Building Mulch Basins for Water Retention

by Daisy

I’ve been reading Art Ludwig’s book Create an Oasis with Greywater and decided to use his “mulch basin” technique to plant a trio of blueberry bushes.

The concept is to make a basin around a plant such as a tree or a shrub to catch and hold runoff or greywater so it has time to deeply soak into the soil right where the plant needs it.

Here’s one of Ludwig’s diagrams that partially explains the method:


I took pictures as I created my basin.

They are the worst pictures I’ve ever taken.

Imagine a gray February afternoon. Pictures of a dirt mound surrounded by a small moat of dirt against a background of dirt.

They were awesome.

I guess I have to show you now so you can see how truly awesome they are.


The gray fence and the pile of sodden cardboard really set off the dirt-on-dirt motif.

As if that wasn’t great enough, here’s the same pile of dirt with partially composted kitchen scraps added:


According to Ludwig, adding nitrogenous compost under the mulch layer prevents the mulch from robbing the soil of nutrients and lets it take it from the compost instead.

It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the hole is about a shovel’s blade deep. Ludwig suggests a minimum of 10 inches deep.

Then in goes the mulch layer:


I used a whole wheelbarrow full of wood chips with a high percentage of pine and oak.

Then for good measure and because these are blueberries which like acid soil, I covered it all with the contents of a bag of pine needles I found on the curb.


I don’t have plans to link these beds to a greywater system right now, but I believe it will help retain rainwater runoff and also allow me to make best use of hose water when I water by hand by letting the water truly soak in deeply. Blueberry bushes have shallow root systems and need lots of water especially when they are first getting established, so I wanted to make every drop count.

I recommend Ludwig’s book not only for those thinking about greywater conversions, but for other tips and tricks for maximizing water use.

I’m glad to get these blueberry plants in the ground in the new sunny spot where I had some big trees removed last fall. As soon as I can, I’m going to add a muscadine trellis and some heritage apple trees.

Can you tell I’m ready for spring?



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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lucy February 11, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Brilliant idea Daisy – I have a trio of blueberry bushes waiting to go in when the snow’s clear, will give this a whirl. On a sidenote, your photos and commentary made me laugh so much I had to explain to my kids what was going on. 😀

Daisy February 11, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Lucy! Thank you, you made my day! I love ways to make growing easier, I hope this is one of them! (High initial labor, low maintenance later).

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