With autumn officially beginning, winter can’t be far behind. With it comes snow, ice, cold and swirling Arctic winds. While we retreat into our nice, warm homes, our landscape plants have to stay put. The least we can do is put a coat around their cold-sensitive roots.
That coat should consist of an extra layer of organic mulch like wood chips. Sensitive roots can be compared to human nerves. Both like the status quo and react adversely to radical changes. Mulch reduces those radical changes in several ways.
Mulch moderates soil temperatures, reducing the impact of their frequent swings on plant roots. These swings are year-round considerations. In spring, summer and fall, however, temperature swings aren’t as significant as they are in winter. They fluctuate only a few degrees in a 24-hour period. In winter, that fluctuation can be much greater and plant roots don’t like these wide temperature changes, especially those that drop from warm to below freezing and vice versa.
Mulch will minimize the effect of temperature extremes on your plants. During the spring, summer and fall, two to a maximum of three inches of mulch are sufficient. Any more is too much. In winter, however, three or four inches are preferable. Be sure to remove any mulch over three inches in the spring.
As you prepare your yard for winter, start by fluffing up the mulch already in place. Using a leaf rake, fluff it up similar to the way you would mashed potatoes or rice. Once the existing mulch is fluffed, you can measure its depth with a yardstick. Add enough new mulch to bring the depth to four inches; no more. Moisture still needs to soak through the mulch to reach the plant roots. And, remember – don’t pile the mulch up against the tree trunk. Mulch volcanoes trap moisture between the bark and the mulch, providing a good breeding ground for microbes. It also helps camouflage small mammals that may want to dine on the bark.
Organic mulch does double duty. Besides protecting your roots in the cold weather, wood chips and other organic mulches will decompose and return nutrients to the soil. Decorative mulches like stone won’t do that. It doesn’t decompose. Besides, stone mulch is cold to the touch, so it won’t moderate the soil temperature as effectively as wood.
If you don’t care for shoveling, hauling and spreading mulch, we have landscape professionals who would be happy to do these jobs for you before winter settles in.