Winter mulching with leaves

As we get closer and closer to winter here in the Upper Peninsula, people start asking me about mulching their trees and shrubs. I thought this would be a good time to give you some basic guidelines on how to cover your plants with leaves for winter protection.

First of all, let’s talk about when it’s ok to mulch… In December, you should have no problem applying a 3″ – 5″ mulch around your plants if it is dry outside. After Christmas you usually have a few weeks before the ground freezes hard where it can be done. The benefit of putting down a heavy layer in January is that any snowfall will help hold in the warmth below and insulate from the wind above. This can really cut down on the amount of snow that your plants will have to deal with during the winter months.

When you’re mulching, just remember to keep it away from any trunks because this can cause rot and lead to disease problems in the future. For flowering shrubs like rhododendrons, you may want to keep an eye on them and make sure they aren’t buried too deep- otherwise you could smother the buds! Evergreen boughs are also good for covering up perennials like daylilies (Hemerocallis). Wait until after a good hard freeze then use branches that are about 2 feet long by 1/2 inch thick or less. You can poke twiggy branches into the soil around each plant.

This is also a good time to prune your perennials. Some of the things I recommend getting on your list are dead heading spent flowers on herbaceous peonies, dahlias, and daylilies. If you need to do any rejuvenating or major pruning on shrubs like rhododendrons, now’s the time! Just remember to clean up all the plant debris that falls off with your shears. If left in big piles next to plants it can lead to disease problems later in the spring when these leaves start decomposing. It’s also helpful if you clean up around evergreens early so they don’t get too dried out over winter. Make sure they have plenty of water during dry spells- evergreens need water year round.

Winter mulching with leaves is my favorite method for protecting plants over the winter- it’s simple, inexpensive, and very effective!

Everyone knows that when fall rolls around it is time to start thinking about winterizing plants. One of the most important things you will do for your plants in the winter is applying a thick layer (3-5 inches) of mulch over top your plants, right before winter. This has several purposes:

Why winter mulching is important

One, it acts as an insulating blanket to protect against temperature fluctuations in addition to water loss due to cold weather and wind.

Two, it protects against frost heaving which can cause permanent damage in some cases by thrusting rocks upwards in the soil or by causing plant roots to pop out of the ground.

Three, it prevents weeds from germinating within the garden bed . This allows you get a jump on your spring weeding that much faster.

And finally, mulching helps reduce the amount of work you have to do in the springtime. The prep work can be a lot of work and by putting down a thick layer of mulch over winter, you are cutting out a few steps when it is time to plant.

You can use any type of organic material for winter mulching from straw, leaves or even wood chips left over from another project around the house. Just make sure whatever material you choose has not been treated with an herbicide since this would kill most garden plants once they start growing in springtime.

Best times to apply winter mulch

The best times to apply winter mulch are typically right before Thanksgiving (in the southern hemisphere this is typically around late April) or right before Christmas, if you are in the northern hemisphere. This allows it to settle and form a nice insulating blanket over your plants while winter sets in. If you live in an area where there is little fluctuation (cold but no freeze and thaws), then applying mulch right before Thanksgiving should be fine.

You should also make sure that any material you use for your winter mulching has not been sprayed with salt which can be harmful to any plant life it comes into contact with. And if you live where de-icing compounds such as rock salt are used on roads and sidewalks, avoid using these materials for garden mulches since they will end up in your soil.

On a final note, winter mulching can be great for your garden not only aesthetically but also for soil health. By putting down a layer of material on top of the soil it acts as a form of insulation. It can prevent any cold air from penetrating into the ground which can freeze up plant roots and kill them when they start to grow in springtime. So after you have applied your winter mulch, sit back and relax until next spring when you tear off all that mulch and find healthy, happy plants underneath!

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