Winter mulch important

Mulching can help, hurt your garden in many ways

Kelly Heidbreder
Kelly Heidbreder

I wish I had a nickel each time I was asked about mulching a garden because I would be pretty rich by now. It is a popular question because mulching can help your garden in many ways, but can also hurt it if you get too crazy.

Too much mulch can create problems. Piling it too high, especially around the trunk of young trees, can create little nests for tiny critters like mice. They will build a home at the base of your tree and nibble on the trunk throughout winter. In the spring, you will uncover their living quarters with enough damage to kill the tree.

Usually, a three to four-inch layer of mulch around the base of most perennials will keep the weeds away during the growing season. But for winter, you want to pump up the insulation and mulch up to six inches around the base of each perennial and fanning out at least a foot.


Perfect timing

A thick layer of mulch around your perennials is like a big winter coat, keeping them insulated from the cold. And timing is the key. We have a few frost events overnight and it has caused some of the annuals to wither, but we haven’t had the hard killing frost of the season.

It might seem like a good time just to sweep those leaves around the base of your plants as their winter mulch and call it a day. But that’s not such a good idea. Wait to heavily mulch the beds until the ground is frozen. You want the roots to freeze, then stay frozen.

Clean the beds thoroughly and keep your leaves for the compost pile. If you have heavy oak leaves, mow over them to chop them before composting. If you mow over your leaves, you can put the shredded debris around the base of your plants. You can also put them in a five-gallon bucket and use your weed trimmer to chop them. The chopped leaves will break down quicker and give your plants a boost of compost by next spring.


Ready the roses

For roses, make sure you cover the graft at the base of your hybrids. This is the big bump near the soil line. If this graft isn’t protected, your roses are in jeopardy. Dump a bag of composted manure over each plant to cover this tender spot and mound shredded leaf debris around the manure. If you do this, there will be no need for a rose cone and your roses will be fed until early summer.

If you have climbing roses, lay the trellis on the ground and cover it with a four to six inch layer of mulch. If you can’t detach the trellis, mulch up to six inches around the base and protect the roses from the drying wind by covering the trellis with burlap through the winter.

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