It will soon be Spring - such a wonderful season. The birds are singing, the lambs are jumping about in fields of lush grass and gardens are bursting into life. As a spinner I have the added anticipation of shearing time and am planning woolly activities and workshops for the seasons ahead.
Fresh or raw fleece generally needs some preparation before I can use it though, and this invariably leads to some unwanted leftovers. There are plenty of ways that a thrifty crafter can use leftovers but here I thought I’d discuss the ways that wool fleece can be used in the garden. I’m a passionate gardener and love nothing more than pottering amongst my plants or harvesting crops from the vegetable plot or cut flower garden. It makes good sense to me that the waste wool produced when I’m skirting a fleece should be recycled in the garden.
White or coloured fleece can be used in the garden but I personally favour dark fleece wherever it might be visible as it blends in well with the soil. It also warms the soil faster. In the vegetable garden I’m not too fussy but in the garden, I don’t like white wool on the soil as it looks untidy. Each to their own of course.
Wool doesn’t just have physical uses in a garden, it has nutritional properties too. Wool is made of a protein called keratin which is the same material that human hair and nails are made of. It is entirely biodegrable and as it does so its acts like a slow release fertilizer adding nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil. In order to biodegrade, the wool fibres need moisture and warmth therefore the rate at which it decomposes will vary entirely upon the conditions in your garden and ph. of the soil.
Only use untreated fleece in the garden. Powerful insecticide chemicals that have been applied to the sheep, such as those for fly strike prevention, may leach into the soil and damage the plants and be harmful to insects. This is especially important if you are using the fleece around edible crops.
When you visit a garden centre, the amount of plastic, often single use, that accompanies your gardening products is quite astounding. Pots are plastic, compost bags are plastic, plant labels are plastic, fruit netting is plastic – and the list goes on. If we can repurpose our leftover fleece bits, we are not only recycling an otherwise waste material, we are quite likely to also be minimizing the amount of single use plastic that we buy from the garden centre too.
Here are some green fingered ideas for your fleece:
Felt plant pots
Felted vessels made of a thinner layer of wool than usual would make ideal pots for sowing seeds and growing young plants as they could then just be planted into the ground, pot and all. They would obviously need a tray of some kind initially to prevent water escaping but this would be reusable. Watch out for a felt plant pot making workshop in the autumn [covid rules allowing of course].
Mulching is probably the most common way that waste wool is currently used in the garden. Shoddy – a by product of the woollen industry has long been used as a mulch for rhubarb in the Yorkshire ‘rhubarb triangle’.
Mulches are used for several reasons – to prevent weed growth, to keep moisture in, to insulate from extremes of temperature, to add nutrients and to prevent soil erosion. Wool can satisfy all of these requirements, but it needs to be thick in order to be effective. A scattering of bits of fleece here and there won’t offer any mulching benefits. Watering would need to be done underneath the fleece either by lifting it or by using a seep hose.
Soil can be eroded by the wind, the rain, gravity, footfall, pets etc. and this can be problematic as the topsoil is where most of the nutrients lie. Wool is very effective at helping to prevent this by acting as a physical barrier.
Slugs and snails can wreak havoc in a garden, particularly in spring when all the new plant growth is soft and luscious. Wool acts as the perfect barrier as the fibres irritate the underbelly of the slugs and snails and also draws out moisture - thwarting their slimy trails.
If you have a lot of leftovers they can be washed and used to firmly stuff an old cushion cover. This can then be used as an outside seat pad, or as a cushion to support your knees when weeding and planting.
Dark fleece makes excellent lining for hanging baskets. It can be used completely raw and stuffed into place or felted into a sheet to use if you prefer a neater aesthetic. Using wool in this way reduces the use of plastic and synthetic liners and minimizes the harvesting of moss.
Wool has the ability to hold water so is very useful to those who have a lot of pots or hanging baskets to water in the summer. If you roughly felt the fleece and chop it into pieces with scissors it is easier to mix into the soil. Put larger pieces at the base of large pots to act as a water reservoir / drainage.
I hand spin coarser wool fibres to make wool twine to use in my garden and to sell in my online shop.It has multiple uses in the garden.
Wet felted wool sheets can be cut into rounds to make collars for use around trees and plant bases. Using felted collars, as opposed to loose fleece means that they are easier to remove and reuse and are less likely to be disturbed by the weather or pets.
Fine wet felted sheets can be used as insulation to protect plants against frost or even used to keep pests off your crops.
Chopped up wool mixed in with the soil acts as a slow release fertilizer. Chopping it up helps to prevent problems when weeding and hoeing as the short fibres don’t get tangled around tools. As the wool absorbs water it expands, aerating the soil and improving its structure.
If you are creating new beds for flowers or vegetable crops, or trenches for your runner beans, dirty skirted wool and daggings will be marvellous if laid into the base.
Compost heaps will breakdown faster if they are kept warm so spare fleece will act as a great insulator if used to line composts heaps and laid on top like a woolly hat.
Fleece laid underneath seed trays to help increase humidity and warmth which are both needed for propagation.
If you have any other uses for fleece do share your ideas with us on social media using the hashtag #woolinthegarden