The Miracles of Mulches

There are several really important and diverse reasons why you ought to be mulching your plants, especially in winter. Let’s take a moment to list them.

Slow growth of weeds. Yes, weeds do grow in the winter. Cool-season weeds can be unsightly. Chief among them in beds: annual bluegrass, clover, chickweed. Mulches stop germination of these weeds’ seeds, slow growth of the plants, but only if they’re applied 1-2 inches deep.

Moderate rate of change of soil temperatures (the freeze/thaw cycles). Aha. This is a big one in winter. If you have plants that are vulnerable to cold injury in your area, especially types that die to the ground and must return from their roots, mulching can help ensure that the roots will survive to come back for another year. Here you’ll want to apply 2 to 3 inches of a fairly loose mulch such as bark, compost or shredded tree leaves. But you probably won’t have to cover your plants completely (as, for example, strawberries in the North).

You never realize all the good mulches do until you start making a list.

Slow the drying process by limiting soil-to-air contact. Even in winter our Texas soils dry out. And watering can be challenging when it’s cold. Mulches can lighten that need.

Lessen erosion by slowing flow of runoff. In this case you’ll need a fairly heavyweight mulch. A small size of river rock can be decorative and functional. I use bark mulch in our landscape, and I have to confess that I have to replace it following heavy rains. I can rake and retrieve some of it, but some always gets hung up in the groundcovers. In my areas of heavier wash, I go with the river rock.

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Reduce splashing of rainfall and irrigation, thereby lessening staining of the side of the house, splattering of water-borne funguses. This is really critical if you have a light-colored house and red, iron-rich soil. It’s also critical if you’re growing plants like pansies or snapdragons that are susceptible to soil-borne water-mold funguses that splash up onto leaves and stems when it rains. Mulches help.

Improve looks of the landscape. Forget all the rest. This is why many of us put mulches out in our gardens. They just look good. After all, that’s a big part of why we landscape in the first place.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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