>> Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mulch is one of those things we don’t typically give a lot of thought to. We are pretty sure we need it because everyone else is spreading it around their gardens.

But when we get to our favorite garden supply center and see the different types of mulch we either scratch our heads and wonder what type to get or we just buy what’s on sale. After all, mulch is mulch, right? Well, in the general sense of what mulch is used for, the answer is yes. But what you want the mulch to do will determine whether you want the bark chips, the shredded stuff or something else entirely.

Summer Mulches
During the hot summer months plants need mulch to moderate soil temperatures, retain moisture and reduce weeds and diseases.

At this time, mulches are applied to annual and perennial beds and woody plants. For annuals, a fast-decomposing organic mulch of some kind works well: compost, leaves, pine needles, straw, grass clippings (not too thick), even newspaper or thin cardboard. For perennials and woody plants, you may want something a little more permanent and attractive: wood chips or bark, for example. These mulches come in different colors and in materials with different rates of decomposition. Some are more prone to being tossed by the wind. Some lose their color more quickly. And some cost more than others.

If cost is a concern, check with your local parks department or tree trimming service. Quite often they have it sitting around and want to get rid of it. Although be aware that since more and more people are gardening they may see that mulch as a source of income. But in many cities that pile of wood chips are still free for the taking.

Rock can be used as mulch but it is almost never a good choice because it does not moderate soil temperature, and it is almost impossible to remove once it is put down.

Winter Mulches
Winter mulches have a different function. They are used to protect plants against the freeze/thaw cycle and are most effective if put down after the ground has frozen - late November - and removed in mid to late March. The idea is to keep the ground frozen and prevent the plant from coming out of dormancy triggering a new growth during a brief warm spell. Apply a winter mulch to perennials and woody plants, especially newly planted plants. Hopefully you’ve been keeping your garden beds watered right up until the hard frost.

Use any loose, insulating material. Keep in mind that you’ll need to remove the mulch in the spring, or at least rake it aside. So choose a material that’s easy to handle. Shredded mulch, straw, pine needles or shredded leaves are all easy to remove or easy to work into the soil.


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