Exterior Curb Appeal

How To: Mulch Your Flower Beds

How to Mulch Flower Beds
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Laying mulch before the winter gives your soil a head start for the next growing season. It also protects delicate plants, adding the equivalent of a whole zone level to those that might not be hardy enough for the area. Kristin Schleiter, the acting Director of Outdoor Gardens at the New York Botanical Garden, shares some tips to make the most of mulch.

Types of Mulch for Flower Beds

When choosing the type of mulch you want to lay in your garden, avoid mulch made of raw wood. Wood mulch robs the soil of the nitrogen that plants require. Likewise, avoid any mulches that are artificially dyed (since dyes add extra chemicals to the garden).

The New York Botanical Garden prefers leaf mold and pine bark mulches. Other suitable materials include cocoa hulls, straw, even walnut shells.

How to Make Leaf Mold

Unfortunately, if you don’t have leaf mold on hand, the process takes too long to prepare for this season. But with very little effort you can be laying down a free, moisture-rich layer next year.

  1. Pile up the leaves you’ve raked from your lawn in a little-used corner of the yard.
  2. To speed up the process, run the lawn mower over the pile to break it up and keep the area wet.
  3. Let the microbes do their thing!
  4. The mold is ready to use when it appears soft and crumbly.

Once you’ve prepared your flowerbeds, sit back and let the mulch do the work of enriching the soil for next spring and keeping your plants safe.

Flower Bed Mulching Do’s and Don’ts

  • The smaller the pieces making up the mulch, the faster the mulch will decompose and need refreshing.
  • Leaf mold decomposes quickly but can be laid thickly to compensate. Other mulch types, such as pine bark, last longer and can be laid in a relatively thin layer of one to three inches.
  • To overwinter delicate perennials, Kristin suggests a cover of evergreen boughs for protection against the elements. Don’t ever layer mulch over plant crowns, or they won’t grow properly come spring. For newly established plants, surround their roots with mulch after the ground freezes for the first time: this prevents them from heaving during the thawing/freezing cycles over the course of winter.
  • For trees, never let the mulch touch the trunk; leave about three inches of space all around. Those “mulch volcanoes” that many gardeners produce can cause disease and basal rot.