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What’s the return on investment (ROI) for mulch?

It’s tax season. It’s also the time of year we refer to as “mulch madness.” These two seemingly unrelated events dovetail into some earthy calculations.

The query: What’s the return on investment (ROI) for mulch?

We know, inherently, that mulch is “good”: it reduces weeds, maintains soil temperatures, retains moisture, and enhances the soil. But what is its value?

Well calculations will vary depending on a range of factors (e.g. amount of time to initially prune, cost of mulch, time it takes to apply it, appreciation for beauty, seasonal and product variation and how it interacts with the landscape, etc). But let’s toss those quibbles aside, make some assumptions, and try to provide some shape around this notion.

First, let’s look at the scope of the case study in the following video of a “Tree Pedicure”:

It took about 20 minutes to do a tune up on this tree: trimming suckers, removing vegetation to the drip line, and adding a 3” layer of mulch spread evenly away from the trunk. This includes pulling out supplies and tools and getting organized, and putting away tools.

Next, let’s refresh our memories on how to calculate return on investment, or ROI. In short it’s the (gains – investment costs) / (investment costs). Written out, it’s the gains minus the investment costs, divided by the investment costs.

So, for example, if I sold orange juice for $8 (my gains) and it cost me $4 to make it (my investment costs), my ROI would be ($8-$4 / $4) = 1, or a 100% ROI.

Finally, let’s dive in and look at this case of applying mulch. Using really broad and fast brushstrokes, here are the background metrics for the calculations.

Investment Costs:

  • Time (20 minutes, with time valued at $60/hr to make math easy): $20
  • Materials (2 bags of mulch, with a very generous budget): $10
  • TOTAL INVESTMENT COSTS: $30

Gains:

  • Time (since the mulch will repress weeds, one gains back the time not needed to weed throughout spring and summer, estimating 5 minutes per month for the next six months: $30
  • Look (how much one would pay to look out over a pretty landscape; say $0.10 per day for six months): $18
  • Nutrients added to soil slowly over time (yikes. With no idea how to calculate this. Let’s give it a small value): $2
  • TOTAL INVESTMENT GAINS: $50

So the ROI on this particular project is…drum roll please… [($50-$30)/$30] = 66%.

A 66% ROI is stunning.

This example is, of course, an example. It’s an illustration. It’s a way to think about the time and money that you could spend this spring tuning up your landscape and applying mulch – while weeds are still small! – and how much gain, or return, you could experience from that investment.

Have tips on how you would tweak these calculations?  Please share!

Want to learn more? Related articles include:

PreSchool Garden – For Happier, Healthier, (Smarter?!) Students

Headlines have called dirt the new Prozac. We dig it! Educators, parents and community members that have read studies that show how working in soil makes people more relaxed and happy – and possibly smarter – might want to get students involved in gardening projects. For those planning projects for the upcoming school year, take inspiration from this schoolyard community garden. Where last year stood a parking lot, this year grows a bumper crop of veggies and keen minds.

A depaved parking lot serves as a preschool garden.

Most striking about this school garden is the hand-made signs that the kids made to identify the crops. Most have illustrations and color. The occasional backwards “Y” or the “watermelon” sign stretching onto 3 sheets of paper makes them even more endearing.

Kid-made signs add cute color and extend the garden teaching into the classroom.

Why not take 3 signs to write "watermelon"?

To the side is a nice gathering area with natural stump/logs for meetings and lessons.

Stumps to the side of the garden create a nice meeting space for kids.

The layout of the garden uses keyhole gardening principles – basically loops so that you can access many different parts of the garden from different entry points.

Keyhole garden layout at a school garden allows access to multiple beds from one space.

The concept of companion planting is employed, putting plants that grow well together next to each other, like basil and tomatoes.

Companion planting in a school garden with homemade signs.

In addition, after noticing that hummingbirds were attracted to the nasturtiums, they placed a mini-hummingbird feeder above the flowers to encourage more visits.

After noticing hummingbirds attracted to the nasturtiums, they installed a small hummingbird feeder to encourage these welcome visitors.

One section has a series of triangle-shaped mounds that have the squash. It’s not hard to imagine the squash sprawling all over into the adjacent empty spaces throughout the summer.

Triangle raised bed mounds for melons.

Robust squash plants will sprawl every which way.

 

Landscape Inspiration: Mixing Gardens, Raised Beds, and Whimsical Features

In this post we add a new dose of landscaping inspiration presenting a backyard garden that mixes a berry patch, gardens, raised beds and whimsy. What we really liked about this backyard garden is the mixing and blending of function, fashion, chaos, order, whimsy, and practical. Here is a virtual tour.

On the south side of the garden, in the late spring/early summer, the raspberries produce a bumper crop of berries, perfect for a morning bowl of granola or evening fruity dessert.

rasberries

The heart of the garden features an abundance of greenery with plants every which way that create a wild feel. Bursts of flowers provide colorful accents amidst the tomatoes, peppers, kale, lettuce, squash, and other veggie plants. Yet just when it feels too wild, a clear pathway of bricks and stepping stones allow access and create a sense of order.wild garden with veggies and flowers

pathways through veggies and flowers

In addition, throughout the garden, veggies planted directly in the ground grow alongside potted plants and container plants, such as this chard next to a barrel of cosmos and dahlias.

mixing raised beds veggies with potted plants

On the outskirts of the foliage where the garden transitions to a bit of lawn lies a sweet retired wagon that serves as a mini raised garden bed. The 3-inch layer of quality potting mix, plus a blend of flowers and herbs, creates the perfect accent to a small space.wagon with potted plants

dahlia

This garden also integrates a bit of whimsy, illustrated here with a ceramic chicken nestled in the greens. (A nice juxtaposition to the real chickens hanging out in their coop in the corner.)

ceramic chicken

Curious: Which of these garden features appeal to you?

Earth Day 2015 – “Take Back Compost” Day in NewWest BC, and More!

Earth Day 2015 is HERE!

2015.04 - NewWest BC - Take Back Compost Soil TippedHarvest Power is participating in various ways across North America. A few glimpses:

NEW WESTMINSTER, BC

Earlier this week Harvest provided compost – made from food scraps and yard trimmings from the residents and businesses in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia – to the citizens of New Westminster, BC in their “Take Back Compost Day” event. 2015.04 NewWest BC Take Back Compost Day - GroupNutrients from food scraps came full circle in the form of our Garden Blend, scooped up by residents eager to put it back onto their gardens.

2015.04 - NewWest BC Take Back Compost All GoneStill want a scoop?  We can arrange deliveries (minimum of 3 cubic yards) from Richmond, or pick up as little as 1/2 yard at our site on the North Shore.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN

This week we’re at Biomass Conference and Expo. Tomorrow (Wednesday) Kieran takes the stage to talk about carbon, organic waste, clean energy, anaerobic digestion, and all sorts of juicy intersections with a sustainable future. Learn more about Harvest’s clean energy options.

CENTRAL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA

2015.04 EarthDayVisaliaLogoThis Saturday April 25 we’ll be at the City of Visalia and Tulare’s Earth Day / Arbor Day celebration.  Come say hi to Jerry and learn more about our compost products available to the Central Valley of California.

We’ll also be at the Town of Bourne’s Earth Day Celebration at the Residential Recycling Center in case anyone has questions about the proposed project on the Cape.

How and where are you celebrating Earth Day?