Winter is almost upon us – that blessed break from the break-neck pace of summer! But before you wax up your skis, take one last look around the garden. If you have any bare soil showing after harvesting summer’s abundance, it’s time to get it covered. Bare soil just calls out to weeds to get started as soon as spring hits, before you are ready to get into the garden. Covering bare soil with mulch also helps your perennials overwinter and can give a boost to beneficial soil organisms, so that whenever it is warm enough for them to be active, there is something for them to eat. Ideally, you would mulch annual garden space with grass clippings and other ‘green’ mulches (since the bacteria that produce the flavor of edible nitrogen that annuals prefer thrive on ‘greens’) and mulch your perennials with dead leaves and other ‘browns’ (perennials prefer a fungi dominated soil, and fungi prefer heartier food.)
I will admit that I am more opportunistic than that, and tend to mulch with whatever I have available, often putting leaves found bagged on the side of the road on everything. This year the fruit trees and berry bushes got wood shavings with some horse manure in it (yes, I’m prepared for some weeds next spring from the manure). The garden bed got grass clippings found bagged on the side of the road. It’s best to make sure that your mulch materials come from chemical-free yards – your own is good, otherwise try to find out if your scavenged materials have been treated. Many chemicals can be broken down by microbes, and I believe strongly in the benefit of local biological remediation (i.e. composting) of materials instead of dumping them, but at least be aware that soil grows plants, soil is living, and soil is happiest when it isn’t doused with any fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers.
So gather your grass clippings, fallen leaves, straw, wood chips, half-finished compost, etc and cover your bare spots a couple inches deep to tuck in the soil (with its cozy little critters and microbes) for the winter. Perennials should be mulched beyond the drip line as many roots actual grow and are very active past the visible spread of the plant/tree. Keep mulch a few inches from the stem or trunk to discourage rot and vole damage. Cover your garden beds with the easy to break down stuff. I don’t always pull my mulches back in the spring, but you can if you want the soil to warm faster. With a healthy soil, you will be surprised at how quickly mulch breaks down into rich, fertile soil. Any questions or different experiences? Ask below!!