Adding mulch in the fall has its advantages and can be beneficial for a number of reasons. While many gardeners think of it as a spring task, adding mulch in the fall is just as important, for different reasons.
Which Type of Mulch?
Mulch, material spread around or over a plant or tree, can be organic or inorganic.
Organic mulch includes material such as pine needles, wood chips, straw, hardwood or softwood bark, grass clippings and leaves. It’s good for enriching or insulating the soil and retaining moisture in the soil. The downside of organic mulch is that it decomposes over time and needs to be replenished, sometimes yearly.
Inorganic mulch is material such as stone, lava rocks or even landscape glass. While they protect the soil from erosion, they won’t enrich it.
Deciding which type to use depends on your preference and your goal. If you don’t want to have to replace your mulch or if you’re going for a Xeriscaping™ look, you should consider inorganic mulch. If healthy soil is your goal, then go for mulch that will degrade back into the soil, adding nutrients back in.
Why Mulch in the Fall
Because most people plan and implement their landscape in the spring and may choose inorganic mulch, we’ll focus here on organic mulches and why you might want to lay it down during the fall.
Adding mulch in the fall is a great way to control the temperature. The right amount of mulch around your trees, shrubs and perennials will be like covering them with a blanket to protect their roots. If we go through freeze-thaw cycles over the winter, as we typically do, this can put stress on anything in the top few inches of the soil. Mulch evens out these temperature swings while offering protection from extreme cold temperatures.
Protects the Soil-Food Web
Beneath the top layer of soil is a soil-food web filled with earthworms, microbes and other organisms that exists in a symbiotic relationship with plants and trees. Warm soil means these organisms stay active longer into the cold season, improving your soil.
Adding mulch to your landscape in fall can hold moisture in the soil over the winter, adding to the water table. If it’s a dry winter with little rain or snowfall, the mulch will help hold whatever moisture is in the soil come spring.
Spring is busy, with many tasks that need to be done. Mulching in the fall will eliminate one of your jobs from your to-do list, allowing you to use your time for planning and planting.
How Much and How Deep?
Under- and over-mulching can lead to problems. Sometimes people lay the mulch in a too-thin layer. This can defeat the purpose of using mulch. If it isn’t thick enough, it won’t do the job of insulating roots and controlling the temperature and moisture levels. On the other hand, too much mulch can smother roots. And if you’re laying down mulch in an area that gets a lot of wind, anchor it down with chicken wire or wire fencing.
The general recommendation is a layer of mulch 3-4 inches deep for medium- to course-textured materials. For help in figuring out how much mulch you need, check out this calculator from The National Gardening Association. https://garden.org/nga/calculators/index.php
When to Mulch
Be careful not to mulch too early in the fall if you have perennials that need to be cut back; you may not find them. You also don’t want to wait too long because the plants will get caught in the freeze-thaw cycle and possibly become damaged. Ideally, you’ll put down your mulch after the first hard frost so shrubs and perennials can go into dormancy.
Adding mulch in the fall has its advantages and can be beneficial for your perennial plants, shrubs and trees. When you’re ready to buy your mulch and get to work, give us a call. At J & S Landscaping, we have the freshest wood chips direct from Canada and Northern Michigan at rock bottom prices.