had basically no weeds around it that year and I didn’t have to water nearly as much.  I was recently reading that many people don’t take the mulch off of their garlic plants after the winter is over.  Next year I will try this technique as well.

A good source of free mulch is your local tree serviceman.  Call them in the fall after the leaves have fallen or in the spring before the leaves have sprouted in order to get only woodchips.  Most of them will come drop ot off for free.  You may not want to use them in the vegatable garden due to their toughness (and are acidic) but they are great for flower and herb gardens.

Another good reason to use this method is that is serves your soil well.  Once you have built your garden soil to a delicious loam, put this technique into effect and it will always stay that way.  The mulch gives the mycorrhizae and other beneficial fungi and bacteria a great environment to thrive in.  So lets break down the pros and cons of this technique:


  1. You dont need to water nearly as much (better for the environment, your water bill, your busy life, and your plants will most likely have the water when they need it).
  2. Helps create loose loamy soil structure that plants need to thrive.
  3. Helps preserve an ecosystem beneath the soil of beneficial bacteria and fungi that allow for more nutrient uptake.
  4. Basically No Weeding (This is the big one for me)
  5. Easy to start seedlings (because of the moist and warm environment)
  6. Less work overall and more fun!


  1. Trouble finding the seedlings (Sometimes they are hard to find and sometimes they need sunlight to sprout)
  2. The moist environment may be a good home for some unwanted critters such as slugs. (Ruth says she never had a problem with them but has heard people do, so she suggests the beer can trick)
  3. Sometimes when you use hay you get seeds in it and the seeds start to grow. Ruth says you just flip over the mulch when that happens ans put more on top of it.  She goes on to say that the system allows little to no work in the garden but people still complain that they have to turn some hay every now and then ; )
Ruth Stout in some Hay

Ruth Stout in some Hay

It may or may not be for you, but Ruth Stout got famous for her mulching techniques!!??  Either way you look at it, this technique can come in handy when your looking to stop doing so much weeding or so much watering or are just downright lazy on a hot summer day and would rather be sippin iced tea….

Read the full article in Mother Earth News about Ruth Stout’s No-Dig Gardening

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Tags: Flowers · Herbs · Organic Gardening Techniques · Vegetables

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Perennial Flower Profile - Lupine | Long Island Gardening Community Resource Perennial Flower Profile - Lupine // May 29, 2009 at 1:54 am

    [...] var addthis_pub=”ligrows”; ← Ruth Stout’s System of Mulching – Lazy is Genius! [...]

  • 2 David // Jun 10, 2009 at 8:32 am

    If anyone wants to get some straw (dry grain stalk with seeds removed) bales to use as mulch, we can team up and get a delivery made from upstate. Give an email to david@ligrows.com to put your name in and we can usually have it within a week (pending we get enough bales – 10 I think is the minimum for delivery – I can get 5 and you can get 5 or if we have more people, great!).

  • 3 bonnie // May 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I am looking for Hostas and perennials to divide for someone and then be able to share the new divisions.

    I am in Huntington NY.


  • 4 Robert Plamondon // Oct 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Ruth Stout’s “Gardining Without Work” is back in print! With the original funny illustrations and everything.

  • 5 Francesca Austin // Oct 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    This sounds like a great and easy method. We are starting a yard from scratch – here in CA, East Bay, the ground is like cement and I much prefer not to dig out cement like soil. thanks.

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