Using Mulch

Mulching can make the difference between a healthy, easy-care garden and a scraggly, high-maintenance one. Mulch can be permanent or organic. Permanent mulches include landscape fabric, gravel and stones. These are suitable only around permanent plantings such as shrubs and trees. Organic mulches include grass clippings, shredded bark, wood chips, cocoa hulls and pine needles. These break down over time and need to be replenished but they nourish the soil as they decompose. They are ideal for vegetable and flower gardens where plants change each year.

Winter and Summer Mulching

Winter mulch is used to protect perennials and permanent plantings from temperature extremes and heaving after the ground is frozen in cold climates. To mulch garden beads in the winter, wait until the ground has frozen and then scatter a loose, airy mulch such as chopped autumn leaves, straw, pine boughs or needles several inches thick. Don’t use grass clippings or whole leaves because they can mat and suffocate plants. Gently push or rake back mulch from perennial plants once they start to show signs of new growth in spring. During the growing season, mulch conserves moisture and suppresses weeds. To mulch during the growing season, wait until the soil has warmed, usually a couple of weeks after the last frost. In vegetable gardens and with annuals, wait until the plants are a few inches high so they will not be covered or shaded by the mulch. Spread the mulch 1 to 3 inches thick.