Winter mulching for vegetable garden

Winter mulching is a good way to protect your garden from freezing that happens in winter. This method will help you save money as well as it protects the soil from erosion, preventing weed growth and protecting plants from harsh weather conditions. Mulching means spreading a thick layer of organic material on top of the soil. It is used to stop weeds growing among crops, reducing evaporation and conserving moisture for plants.

Materials for winter mulching

Here are some recommended materials for winter mulching:

  1. Straw  can also be used as a natural protector. If you use straw, make sure it’s not sprayed with chemicals because you want it to decompose naturally over time so you can add its nutrients back to the soil. You need approximately four inches (10 cm) of straw.
  2. Sawdust should be around two inches (5 cm). The wood shouldn’t be too fresh, because it won’t decompose easily. Sawdust can also act as a weed barrier, but if you decide to use sawdust then you need to mix it with bit of manure or fertilizer about six months before winter comes so that the nutrients are still there when they’re needed most.
  3. Cardboard is good for mulching because it helps conserve moisture and prevent weeds growing under the cardboard. You need to apply at least four inches (10cm) of cardboard. Make sure you don’t use ink-covered cardboard, because these inks can damage soil health and plant growth over time. Cardboard has the disadvantage of not providing nutrients to plants, so you will need to add compost or manure in order for it to decompose naturally.
  4. Old newspapers are an affordable option if you don’t have any cardboard. Newspapers can block all forms of sunlight, trapping heat and moisture in the soil, which is good during winter when the ground freezes often. You need two inches (5 cm) of newspaper to be sufficient enough.
  5. Buckwheat hulls make a great mulch because after they decompose completely, their enrichment benefits your soil with magnesium and potassium, providing nourishment for your perennials and vegetables through the cold winter months. On average, four inches (10 centimeters) of buckwheat hulls is recommended on top of the soil.
  6. Hay is good for mulching, but it’s heavy and can smother your garden. If you don’t want to use hay, try using cottonseed meal instead. It won’t smother the soil and provides potassium and nitrogen while it decomposes over time. Next spring when you prepare your garden for sowing or planting, make sure to add a little fertilizer before adding compost because this will prevent any nutrient deficiency problems in future years.

Why Winter mulching vegetable garden

In the fall, I cover my garden beds with three to six inches of mulch. Depending on how much time I have and where our winter ends up being. If we get a lot of snow before it snows then I will use only two or three inches. This picture is from last year’s garden at five or six inches thick. And here are some pictures of the end product in the spring! 

I do this for several reasons. The first reason is that it keeps down weeds during the winter months when they aren’t able to go through two feet of frozen soil to get any light. It also insulates some of the roots under the ground and helps prevent them from heaving in the winter.

The other major reason I mulch is because it prevents erosion and compaction in our garden beds. We have a LOT of rain and snow during the winter and without additional mulching we would lose tons of soil each year due to wind, water runoff and general foot traffic through the garden.

I generally use leaves but any type of dried plant material will work fine for this application. This includes straw, chopped cornstalks (experiment with different things) grass clippings, shredded paper or cardboard, etc. Just make sure that whatever you put on isn’t going to easily decompose into your soil and cause poor growth next spring! Wood chips are NOT a good choice because they decompose too slowly and will cause problems with soil drainage.

I usually wait until Thanksgiving to do the majority of our nation’s mulching. I start raking up leaves in October so they are broken down somewhat by the time I use them for mulch. My secret weapon is my homemade leaf vacuum . It allows me to suck up all the leaves on our property very quickly, sometimes faster than even my wife can rake them! This makes it possible for me to get the whole thing done in under two hours while she enjoys some hot cocoa (or something stronger!) inside!  

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