Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

At Home Living: Mulching to Protect Your Plants from Thawing Out

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

At Home Living: Mulching to Protect Your Plants from Thawing Out

Article excerpt

I am going to amend your thinking just a bit, about mulching. I am sure you are aware of the benefits of summer mulching; weed control, moisture retention, cooling the soil under the hot summer sun. Now, I want you to think about keeping plants "cold". Yes, cold.

During the months ahead we will have varying amounts of cold weather. We will even have many sunny days above freezing. This creates a freeze/thaw pattern in the ground that can cause newly planted (less than one year) or shallow-rooted plants to be shoved right up out of the soil. It's call frost heave. This process is welcomed for helping to move compost into the soil without tilling but, not so welcomed when our hard work planting is destroyed and our plants killed when their roots are exposed to the elements.

What's a gardener to do?

Patiently wait until we have had at least three hard frosts where nighttime temperatures have fallen below 28 degrees for several hours. Small water containers and birdbaths will have thin layers of ice in the morning. This basically marks the end of the growing season. This is a transition period for most plants (there are some exceptions) to prepare to go into dormancy for the winter. Mulching too early would delay this process and could possibly aid in damaging the plant. Not allowing a plant to "winterize" (acclimatize) itself can weaken and/or damage a plant thus reducing its overall health and beauty.

Following the first three hard frosts the ground generally will be sufficiently cool. We want to keep the ground cold and to prevent the intermittent warming and cooling of the soil. Now is when we mulch.

The thinking behind mulching is slightly different than composting. Both add organic matter to the garden and both terms can be used interchangeably. But, for the sake of our discussion today, I am going to refer to mulch as organic materials meant to be placed on top of the soil several inches thick and not mixed in. Compost shall be the organic matter placed on top of the soil and worked in either by freezing and thawing or by tilling. Mulching and composting may even use the same materials, but often in different forms. …

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