Make the most of your fall garden mulching by following some key tips.
Installing mulch in the fall is beneficial because it protects plant roots from extreme temperatures in the winter months and also helps to preserve moisture if your region does not receive enough precipitation.
Cooler-Weather Curb Appeal
The recommended mulch depth is 3-4 inches for medium- to coarse-textured materials, say experts. Spread mulch under trees, shrubs and throughout planting beds.
Think of Donuts
Keep mulch away from the base of a tree, creating a donut-hole affect. The mulched area should extend to the drip line of the tree branches, or at least cover a 4-5 foot diameter area around the trunk.
Avoid volcano mulching, which is created when mulch is piled up around the trunk.
When Mulching Goes Bad
When mulch is placed right next to the tree base, you can see the ill effects on the trunk. Too much moisture will gather around the base, and the bark can decay.
When decay occurs, serious disease organisms may more readily enter the plant. Mulch is better when applied heaviest around the edges of a tree’s roots.
Think about tree safety. Put a mulch island under a magnolia tree that had been pruned up. The mulch island is a little more in proportion with the size of the tree.
Smart First Steps
Mulching can be a big task in the fall, if you have multiple garden beds. Organic mulch should be composted or otherwise treated before use. The step kills insects, weed seeds and disease microorganisms. The texture of composted mulch generally is more uniform, which also means better curb appeal.
A long-lasting organic mulch option is pine needles or shredded bark, such as cedar. Other options are grass clippings, as well as animal manure (mixed with a coarse-textured material). Composted leaf litter will work, but it may increase weeds if not thoroughly composted. Colored mulch can be more expensive and you need to be careful around edibles.
For a cheap and possibly free source of mulch, ask a local tree service for wood chips. Municipalities also may make them available. Wood chips should always be composted before applying to beds.
Keep It Covered
One mistake that people make is putting down less mulch to trying to stretch their dollar. Make sure to keep the standard 3-inch layer. If the mulch is not thick enough, it won’t do its job of insulating roots and reducing moisture loss.