Benefits of Fall Mulching

Fall mulching has many benefits on your gardens life throughout the winter months. Applying in the fall reduces water loss in soil, suppresses weed growth, and protects plants from temperature extremes.

MulchSoil Moisture Retention:

Mulch’s ability to conserve soil moisture has long been documented. It may be its most universally recognized desirable quality. While powers that be and test results differ, it is clear that moisture evaporation from soil covered with mulch is reduced anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. Whichever you accept, the water-conserving value of mulching can’t be overemphasized, especially in these times of water restrictions and shortages. Applying mulch keeps the soil from drying out partly because it prevents dew and water drawn up from the subsoil from escaping. Dew is not simply condensation of water from the atmosphere; it is also condensation of moisture from the air pockets found in the soil. Most dew is completely wasted, as far as plant growth is concerned, unless there is something on the surface to catch it and prevent it from evaporating.

Weed Suppression

As for weed control, one study has found weeding time to be reduced by almost two-thirds through the use of mulches. Proper mulching can practically eliminate the need for weeding and cultivating. There are a few catches, however. First, the mulch itself must be weed-free. Many a gardener has had the best mulching intentions go off course with one application of weed-strewn hay or manure. They end up introducing more weeds to their garden than they controlled. Second, mulch must be deep enough to prevent existing weed seeds from germinating. As with most other seeds, weeds need light to germinate. Those weeds trying to come up under mulch sprout in darkness and wither away. If mulch is applied too thinly or unevenly, weeds may still find their way through. So when applying your mulch, you’ll want to think like a weed and cover all the open areas.

Finally, mulches won’t smother all weeds. Some particularly tough weeds have the fortitude to push themselves up through just about any mulch. These should be easy to spot, however, and even more easily plucked when growing in a mulched bed.

Soil Temperature

The effect mulching has on soil temperatures is probably one of the most overlooked benefits. Many of us are concerned with aboveground temperatures and do not spend much time pondering what’s happening underground. Mulch acts like insulation by keeping the soil around your plants’ roots cooler on warm days and warmer on cold nights. This is especially important during rapid temperature shifts. In cold weather, mulch works to prevent the soil from alternately freezing and thawing, which leads to soil heaving and root damage. This does not mean the soil will not freeze; it just won’t happen overnight. It’s those rapid changes that not only threaten aboveground growth, but may also send tender plant roots into shock. Winter mulches are usually applied in the fall after the plants are dormant and are removed the following spring.

Types of Mulches

What types of mulches would I use, you say? That’s a good question. There are two main classes of mulches; organic and inorganic. Here are six different types of organic ground covers.

  1. The most widely used organic mulch is shredded bark mulches. It is usually made from pine or hardwood trees from the region and is resistant to decomposition.
  2. Wood chips are another great source of ground cover people use. You want chips that are greater than three inches because it prevents chips from compacting. Only use fresh chips. Aged chips have chemical products that can be toxic to youthful plants.
  3. Saw dust mulches are very cheap and affordable mulches. Check your sawdust beds often because they usually compact and form a mat that does not allow water to penetrate.
  4. Lawn clippings are great to leave on the lawn. They help recycle nutrients.
  5. Leaves are a very attractive and leave a natural presence. They trap water and cause a wet environment that allows decay and fungus.
  6. Pine straw is good mulch that is gaining popularity in residential and commercial landscapes.

Inorganic mulches consist of gravel, brick chips, and crushed stone. You will want to add a fabric layer before you apply these ground covers. This helps keep weeds from growing through the inorganic mulches. These types of mulches are permanent and are suggested for places where no future planning will be done.

When applying mulches, you will want to have at least 2 inches of thickness with 4 inches as your max. Applying it too thin will not serve its function of conserving moisture, reducing moisture, or providing any other benefits of the mulch. Also, be careful placing mulch too close to tree trunks or plant stems. It will keep the tissue of the tree or plant too wet setting up an environment for insect and diseases to move into the stem or trunk. You will lose a tree or plant very quickly.

Brandon Chatham

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *