Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mulch helps your plants snuggle in for the winter

When the temperatures start to drop, I love curling up in my "nest" with a nice, warm snuggly blanket. Providing a layer of mulch to your plants is a great way to allow them to snuggle up for the winter, too.

Benefits of Mulch
Mulch retains moisture in the soil and moderates soil temperature while it adds nutrients, and reduces erosion and weeds. But another great benefit of mulch is that it helps to protect plants from frigid winter temperatures. Mulch can be purchased, by the bag or truckload; created by recycling "green waste" in the yard; and is even available for free from many cities and municipalities. Leaves, bark, wood chips, pine needles and straw all make wonderful mulches and are a great way to recycle your garden "extras".

For best results, mulch should be spread 2--4 inches thick over the roots of trees, shrubs and plant beds. Keep the mulch several inches away from the plant stem or trunk to prevent rotting.

Add new mulch as needed, usually once or twice a year, stirring the old mulch to promote air and moisture circulation to avoid matting.

Inorganic mulch such as gravel or colored rocks will not hold moisture and can even reflect heat, which is stressful to plants..

Create self-mulching areas under trees by allowing leaves to stay where they fall.

The Soil Workbook (pdf file), from the Landscape for Life website, provides these additional tips about mulch:

Consider what happens in a deciduous forest, one of nature’s champion mulchers. The leaves shed in autumn are transformed by the soil’s natural food web into plant food and the rich organic matter called humus that is the key to maintaining healthy soil. The blanket of organic matter protects plants from extremes of temperature, prevents soil erosion, and conserves soil moisture that otherwise would evaporate. 
  • Mulching provides your garden with these same benefits and more.
  • It also suppresses weeds, making life easier for you. And because mulch keeps the soil loose, there’s no need for regular cultivation with hoe or scuffle. Mulch conserves water—no small matter given that the proportion of municipal water used for garden irrigation is 30 percent in the eastern U.S., and can be 60 percent or more in the West.
  • By creating the conditions that help them thrive, mulch makes your plants less vulnerable to pests and diseases.
  • Mulch keeps the soil around plant roots from frying in summer and in winter helps prevent alternate freezing and thawing, which causes root damage.
  • Over time, organic mulches decompose and add nutrients and organic matter to your soil, improving waterretention and nurturing the soil fauna that promote fertility.
  • By cushioning the impact of downpours, mulch also helps prevent soil compaction, allowing water to penetrate and plant roots to breathe. 

Landscape For Life is based on the principles of The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™), the nation's first rating system for sustainable landscapes. This is the perfect time of year to be reading up on these principles to get a head start on next spring's landscape.

For Free mulch in the area, see: Free mulch and other garden goodies

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