In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
November, 2013
Regional Report

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Nature provides materials for the perfect winter mulch for garden and shrub beds.

Mulching for the Winter

Mother Nature is sending those subtle hints again, and her timing is usually impeccable, so take a gardening cue from her. Just as she does in woods and forests, use the leaves fall in the autumn to provide nurturing mulch around your plants.

Putting down mulch offers several advantages, such as conserving soil moisture, moderating soil temperature, suppressing weeds, and making plants look cared for by creating a rich, unified background for perennials, shrubs, and trees.

Choosing a Winter Mulch
Any mulch derived from living organisms is termed "organic." Shredded leaves, straw, wood chips, pine bark, and loose pine needles will all break down with time into humus, improving soil structure and providing nutrients along the way. Inorganic mulches, such as black plastic, will suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture, but will not improve the soil.

Speedy decomposition is acceptable in a summer mulch, but a winter mulch applied now should be sturdy enough to hold up against the elements and provide season-long protection through winter. Chopped leaves and pine needles are in abundant supply at this time of year and have the added advantage of being free. After cleaning debris from the perennial beds and removing any weeds, apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic material over the soil, taking care not to pack it against plant stems or tree trunks. Tuck it around the crowns of low-growing plants, allowing some space for air circulation. Mulch placed too near a crown may hold in excess moisture and cause the crown to rot.

The best time to spread a winter mulch is in late fall, just as the ground freezes. Rodents will already have found a winter home and will be less likely to hide in the mulch and feed on your woody plants in winter.

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