Its only when the ground is frozen solid or snow is on the ground that I can’t really do anything in the garden and yard — except maybe peek at the lettuce under the cold frame. This past February was such a month, so I lost almost an entire month of enjoying my yard and garden.
Fortunately most Virginia winters are such that I can accomplish a lot outside and get a jump on things before green growth takes over. For me anywhere from 40 to 60 degrees is perfect for working outside.
In January this year I cut the ornamental grasses (I usually wait until March), and cut back some leather leafs and variegated shrubs that we use as a hedge along the side of the property that had grown about 10 to 15 feet tall. The mocking birds and thrashers loved them and were becoming quite prolific. Both are aggressive birds andI can only accommodate a few of each. I think trimming and thinning these hedges is just what the doctor ordered to keep these birds to more controllable numbers.
It was great getting those things done, but I am most excited about getting my garden and borders mulched. That will pay off big time in the season ahead.
I can think of 10 reasons to mulch.
1. Weed control. You’ll still get a few weeds that you can pull when you go by, but NOTHING compared to what you get when there is no mulch. Bare ground without mulch will work you silly trying to control weeds.
2. Protection from the elements. Rain will compact bare soil. Sun then bakes it. The result is not the best environment for plants.
3. Prevents erosion. You sure don’t want all that good soil running off somewhere else with the rain.
4. Improves the soil. As mulch breaks down it improves the soil texture by adding organic matter. (This is how
easy it is to improve soil!)
5. Helps maintain moisture in dry weather. The only time I ever water is when I first plant and sometimes I don’t do it then.
6. Can keep warmth in the soil over winter. Mulched beds won’t freeze as readily as unmulched beds. I find this particularly helpful when I want to work outside in the winter. If the bed is frozen you can’t do much.
7. Keeps the soil cooler in summer heat. Most plants like it a lot better.
8. Looks nicer.
9. Eliminates most yard waste. Most debris from your flower borders does not have to be removed. When cutting you can leave it for use as mulch which as we have discussed feeds the soil. I leave 99% of everything in my flower borders where it falls when sprucing up.(I do remove rose bush trimmings.) My ornamental grasses make wonderful mulch. Even when trimming the hedges I leave all the small stuff to decay. (I put straw on top of that to help it make a better appearance.) If I had a chipper I would use the big stuff as well.
In the vegetable garden I leave my finished peas in the path when I pull them up, and sometimes if the tomatoes have had a particularly beautiful year I will pull them and place in various paths to decay. I do the same with lettuce, spinach, and radish tops. Most all other finished vegetable plants I take out of the garden so as not to give a foot hold to the respective pest of each or possible fungal diseases.
10. Saves time. The other nine reasons all add up to the 10th reason which I think is the biggest and best reason of all to use mulch. It saves you tons of time on garden chores you will never have to do!
That bears repeating: It saves you tons of time on garden chores you will never have to do!
Picture – Garden beds mulched with straw.
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I was reading your article on mulch and I was a big believer until it seemed to add to my insect problems. Like squash bugs and other nasties. They seem to hide out in it. Straw seemed to cause fungi problems in my tomatoes?? I try to do organic. I live in the middle of Kansas, we had a perfect April now we are having record heat and it is dry. I have tried straw, newspaper, dry leaves and grass clippings. I really enjoy your site. Thanks, This year I havent mulched. Hoping the projected baseball size hail will not come tonight!
Lynette, I had sent you an email on the 27th requesting more information about your situation, but have not heard from you. There may be others that feel as you do — and I wanted to address the concerns in detail in a post. But without knowing the “rest of the story” it’s hard to give an answer.
Regarding bugs —- yes they will hide almost anywhere that is available — including in mulch.
Regarding your tomatoes having problems — possibly because of the mulch. Maybe that can happen — it never has with me in 35 years.
If mulch does have negative things about it — I would liken it unto water — Water we need to sustain life, to keep clean, to help us heal, etc. We can also drown in it.
Best of luck with your garden.
So sorry that I didnt see your reply sooner. I had a very busy gardening year! The squash bugs were so bad that I haven’t planted curbits for a couple years anywhere near the regular garden. The other insect problem I have is worms in my raspberries and Colorado potato bugs. I just didn’t plant potatoes and I ended up throwing away my raspberries. I have tried to eliminate the attractive plants . I did harvest over 400 sweet potatoes! and lots of beets both without any pesticides . I am still open to ideas because I love all squash and pumpkins. Thanks