When and how do you put mulch down?

janicej11April 24, 2007

Probably a silly question, but it seems as though last year's mulch has whittled down to nothing but dirt. With so much peeking up through the ground now, I was wondering if I should buy lots of mulch and carefully spread it around everything (whew!), or maybe see if a landscaping service will do it?

Of course, the other thought is to just do some spot mulching.

I should have taken care of this in the Fall! Any ideas and/or suggestions?

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Nothing silly about the question. I put down shredded hardwood mulch every Spring, as it breaks down and disappears by the end of Winter. I try to wait until there've been several days of rain so the soil is moist. If mulch is placed on top of dry soil, the mulch may prevent the rain from reaching the soil. (I should note that I have very well-drained soil. If yours is not, then you could mulch after the soil becomes workable in Spring). I put down 2-3 inches of mulch. I would advise that you spread the mulch yourself - I've seen landscaping crews dump mulch on top of the plants, smothering them. You can have the mulch delivered, if you don't mind having a big pile on your driveway until you finish spreading it all. I did that for several years, but last year I just bought several bags, spread them, then got more. It's more expensive that way, but it was worth it, as we were tired of looking at a month-old mulch pile on the driveway.
Spot mulching doesn't work very well, as the unmulched soil seems to wick the moisture away from the mulched area. But then again, my soil is very well-drained.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 3:28PM
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bean_counter_z4(Zone 4, Rkfd,IL)

Plan to add mulch in late April or May in zone 5. Mulch slows down soil warming so don't apply it before you have had some warm weather. Also, you need to wait until all your perennials have emerged so you don't bury them. Mulch serves 5 purposes. It helps the soil retain moisture and remain cooler in hot weather, it breaks down over the season and feeds your soil, it helps prevent weeds, and it looks uniform and neat. Landscapers will shovel mulch on with no regard for damaging plants, best to do it yourself unless you have a neighborhood kid that you can keep an eye on.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 4:33PM
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triciae(Zone 7 Coastal SE CT)

I mulch when most things are up & accounted for in the spring. We use a mixture of 50% leaf mould & 50% manure to mulch with. I like the natural look & it improves the friability of the soil as well as adding nutrients. Our leaf mould is always loaded with earthworms as well. It goes down 4-6" thick & it always virtually decomposed into the soil by early winter.

When mulching, be careful not to cover the plant's crown. It takes us about a month to work our way around the gardens at mulch time. Sure looks nice when we're done though.

In more direct answer to your question...early winter, after the ground has frozen, less hardy plants benefit from a covering of pine boughs or pine straw as an insulator. But, spring is the time for general mulching around each plant.

I wouldn't hire one of those "mow & blow" crews to mulch. Many, if not most, are not gardeners & they just toss the mulch onto any open area they see. If you're going to hire your mulching done look for a gardener (getting harder & harder to find).

Happy Spring!


    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 4:44PM
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Entling, Beancounter and Tricia...thanks for your input.
I was thinking that I'm just going to have to get on my hands and knees and put mulch around. Hoping to avoid that task, but it really is the best way. Probably head over to Home Depot next month and get the mulch.
Happy Spring...

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 5:04PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I realize this is not going to help you now, but thought I'd throw it out there so you can store it in the back of your mind for later use.

I mulch in the fall, using fallen leaves. There are tons of them, and they're F-R-E-E.

I also use big bags of leaves to barricade against potted perennials I overwinter on the patio, and in the spring I take those leaves and spread over any areas that may need additional mulching.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 12:27AM
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webkat5(Z6a MO)


As advised above, you shouldn't mulch in the fall in your beds. This can keep the soil warm and prevent the plants from entering their dormancy period when they need to. After the ground is frozen is a good time to mulch...this will also keep the plants from coming out of dormancy if you get a warm spell in the middle of winter.

When I mulch, I cut the corner off the bag and then pick the bag up by two corners (the opposite one of the one I cut and the corresponding back corner) and shake the mulch out around the plants....this works very well once you get the hang of it...takes very little time, too. If you need to spread it a bit afterwards, it is pretty easy to do, but usually you don't need to.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 7:47AM
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Thanks, Michele...I do leave the fallen leaves around my perennials in the winter, but most have decomposed by now, plus I feel as though they need to breathe in the spring.

Webkat, I love your idea for the smaller garden areas. But, I have some areas that I have to walk in and around all the new growth...and, it's a larger area...and carrying a heavy bag of mulch is a bit too much for this 5' frame.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 9:53AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I respectfully disagree that one shouldn't mulch in the fall. I've been doing it this way for years and years with no ill effects.

Think about it - does nature wait until spring to drop her leaves/scatter her litter about?

Keep in mind plants also begin to enter dormancy due to shortened day length, not only temperature. And when the days get short and the temps get cold, they'll go dormant, whether the ground is mulched or not.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 2:35PM
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bean_counter_z4(Zone 4, Rkfd,IL)

It was my impression that since the op mentioned going out and buying it, she was talking about decorative mulch. That is best applied in the spring because if applied in fall, there isn't much left by the following spring. If she is talking about top dressing with organics like compost, leaves, manure, that can be done anytime. The more often you apply om, the better.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 4:13PM
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Janice J - I've only got about 3" of height on you -- I get my garden cart and pull it up to the back of the van and drag the bags of mulch directly into the cart. (No way I'm carrying a bag!) Then I cut open the end of a bag, scoop out a bunch of mulch into a smaller conveyance (my kids' mini wheelbarrow) and cart that near where I need the mulch. Then when I get down to the last 1/4 of a bag, I pick it up and carry it into the garden. Happy mulching and watch out for splinters!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 7:00PM
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MxK3 and Bean Ctr - When I mentioned putting mulch down, I was referring to something that would protect the soil and look ok. I just let the leaves do their job in the Fall, but in the Spring, the leaves are gone or removed and I add shredded wood bark around everything

Entling - Looks like I'll be doing the same thing!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 2:15PM
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