Mulching acts as an insulation to protect your plants from the freezing-thawing-freezing-thawing cycle which may damage roots. Mulching protect plants from winter. It keeps roots warmer much longer.
What Makes a Good Winter Mulch?
The best mulches you can apply on your garden for winter should have these qualities:
Coarse in texture
Allows adequate water and air to flow
Winter mulching in cold climate garden is best applied after the first hard frost. This is when the temperature is below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Here are some rules of thumb on how to apply mulch:
• 1-2 inches away from plants.
• 6-12 inches away from tree's base.
• 3-4 inches away from shrub's base.
• 3-6 inch layers for coarse- textured mulch (straw, wood chips)
• 2-4 inch layers for fine-textured mulch (compost, shredded leaves)
There are a wide variety of winter mulch materials. These are some of what you need to have:
Pine Bark. Durable, Remains in place, Shredded or chipped, Does not easily decompose, Attractive
Pine Straw/Pine Needle Mulch. Durable, Lightweight, Fragrant, Moisture retentive, Does not easily decompose
Cypress Mulch. Adds moisture when decomposes, Prevents growth of weeds, Less expensive
Cedar Mulch. From the bark off Evergreen tree, Durable, dense, heavy, Decomposes fast, Protects ground against the thawing cycle, Safe for soil and plants, Strong scented, Expensive
Rubber Mulch. Inorganic mulch, Recycled tires, Retains moisture of soil, Suppresses weeds, Available in a variety of colors
How to Apply Mulch in Cold Climate Gardens
Using the right kind of mulch can protect the roots of the plants from extreme temperatures. It can also improve the soil and prevent the growth of weeds. Decorative mulch provide texture and color on the bare space between the plants. Applying mulch is simple and fast but the benefits your plants will get out of it in winter is something you will be thankful for.
Step 1: Choose the right type of mulch for the job. During the rest of the season, you may consider the choice of mulch based on its availability, biodegradability, permeability and appearance. However during winter, mulching functions simply to cover your plants from the freezing temperature.
Step 2: Prepare the area for winter mulching. Pull out the weeds. Add fertilizer to the soil. Install any edges or borders in the area.
Step 3: Prepare the plants for winter mulching. Prune some of the plants.
Step 4: Use a rake to spread the mulch. It is ideal to apply at least 2 to 4 inches of mulch. This is to prevent the growth of weeds and for the soil to retain moisture. Too much mulch will damage plants while too little will be of no use. Make sure to cover the plants completely with mulch. The mulch will insulate the plants from the freezing cold.
Preparing Various Plant Types for Winter
Preparing Annuals for Winter. Mulch the beds of annuals with 3 to 4 layers of mulch. If the annuals are due to germinate the following spring, cover the plants with only 2 inches of mulch. After heavy frost, check the condition of the annuals and discard some that have died.
Preparing Shrubs or Young Trees for Winter. During the early days of fall, transplant the shrubs or young trees to a new location. Before the ground stats to freeze, water the shrubs or young trees. If there is not much rain, water deeply. When the ground starts to freeze, spread about 5 inches of mulch. Add some fertilizer on year old and over shrubs and young trees. Older shrubs and trees do not need fertilizer when they have been mulched. For shrub roses, mound mulch on their lower canes and add a burlap screen for added protection against the freezing temperatures.
Preparing Roses for Winter. Roses are dormant during fall thus they need to be prepared for winter. For shrub roses, apply mulch on the base of the roses to keep them warm. Hybrid roses (cloche or cone) are vulnerable to freezing temperature and will need an additional protective covering after mulching.
Preparing Vegetables for Winter. Before light frost begins to fall, harvest such crops as potatoes, pumpkins, onions and potatoes. Root crops, carrots and Brussels sprouts can survive light frost. Clear the debris off the harvested beds. Heavily mulch root crops with thick layers of chopped leaves or straw.
You do not need to stop gardening just because it is winter. Winter mulching in cold climate gardens is such a breeze with the right choice of mulch. Have you been winter mulching in your garden? Share with us some of your winter mulching tips in the comments section.
Ann Katelyn is a homesteader in Alabama who has dedicated most of her life to gardening and botanical study with growing interests ranging from the popular, world-class roses to the rarest and most exotic orchids. She is currently trying her best to become well versed on plants found in desert areas, the tropics, and Mediterranean region. Connect with Ann on Twitter and her website, Sumo Gardener.