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The art, science of mulching in the winter

By Gregg Eyestone

I was fortunate enough to get a load of woodchips dumped in my yard this summer.

The goal was to get it distributed around the yard to keep weeds down and hold in soil moisture. It turned out okay since there wasn’t any moisture to keep in the ground and the weeds didn’t germinate.

Some plants require mulch to get them through the winter. Strawberries need to be mulched to keep them dormant and from heaving out of the ground.

Straw or hay is a good choice. I have used the woodchips. A 3-inch layer of straw or loose chips will keep them through the winter.

Spinach can be mulched to keep it from heaving out of the ground. Typically, spinach will make it through the winter and provide the first greens of the year. Vegetable root crops can be mulched and used through the fall until the ground freezes solid.

For the past 12 years, I’ve used only woodchips to cover the crowns of my hybrid tea roses. Dieback has varied from year to year depending on the winter. None of the roses have died from this practice including the ones I wouldn’t mind replacing.

Another method is an 8-inch mound of compost followed by a layer of straw. That is more work than I want to commit too. Especially, come next spring when it is removed.

Any bare soil should be mulched. This will slow the soil from moving away during the winter dry winds or from rain. Weeds may be unsightly but they do keep soil in place when not mulched.

It is alright to refurbish your layer of mulch around plants now. An inch or two is plenty for me.

Mulch modifies the soil temperature. This is good for high temperatures in the summer.

A thick layer of mulch in the spring slows the warming of the soil and root growth. When to apply mulch is based on your purpose and time available.

Many types of mulch are available. Figure out which works for you. Free woodchips are often available from the Riley County Transfer Station. Call 785-565-6290 for availability.

You can find out more information on this and other horticulture topics by going to the Riley County, K-State Research and Extension website at Gregg may be contacted by calling 785-537-6350 or stopping by 110 Courthouse Plaza in Manhattan or e-mail:

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