Most gardeners understand the many benefits of mulching. Besides providing nutrients and a healthy eco system, it protects the plants roots from the bitter cold of winter. Other benefits include retaining soil moisture, protect soil from eroding, and preventing weeds from growing. Mulching can be done in any time of year, in fact it is good practice to replace what’s broken down once or twice a year.
Mulch In The Fall: Pros and Cons
- Mulch suppresses weeds and prevents growth. Weeds are a constant nuisance when it comes to gardening, but the proper preparation can save you tremendous effort in the future. Mulch provides comprehensive coverage for your garden beds, which cuts off weeds and keeps your garden looking clean and beautiful. Weed suppression lasts all winter and prevents growth even when temperatures begin to rise.
- Mulch helps the ground retain moisture. When the ground is exposed, it tends to dry out, during both hot summers and cold winters. Mulch creates a barrier over the soil that traps in moisture.
- A thick layer of mulch can also keep the ground from freezing during a harsh winter. Frozen garden beds can lead to plant cells bursting, which can cause irreparable damage to your plants. With a mulch covering, you can virtually eliminate this risk. The alternate freezing and thawing of the soil is another thing that won’t happen when a thick layer of mulch is present.
- In addition to keeping the ground unfrozen, the mulch also insulates your crops. When you cover your garden with mulch, you can pile it up around the base of your plants, which keeps them insulated from extreme temperatures.
- As long as you are buying organic mulch materials, they will break down over time, adding nutrient-rich organic matter to the soil and creating an environment for beneficial bugs. These nutrients will ultimately feed the plants and improve the structure of the soil.
- Mulch can reduce the effects of soil erosion. Rain and melting snow during the winter can erode the ground around your plants, but a healthy layer of mulch can make these effects far less dramatic.
The Benefits of Laying Mulch in Fall vs. Spring
In addition to the benefits your plants and your soil experience, there are a number of reasons to lay the mulch in the fall as opposed to the spring, which include the following:
- Cooler weather: if you choose to lay the mulch down in the fall, you can do so in much cooler weather. Mulching can be a heavy job, but choosing to do it in the fall can be a lot less stressful./li>
- In the fall and winter, it’s more likely that you will have a garden bed, which means laying mulch is much easier. You won’t need to work around as many plants.
- If you lay it in the fall, you can avoid doing it in the spring. If you lay down the mulch in the fall, this is one less thing you have to do when spring comes around.
Cons of Laying Mulch in Fall
While there is a long list of benefits, there are also some drawbacks to mulching in the fall. These include the following:
- There are potential time restraints. Darkness comes sooner in the fall and winter, so you may have to schedule your mulching on the weekend, whereas you will have a lot more daylight to work in the spring.
- If snow starts early, you will also have to work faster to avoid snow-covered gardens or snow-covered mulch piles.
- While mulch can be used to prevent pests, it can also house some undesirable pests as well. However, with the proper preparation and combination of other organic goods, you can hopefully minimize this.
- You have to be careful with organic mulches. Typically, you need to apply these in a partially-rotted state so that they don’t take nitrogen from the ground. Organic mulches, in general, have specific requirements that can make things somewhat difficult.
- Organic mulches also need to be rather thick. Thicker mulch will provide better protection and won’t rot as quickly.
- Mulch needs to be replaced annually. If you are going to choose mulch, you will have to be prepared to do so regularly if you want to maintain the quality of your garden.
- Too much mulch can actually cause too much stress on your plants.
- If you use self-sowers heavily, you may want to skip fall mulching, as this can interfere with spring germination.
Pros and Cons to Making Your Own Mulch
You will certainly be able to buy bags of mulch, but if you have the time and the desire, you can choose to make your own mulch instead. This involves renting a wood chipping machine that can chop up the wood you have at home. There are a few pros and cons to doing it this way.
- Guaranteed organic
- Efficient use of materials
- More work for you
- Might have to do it in the cold
- Have to rent a machine
One of the best reasons to make your own mulch is that you can use small branches and things such as perennial stems to create the mulch. As you are cleaning up your garden and pruning dead tree branches, you typically collect a lot of mulch-like material.
If you do not like renting equipment but rather own it yourself, electric wood chippers are not all that expensive anymore. Especially If you’re not using it more than a few times per year, an electric wood chipper will do the trick for you. Have a look at our buying guide and reviews.
Preparing Garden Beds for Mulch
Timing is also a concern when it comes to laying mulch. You don’t want to lay it down too late, but you also don’t want to lay it down too early. Some will say to wait until the first big “freeze” of the ground before laying mulch, but you can typically do it before that. What’s important is that your mulch is properly prepared, which means doing all of the following:
- Harvesting what needs to be harvested
- Transplanting any herbs or delicate flowers
- Removing debris from garden beds
- Cutting back perennials if necessary
- Removing weeds and leaves
- Pruning dead or diseased plants
What Works as Mulch?
Organic, store-bought bags of mulch will work almost every time, but there are a handful of things that you can use as mulch that you probably already have around the house. If you are choosing to make your own mulch, you will be able to use all of these items. Shredded tree limbs that have either fallen or been cut, shredded leaves, weed-free straw, shredded bark, and other organic material can all work as mulch, and while it may take more work, it could also save you some money.