Mulches for Winter

It’s that age old garden question; to mulch or not to mulch. I fall firmly on the side of mulching and here is why. Mulching for the winter means the best spring gardens. Mulch is the equivalent of a warm fuzzy blanket on a cold winter night. In fact, that’s just what mulch is. It’s protection from the temperature, but that’s not all. Mulch also acts as protection from moisture evaporation. This keeps your plants from drying out (yes, even when they are frozen in the ground.) Mulch also keeps your plants in place, because there is less wear and tear when protected. They get less rodent and animal attention, when safely under the layer of borning mulch too. No matter how you look at it, mulching is not only good practice, it’s essential for your garden soil’s health. 

Another added benefit of mulching the garden each year (and this includes garden pots as well) is that if organic, your mulch will break down slowly and provide more organic material for your overall soil makeup.

It’s critical that you add organic material each year, and why not let nature do it herself by breaking down the mulch layer? 

Your mulch can be made of many things. Of course it should ideally be something that is going to decompose and become the next layer of garden soil. Some things to consider using for an organic protective layer are: 

Leaves - Why not use what you have? Leaves make a wonderful mulch for any garden, and usually people are trying to give them away. Many times, keeping them in a garbage bag all winter will break them down enough so that they are partially decomposed and even more useful. If you or your neighbor collects their fall leaves, keep them in an out of the way place until you need them and mulch for free. 

Straw - One of my favorites because we buy hay anyways. I always use the bales that have started to decompose. I don’t use them for the animals, so the garden is perfect. Use straw without the seed heads or you will be inviting weed into your dill, but this is a great mulch. 

Newspaper - Your local newspaper is giving away bundles of newspapers right now. It makes great mulch for your garden and costs nothing. Avoid the shiny inserts, but the newsprint pages are perfect. It needn’t be shredded to be of use. Layers overlapping each other will make a protective layer for winter. It’s not that attractive, so another layer of leaves or straw will hide the paper. An added bonus; I have never seen the number of earthworms in my soil that I have now, with a newspaper layer under my straw mulch. 

Compost - I put this on the list because it does make an excellent mulch, but not everyone has access to this rich amendment. If you do though, adding compost as a mulch is fabulous. Again, I would cover this precious layer with straw to keep the compost in place throughout the winter. 

 

For those of us with limited amounts of compost, try adding some around the base of the plants before mulching the whole bed. That way, you have a slow release nutritional boost right where the plants need it.