As the days grow shorter the imminent arrival of winter becomes a reality. With the colder nights and cooler days a gardener is faced with preparing their yard for the long, short days of winter. One of the most important aspects of fall maintenance is mulching the perennial beds, shrubs and trees.
The winter months produces unpleasant reactions on the garden that can easily damage the roots of plants. A rapid freeze and thaw often causes the soil to heave and the plant’s roots to become exposed to the harsh elements. This can result in the plants death. A sudden thaw can also trick the plant’s root system into thinking that spring arrives. The plant will break dormancy and begin to grow. This can often result in the plants death or extensive damage once the warming trend passes and the ground again freezes.
During the heavy spring thaws mulch will help reduce the danger of soil compaction. Soil compaction can have adverse effects on the plant’s root system.
Applying mulch in the fall will help maintain the soils temperature through the cold winter months. It will offer a bit of protection to the plant’s root system and insure that a sudden thaw does not cause the plant to break dormancy.
All yard debris should be removed prior to mulching beneath plants, shrubs and trees. Leaving old leaves on the ground or other dead plant life can result in fungal diseases occurring. Clip away dead plant stalks and discard.
Begin to mulch around the base of plants, shrubs and trees right after the ground freezes. Apply approximately 3 to 4 inches of mulch in the garden around the base of the plants. Use bark chips for best results. If using leaves be sure that the leaves are chopped up to offer aeration. Whole leaves will mat down and rot which can result in diseases occurring.
Straw is an acceptable mulch but it takes approximately 6 to 8 inches to offer any real protection to the plants. Sprinkling bone meal down on the soil prior to applying the mulch will help counter the straw’s carbon content which causes nitrogen production in the soil.
Remove all weed growth in the garden prior to applying mulch. Certain varieties of weeds grow in the winter months and will simply break through the mulch to flourish if they are not removed.
Mulch can add a pleasing appearance to any wintertime flowerbed. It also helps reduce the risk of soil erosion and mud accumulation.
Bags of most mulch are widely available at garden supply and home improvement stores.