Fall Is The Time To Prepare For Winter With Mulching

Here it is fall and the garden is ready to snooze. That’s cool. I am ready for a break! Hold it, there is more work to be done? Errrr, okay, only some mulching and a bit of pruning. Those fallen leaves and dying annuals are not for the trash can, that organic material is black gold for the garden. Yes, more work … Fall is the time to prepare for winter with mulching and pruning!

A step that is commonly neglected in laying the garden to bed for the winter, is the addition of organic matter. We really should use “trash” organic matter in our gardens rather than throwing yard waste into the dumpster. If it has to be raked or mowed, why not utilize it for Mother Nature’s blanket – mulch.

It is practically impossible to put too much organic matter into the soil. Fall is a good time for many reasons. One good reason is all of the materials that you want are there for free, leaves and dying plants. (aka yard waste)

One way to get all that stuff into a more usable form is to pile up leaves, grass clippings and dead plants (only those free from disease) and going over them with a mulching mower; they are far more manageable in that form, then putting them into the compost pile or straight on the garden bed. How much benefit can a few inches layered on garden beds really help? The answer is a lot.

The very best thing a gardener can do to better their soil is add organic matter. It increases the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. It assists in making minerals available for plants. While it accumulates, it binds clay particles, improving aeration and drainage. Gardening success starts from the ground up.
wood chips for fall mulching
Your most important resource is your soil.

Working with Mulch

Many jobs done in the fall will determine the success of the next gardening year. Mulching is one of these chores, particularly if you have put new perennials to the garden this fall.

To mulch or not to mulch?

Believe it or not, this is often greatly debated. We mulch gardens to help hold in moisture and muzzle the weeds in the spring. In the fall, mulch plays an entirely different role. Fall mulching is done to nourish the soil and prevent extreme soil-temperature fluctuations.

It is not a constant frozen state of soil that causes the biggest issue, it is the constant cycle of freezing and thawing that stresses even dormant plants. These cycles are not only hard on plants, but on the microbial and other life that lives in healthy soil. Mulch helps to prevent these extremes.

Many claim that if you mulch too soon, it will cause new growth and give the plant a “false feel” of the true temperatures. This creates tender growth that will freeze and damage the plant. Other people say mulching is essential and new perennials are provided a good foundation in which to root. One thing most agree on is that fall mulch is best put on after the first hard frost.

Related  Using Worm Castings

Mulching over the winter works as an insulating blanket, keeping the soil from buckling from constant freeze and thaw cycles. If you plant perennials this fall without mulching, the bald soil will thaw during the day and freeze at night, producing movement that can heave small plants up out of the soil. The crown of the plant will be dried out and either be injured or die over the winter.
Many jobs done in the fall will determine the success of the next gardening year. Click To Tweet

An additional word on mulching… rose gardeners should not be in a big rush to mulch in the fall. Putting down a layer of mulch now will do more harm than good. Fall freezes will not hurt the roses, so it is best to wait a few weeks for the soil to freeze before putting down a layer of winter mulch to roses.

To prune or not to prune?

Certain perennials, such as peonies after their leaves have died, need to be trimmed. Iris is also open to diseases and rotting and is better off if its leaves are trimmed back. The tree peony, however, is somewhat like a deciduous shrub with a woody stalk and won’t need to be trimmed, just fertilized around November and mulched for the onset of a cold winter.

A little bit of clean up and trimming should be done, fruits and vegetables left deteriorating on the ground will only bring disease and rodents. Trimming perennials that provide no winter appeal will lower the likelihood of pests, disease and other gardening troubles, and it will liven up outdoor space by making clean lines and a clean slate for the spring.

You can always leave perennials that have winter appeal, like sedum, witch hazel, and ornamental grasses. Texture and multi-colors of tan, brown and rust can be just as important to the winter garden as the bloom colors are to the garden of summer.

Plants like broad leaf evergreens, holly and azalea, are inclined to feel winter dryness and are much better left uncut.

No matter how awesome your garden was this season, a good fall clean up makes it that much nicer to start again in the spring!

The Ready Store
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease" ~ Thomas Jefferson

Leave a Comment