The time between Indian summer and the holidays is an ideal time to mulch your garden. Mulch adds a protective layer for plants and adds beauty to your garden. Here we’ll cover fall mulching tips and the benefits of laying down mulch in autumn.
Why should I mulch in autumn?
Mulching in fall adds an extra layer of warmth and protection, shielding your garden and landscape plantings from cold winter temperatures. You can add mulch in fall the same way you do in spring. Mulch helps in retaining soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and prevents soil erosion. Mulching around your plants refreshes the existing mulch that has partially decomposed over the summer.
Mulching when the temperature is cool insulates the soil. This prolongs a warm soil environment, which benefits plants, earthworms, and essential microbes. The warm soil allows them to stay active longer and to overwinter in the ground. Mulch improves the soil and moderates the effect of temperature swings.
Mulching in fall insulate the roots of garden and landscape plantings. In cold, northern regions, the soil may freeze solid for a period time, but in most areas, the soil routinely freezes and thaws. This freeze-thaw cycle can stress plant roots and any foliage that grows in the top few inches of soil.
In addition, applying mulch in fall will free up precious gardening time come next spring. Plus, there will be no emerging bulbs or plants to maneuver around.
When should I mulch?
Apply mulch just after the first hard freeze. This is also a good time to trim back perennial plants. If you live in a region that experiences early snow, apply mulch just before the first snow forecast.
Note: When mulching, make sure you don’t apply too thick of a layer as this can cause a white powedery mold to occur.
What types of mulch are available for sale?
There’s a wide range of mulch material available from garden retailers or you can make your own from natural materials found in your yard. A pine straw mulch is ideal for acid-loving shrubs such as rhododendron, holly, or azalea. Shredded bark mulch looks attractive next to a walkway or in a front flowerbed. Piles of shredded leaves raked from the yard makes serviceable mulch for a vegetable garden. Natural mulches add beneficial organic matter to the soil.
Here’s an overview of the various types of mulch available at garden retailers and home centers–
Wood chips and shredded bark mulch is a popular choice. It’s inexpensive, lightweight, and adds a pleasing, natural look to your landscape. Wood mulch will gradually decompose so you will need to add a new layer every two to three years. Wood chips are not recommended for use in flower or vegetable beds because they decompose at a slow rate and can be in the way while digging.
Pine straw mulch comes from pine trees. It cools and acidifies the soil, which makes it an ideal choice for acid-loving plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons.
Cocoa hull mulch is a by-product of the cocoa industry. Cocoa hull mulch is rich chocolate brown in color, good for the soil, and smells like chocolate, as well. This exotic mulch makes an attractive garden addition to enhance plants and shrubs near entrances and doorways.
Straw mulch is a top choice for a vegetable garden. It’s lightweight, clean, and easily decomposes. Home repair expert Danny Lipford recommends applying a deep layer of straw mulch to your root vegetable garden in the fall. That way, if you’re in a warmer climate you can keep the ground from freezing so you are able to harvest veggies all winter long. It’s important to choose the right type of straw mulch as some may contain hay. Straw mulch that is part hay will cause weeds to sprout in your garden. Look for weed-free straw mulch. Wheat straw is commonly used, but rice straw is available as well.
Compost is an excellent soil amendment and beneficial garden mulch. Its dark, rich color looks attractive in the landscape. Shovel compost in a thick layer around vegetable plants and on bare spots. Earthworms will go to work to mix in the compost layer with the underlying soil.
Cedar and Cypress Mulch – Chip or bark mulch formed of cedar or cypress wood repels insects including termites, carpet beetles, roaches, and ants. The wood contains natural oils that include the chemical, thujone, which repels bugs. Cedar and cypress wood mulch lasts longer than most others as it decomposes slowly. Shovel cedar or cypress mulch around your landscape plants and in beds that are adjacent to your home to keep insects away. When choosing mulch, keep in mind that cedar mulch will quickly fade from a reddish-tan hue to light gray in color – something to keep in mind.
Grass clippings are a natural by-product of mowing the lawn, free, and readily available. Rake up grass clippings after you mow to use as mulch. The green clippings contain plenty of nitrogen and make a great choice for mulching a veggie garden.
Shredded leaf mulch is a free and easily obtained fall mulch. If you have an abundance of trees on your property, you’re sure to have plenty of fallen leaves to create a nutrient-rich mulch for your flowerbed, pathway, or shrub border. Shred the leaves by raking them into loose piles and running a lawnmower with bag attachment over them. You’ll have free mulch in one afternoon!
Mulches to Avoid
Manufacturers have come up with clever ways to take a recyclable material and turn it into mulch, but some types of mulch aren’t necessarily good for your garden.
Red-dyed mulch is often made of shredded ‘junk’ wood including old wood pallets. There’s no guarantee that the wood in red-dyed mulch is chemical-free. The red dye and possible contaminants (such as copper, arsenic and more) can leach into the soil which can harm or kill insects and earthworms. Plus, the artificial reddish color doesn’t blend well with most home gardens or landscape areas.
Rubber mulch is made of recycled and shredded rubber tires. Rubber mulch does not decompose and may contain chemicals which are a part of the tire manufacturing process.
Note: When using bark or hardwood mulch be sure to apply a new layer of mulch each year. Shotgun mold (artillery fungus) is more likely to occur in areas that are not mulched every year. The spores from this type of mold can cause spotting on nearby siding and is incredibly difficult to remove.
Did you know?
A layer of mulch placed around the trunk of young trees works as a barrier to keep mower blades and weeds away. Place the mulch a few inches away from the base of the tree. Piling mulch too high or against the trunk can smother roots and cause moisture buildup, which can make the tree susceptible to disease.