How do you mulch for protection?

rouge21_gw(5)August 23, 2014

In the current thread re "Overwintering Butterfly Bush in Zone 5" there is often the suggestion to mulch heavily.

I interested in what this means to you, in terms of winter protection.

Is it more than just piling on lots of leaves on the died back, more cold sensitive perennial?

Or might you first take the step to contain these mulching leaves next to the plant by first encircling the perennial with some "chicken wire" and then piling on the leaves?

I'd love to know the different things you do and use for late Autumn mulching.


This post was edited by rouge21 on Sat, Aug 23, 14 at 1:58

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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

For some perennials ie: Endless Summer hydrangea, etc. I place shredded leaves around the base then surround the plant with chicken wire tall enough to enclose the branches. Then stuff it with shredded leaves. This somewhat helps protect buds on the old growth.

Butterfly bush is cut low in the fall and completely covered with five or six inches of shredded leaves. I don't add a cage as here bb usually dies back close to the ground and emerges from the base in the spring. Haven't lost any bb in ten plus years including year old seedlings. Other zone pushers are also completely covered with shredded leaves. Most don't need a cage as die back to the ground.

Zone 4 hardy perennials get shredded leaves added around the base or are left with whatever mulch remains from summer. When I first started gardening here I went to several workshops about preparing perennials for winter. We were told to completely cover most perennials with four or more inches of mulch after the ground is frozen. So I did for years until I learned that those telling us to cover were not covering their plants. "Too much work" covering in the fall and removing in the spring. Now I only cover them if they are recently transplanted or very special. For me removing the mulch in the spring was the difficult part. Remove too soon and the new growth is killed by frost. Don't remove soon enough and plant is smothered or stems are misshaped. Most thrive without any extra winter prep.

This works for me because we usually have good snow cover from late fall to early spring which prevents frequent freeze thaw cycles.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:46AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

in my z5 MI .....back in the day.. i used to shred all the fallen leaves ... down to fingernail size ...

and have giant piles

i would tarp such once the piles cooled ... so they didnt freeze solid before i needed to use them .. but not too soon or they would decompose to much ...

and i would bury tender stuff near ground freeze ... depth depending on how much i had.. and how many tender plants ....

you want the plant to go 100% dormant.. and then mulch it ...

things died if i mulched too soon ... as they did NOT go proper dormant ...

i suspect this is VERY ZONE DEPENDENT ....

the trick usually is.. get it dormant.. keep it dormant ... the mulch volcanoes took out winter sun [none of this thaw/refreeze stuff.. day after day in winter] .. the soil under stayed frozen until spring [unlike bare soil which might thaw in some mid winter warm spell] .. and finally.. it took away winter wind ...

i was working with T roses ... i used to joke.. one spell out of dormancy in mid winter.. and the plant would laugh it off... second time.. it would get really pissed off and show severe damage.. third time.. i'll show you .. and die ...

hence learning the idea.. get it dormant and keep it dormant ... whatever it took ...

all that said.... BBush.. lived for 2 or 3 temperate winters in my MI ... and then gave up the ghost.. one bad one.. regardless of what i did ...


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:06AM
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Thanks for your detailed post mnwsga.

I think I will do what you have described for your hydrangea hoping it will better protect the old wood buds.

For the chicken wire do you just secure the ends with some wire or twist ties and there is no need to anchor it with any vertical pegs/stakes?

(Have you found doing such protection for your mop head hydrangea does result in more blooms the next season?)

Butterfly bush is cut low in the fall and completely covered with five or six inches of shredded leaves.

For sure it is hard to argue with your success but I usually read that it is 'safer' to cut back the BB in the spring.

And leaving branches as is might better keep the leaves in place through the whole winter.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:10AM
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Like MNSWgal, I usually have good snow cover. I mulch most of my gardens year round, but don't add mulch for the winter. If I am planting in the fall, I make sure there's a good layer of mulch in the area, but otherwise the mulch is the same all year round to even out temperature and moisture. I have a massive vole population moving in from adjacent farm fields, and doing the chicken wire cage filled with mulch would make the entire plant safe for their dining pleasure. I use cages below and slightly above ground for protection from voles, but not for mulch.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:13AM
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Ken wrote: you want the plant to go 100% dormant.. and then mulch it.

So there's the rub.

Can we not assume that once the herbaceous plant dies back completely implies dormancy? If not then how else?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:27AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Our winters are unpredictable, we go through some with no snow to speak of, others we've had a couple of feet of the stuff, january can be really wet. The end of january beginning of february is when we usually get the hard freeze, it can last 2 or 3 weeks.

I don't mulch much in the fall but do in the spring to keep the weeds down. Hydrangeas I leave the spent flowers on until march the following year, this is all the protection they need.
I have been known to go out and throw an upturned plant pot over the crowns of a few things to protect them from the wet but that's about it.
Climate change might come into play here, our summers seem to be getting warmer and drier but winters are still unpredictable.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 9:09AM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Our plan is similar to NHBabs. I count on snow for insulation. The only place I use zone-sensitive plants is near the house so when I shovel the sidewalk I keep snow piled up on those plants. But I don't do anything with mulch. Often we get permanent snow before it cools down all the way and before the ground freezes hard.

Voles under the snowpack are a definite issue. For that I use a large plastic yogurt container, split up the side, as a sleeve around tree trunks and it extends down into the dirt/mulch some. I do enjoy watching the cats dance and pounce on top of the snow when they can hear the voles underneath. Pretty funny.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 9:27AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I just pile on shredded leaves a bit thicker, that's all (but not covering the crowns). The only thing I winter protect anymore is a laceleaf Japanese maple - I put up a burlap screen at the least, at the most I stuff the inside of the burlap screen loosely with straw. Last winter I forgot to do it and be darned the thing got through that brutal winter with flying colors, which leads me to believe it is not getting wind-whipped in winter like I thought it might, and it doesn't need protection.

I do put a bale of straw and barricade with some bags of shredded leaves over/around my very large potted Rodgersia to keep the snow and ice off of it, not because it can't handle the cold. I forgot to do this chore too last winter and lost my beloved Rodger because of the ice freeze/thaw, it had a layer of ice on it which had to be at least 4-6" thick and kept freezing/thawing. Poor thing. Must not forget to do that this year for Rodger Jr. I'd drag the pot into the garage if I could, but it's a half wine barrel (a true one, very thick, very heavy, not one of the ones you get a box store) - DH and I can barely manage to push it against the house let alone up the steps and into the garage. I don't see it during the winter, though so it doesn't bug me.

I can deal with a bit of chicken wire and extra mulch, but I think burlap/shrub jackets/etc are so ugly and ruin the winter landscape. Winter can be quite beautiful and serene, especially if plants with winter interest are chosen. I make the exception for the one tree, but I draw the line there. I want to enjoy nature in all it's beauty year round, not just during the growing season. What I'm trying to say is "right plant, right place" and shouldn't need to fuss with all this winter protection.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 9:40AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Rouge, I use stakes to secure the cage. Don't know if caging results in more blooms but it does give a head start on growth.

Started cutting back in the fall before reading the comments on waiting until spring to cut back butterfly bush. Have tried both and prefer fall cutting. Once settled the shredded leaf mulch stays in place.

The idea is to keep the ground frozen which is why mulch is added afterwards. I keep shredded leaves in bags to keep them from getting wet and freezing. One year decided to just place a bag of leaves over the plants thinking snow cover would hide them all winter. Joke was on me as we had little snow that winter and it looked awful. If a large snow storm is expected before the ground is completely frozen I quickly add the mulch anyway. None of this putting mulch on top of the snow for me. Too ugly.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 12:42PM
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I count on snow for insulation.

In my locale it is very unpredictable re snow cover.

Voles under the snowpack are a definite issue.

I think this could be minimized it one doesn't mulch until the ground is quite frozen and so moles and voles would more likely have found other homes?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:03PM
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arlene_82 (zone 6 OH)

Very good info here. Does anyone have special techniques for mulching roses? In terms of mulching materials, the consensus seems to be for shredded leaves or straw. Is this mainly due to the convenience/availability of these things, or is there some other advantage to using them? I have 3 new David austin rose bushes (Mayflower - own root with the bud union buried) to help survive their first winter, and was planning to bury the bases and canes in 3 to 4 inches of shredded wood. I'd thought about caging them as well, and filling up the cages with leaves to protect the canes, but since they're very close and visible from a pedestrian sidewalk I wasn't going to bother with that. However, I will if it's truly necessary.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 3:24PM
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We use shredded pine bark mulch on the beds and under the outlying plants anyway, so I don't add more mulch of any kind. I would think the chicken wire circles, with some bamboo or plastic stakes threaded through them and filled with shredded leaves would work really well for plants you were afraid might not make it through the winter - zone pushing ones especially.

I had heard on radio gardening shows that you should mulch for winter protection only after the plant has gone dormant - as Ken mentioned above.

I am still of the opinion that butterfly bushes should be severely cut back in the spring only. I prune back the height on Dubonnet only because it is always so tall and leggy that I'm afraid heavy winds or severe ice storms might up root it. So far, it hasn't minded the light pruning and has returned every spring.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 6:55PM
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