A guide to mulching gardens for winter protection

October 9, 2015

There are plenty of good reasons to add mulch to your garden. In summer, mulch helps keep soil temperatures cool and save water. In winter, it reduces the negative impact of bitterly cold weather on dormant plants. Here are a few tips to prepare your garden for winter using mulch.

A guide to mulching gardens for winter protection

[Image Credit: iStock.com/ozgurcoskun]

Why mulch?

Simply put, mulching helps to save plants in cold weather. In many areas, the problem is not due to the prolonged freezing. Instead, the repeated freeze-thaw cycle of the soil is what damages plants.

  • This freeze-thaw process causes plant roots to break and can actually heave plants out of the soil, exposing their roots to further frost damage.
  • In cold-winter areas, piling on a double layer of fluffy organic mulch after the soil freezes will help to keep plants safe from these drastic changes in the weather.

Where winters are usually milder, sudden cold snaps can damage plants that hold tender green growth through the winter.

  • An extra layer of winter mulch composed of a fluffy material, such as straw or evergreen boughs, safeguards shallow roots and green shoots from frost damage without smothering the crowns of the plants.

To protect young shrubs from hungry rabbits and deer, enclose the plants in a protective cage made from wire fencing and put insulating mulch inside the cage.

  • Whether to protect against hungry critters or to insulate the soil against destructive swings in temperature, a layer of mulch provides protection for your garden over winter's frigid months.

Mulching with fallen leaves

If you never seem to have enough mulch, be sure to save your autumn leaves – there's never a shortage of those! Fallen leaves are an excellent source of mulch.

To transform leaves into mulch

  • First, rake them up. Then run over them with your lawn mower to chop them into pieces. Finally, stockpile the shredded leaves in a bin in a shady corner of your backyard – you're essentially composting with leaves.

Because leaves rot slowly and eventually become leaf mold, they're a good source of slightly acidic organic matter.

Marking special spots

When you're not using metal support hoops or tomato cages to support plants, they can be used in winter. How?

  • Put them to work marking places where dormant plants are at rest. After applying a layer of mulch they make finding "hidden" plants in spring much easier.

In winter, these wire supports also can be used to hold mulch in place.

  • Plants such as roses and other marginally hardy plants may require a thicker mulch layer. Wire supports form a "wall" that keeps the mulch piled together.

Mulching is an excellent and inexpensive way to help shield your plants from the harsh temperatures of winter. Materials as simple as fallen leaves, wood chips and fluffy soil can act as a mulching agent to help guarantee your plants will return in the spring.

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