Home Insteading With Cooperative Extension (Week 54)

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Mulch Matters

Katy Shook, Area Horticulture Agent

There are two types of mulch to consider for home use – organic and inorganic. Organic mulches like pine straw, shredded hardwood, and leaf litter break down easily and incorporate nutrients and organic matter back into the soil. The result is improved soil health and plant performance. Unfortunately, the materials can be expensive and need to be maintained regularly. Inorganic mulches like rock, rubber pellets, and tumbled glass are durable, and best suited for areas with little to no plants. For example, patios and parking areas.

Home gardeners should avoid using landscape fabrics and plastics around ornamental plants. These materials do not break down, and only temporarily discourage weeds. Moisture buildup is a concern and can encourage disease development. To help smother weeds, consider using a few layers of newspaper instead.

To get the best results from mulch, mimic nature. Apply mulch no deeper than 2-3 inches, and extend to the width of the crown (the plant’s above ground parts). There is no perfect mulch for home gardeners; to help decide which mulch is best, consider priorities. Leaf litter is inexpensive and is best for plant health, but blows around easily; shredded hardwood tends to look best, but breaks down quickly and can encourage weeds; pine-straw suppresses weeds longer and doesn’t have to be replaced as often, but can be expensive. The good news is that most any type of mulch will help retain soil moisture and reduce pest buildup. The bad news is that weeds will always be a problem.

For more information about using mulch in landscapes, contact the Ask A Master Gardener Helpline at (252) 482-6585.

mulch matters

Pinestraw is an organic mulch that breaks down to improve soil health.

Spring Snack Mix

Camaryn Byrum, 4-H Agent


  • 3 cups white chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 4 cups multigrain Cheerios
  • 4 cups rice Chex cereal
  • 2 cups pretzel sticks
  • 1 cup roasted cashews, optional
  • 1 (9 ounce) bag peanut butter M&M eggs
  • 1 cup pastel milk chocolate M&Ms
  • ½ cup shredded, sweetened coconut
  • Extra white chocolate chips, for topping


  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the white chocolate chips and coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each, until the chocolate is melted. (Note: if you don’t have coconut oil, you can leave it out.)
  2. Mix the Cheerios, Chex, pretzel sticks and cashews on the baking sheet. Toss them gently. Add in half of each version of M&Ms. Drizzle the mixture all over with the white chocolate. Use a spatula or large spoon to gently (and somewhat quickly) toss the mix together, until all of the pieces are coated. Sprinkle in the remaining M&Ms and gently toss once more. If desired, sprinkle the entire sheet with the shredded coconut. You can also sprinkle on more white chocolate chips if you wish!
  3. Let the mixture set for 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl or jar that you can cover (a Ziploc will also work). You can definitely make this a day or two ahead of time!


spring snack

Bleach Dos and Dont’s

Mary Morris, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent

Bleach is a powerful disinfectant that can help protect against the spread of COVID-19, but it needs to be used correctly. Whether you’re using bleach for the first time, or as part of your regular disinfecting routine, it’s always important to make sure that you’re using the product as instructed on the label.

Here are ten of our dos and don’ts when using bleach to disinfect:

DO dilute the bleach with water at room temperature unless otherwise stated on the label.

DO pre-clean the surface with soap and water before disinfecting. Bleach becomes less effective when there’s dirt on the surface.

DO wear gloves to protect your skin, and wash your hands with soap and water after you’re done disinfecting.

DO ventilate the room while you’re using bleach. Opening a window is a good way to get the air flowing in the room.

DO rinse food contact surfaces and toys with water, after the bleach has been left on the surface for as long as recommended on the label.

DO store the bleach out of reach of children and pets. This also applies to other cleaning products and hand sanitizer!

DON’T mix bleach with other cleaning agents, especially vinegar or ammonia. This can lead to a dangerous chemical reaction.

DON’T wash fruits, vegetables or other food products with bleach.

DON’T use bleach to clean or disinfect hands or bare skin.

DON’T drink or gargle bleach or a bleach solution.

How and When to Use Bleach

Bleach is great for disinfecting surfaces, clothes, and linens. Other types of soaps and detergents are better for routine cleaning. Bleach is for when you want to sanitize, as well as get your clothes nice and bright.

Here are the basic ins and outs. Of course, always read the label for additional information, especially if it’s your first time using any product.

  • Before using bleach to disinfect a surface (countertop, bathtub, etc.), read the label instructions carefully. TIP: Consider using bleach after preparing raw chicken or other foods that can become dangerous if not cleaned properly.
  • Create your bleach/water solution (per the label instructions), and let it sit on the surface for about five minutes. TIP: Bleach is one of the most economical disinfecting agents, and you often need just a tablespoon to a quarter cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  • Rinse the surface with warm water (not hot) and wipe it dry.
  • For laundry, if your machine has a bleach dispenser, they’ve measured it for you – great! If not, first add your regular detergent to the wash water before adding the clothes or bleach. Add half a cup of bleach to the wash water and add your clothes once the wash cycle has started. For more laundry tips.

IMPORTANT: It’s dangerous to mix bleach with other cleaning agents – even vinegar. When using chemical agents like bleach, you should wear your kitchen gloves to protect your skin. And, when you’re doing a lot of cleaning with bleach, ventilate the room.

American Cleaning Institute