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What are the benefits of mulching a garden?

Well, for one mulch retains moisture. Second, mulch deters many weed seeds from germinating...

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Mulching and Winter Protection:

Mulch is a material applied to the soil to provide protection or aesthetic improvement to a selected area. Mulch material is either organic, such as bark, leaves, and straw, or non-organic, such as stones and black plastic. There are many beneficial effects on the soil and plants due to mulch, some of which are:

  • Prevents the evaporation of water from the soil, therefore, less watering is required.
  • Prevents over-drying of the soil, which in turn allows absorption of water around plant roots.
  • Insulates the soil; keeps it cool during the warm summer months and warm during the cold winter months.
  • Reduces weed problems. If applied approximately 4 inches deep, the germination of weed seeds will be prevented.
  • A thick layer of mulch will smother existing small weeds.
  • Ads interest to the garden area.
  • Prevents mud from splashing onto plants, which could otherwise cause plant loss due to soil-borne diseases.

Despite these benefits, there is a down side to mulch. Large weeds cannot be smothered, and if the mulch contains weed seeds, these seeds may germinate. Slug and rodent problems may increase. "New" mulch is identified as tree limbs recently made into mulch. New mulch should be aged for a season before it is worked into the soil as the soil may become leached of nitrogen. New mulch can be used on top of the soil around plants as well as on walkways.


Annuals are replanted every year, therefore, it is suggested that mulch that rapidly decays when worked into the soil be used. Tree bark and stone interfere with planting of annuals.

Perennials should be mulched two times a year; winter and summer. The summer mulch helps to prevent water loss and control weeds. The winter mulch prevents the freezing and thawing cycles, which cause the plants to heave, which in turn kill plants. Apply the summer mulch before the plants have much new growth and water it into place. Peat moss can be used as mulch, but it repels water once it has dried out. Apply the winter mulch after the ground has frozen. The winter mulch should be a loose material, such as straw, in order to allow air filtration. Remove the winter mulch in the spring as soon as new growth begins. If using leaves, use only stiff leaves such as Oak or Beech. Soft leaves, such as Maple, pack together making it difficult for air and water filtration.

Hardy Bulbs:
Bulbs benefit from winter mulching. Use approximately 4 inches of a non-packing mulch, applied when the ground is frozen. The mulch should be removed in early spring.

Most rose bushes are not hardy in northern areas, therefore, they must be protected from both cold winter temperatures and harsh winter winds. Insulators such as burlap wraps, cones, mulch, soil, etc. provide necessary protection. To protect roses using soil, after the first hard frost mound soil around the base of the canes. To reduce wind whipping, either tie the canes together or cut the canes to a manageable length and mound soil 8 to 10 inches around the canes. To avoid injuring the roots, use soil from another part of the garden. Clay and other heavy soils should not be used as it holds too much moisture. After the ground has frozen, pile leaves, straw or other such materials over the mounded canes and hold down with soil. By doing this, the soil temperature will remain constant. It is important to apply the leaves, straw, etc. after the ground has frozen to prevent mouse infestation. Cones should be applied after the roses are dormant, which is usually after the second hard frost. If open topped cones are used, tie the canes together and fill with leaves or straw. Cut the canes even with the top of the cone and cover with polyethylene or a similar material. For closed top cones, tie the canes together, apply leaves or straw, and then cover the rose with the cone. To protect climbing roses, lay the canes on the ground and cover them with several inches of soil. Tree roses should be protected by covering the plant with soil. Carefully dig on one side of the plant until it can be pulled over to the ground. Care must be taken to prevent breaking the root connection. In the spring, after all danger of frost has passed and before new growth has begun, carefully remove the protective cones, soil, etc.


Black plastic - Holds in moisture and controls weeds. Cut holes for drainage.
Composted leaves 2-3 inches Breaks down rapidly. Adds humus and food to soil.
Grass clippings 2 inches Excellent mulch. Will break down rapidly in soil.
Gravel 2 inches Holds moisture. Looks good with woody plants
Ground corncobs 2-3 inches Improves fertility in soil. Good for roses and other plants that require medium acid soil.
Hay 3-4 inches Reduces weeds and holds moisture well.
Peat 2 inches Soak well before using as may scatter easily. Breaks down rapidly.
Pine needles 3 inches Adds acid to soil.
Sawdust 2 inches Use weathered sawdust if mixing with soil. Fresh sawdust may leach soil of nitrogen as it breaks down. OK to use for walkways. Breaks down slowly.
Wood chips 4 inches Use weathered wood chips if mixing with soil. Fresh wood chips may leach soil of nitrogen. OK to use for walkways.