By Betty Winscher
Mulching keeps the soil cool and in early spring we are advised to wait as we want the soil to warm enabling plants to grow. Well, it has not only warmed, but seems we are dried to the max. Reasons for mulching now are tenfold. I have thousands of tiny weeds popping up between my young plants and unless you really enjoy hoeing, mulching will take care of them. When weeds are tiny, mulch will prohibit their growing. Cultivating or hoeing kills the present weeds, but also stirs up dormant seeds for germinating. Mulching greatly helps conserve moisture and prevents soil borne diseases when watering or rain splashes soil up on the plants. I haven’t had rain splash on my plants for three weeks.
I tend to walk in between my flowers and vegetables as I check them often for any problems. Had some cutworms after my marigolds this year. Stepping on soft soil can cause soil compaction on and mulching makes our treads softer. Mulch only about two to three inches deep as if put on too thick it can cause root suffocation. Signs of this would be lack of growth, small leaves or yellow foliage.
Organic mulch will add nutrients to the soil such as composted animal manure, grass clippings or shredded leaves. Organic mulch is excellent for annuals as when the flowers are finished, this mulch can be worked into the soil adding needed enriching nutrients.
I use some wood products, such as wood chips or sawdust as it is neat looking and will not fly away. Wood product mulches use a small amount of nitrogen as they decompose, but adding just a little fertilizer solves that problem.
If I use straw or leaves for mulch, I wait until the plants are taller and I can tuck it around them and it does not blow away. I have had great success with layers of newspaper stopping all weed growth, but you need someone to help hold the newspaper down as it must be covered with chips or sawdust to prevent being blown away. This works so well, even if the ground is wet, you can walk among your vegetables or flowers with ease, and no soiled shoes or compacted soil.
A few notes for June gardeners: If you have clematis, they are really growing and tend to go off in many directions and need tying to the support you want them to be on. They are very fragile so great care must be taken when tying as they break so easily. I use green yarn for tying.
Have you seen any of those white cabbage butterflies? If not, you will soon. They lay eggs on cole crops: (cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli) that hatch into hungry green caterpillars that not only eat the cole crops for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but leave a dirty residue that cuts our appetite for these extremely healthy vegetables. Cover them with an insect barrier cover or light row cover and your problems are over. Put it on loosely, fasten securely on all sides leaving plenty of extra space to grow. Remove when you are ready to harvest. I buy row cover, but am wondering if cheesecloth would work as well. Anything that lets the light and moisture through, but keeps the butterflies off.
Leave all leaves on any of your spring bulbs until they die naturally. This replenishes the bulbs for next season. After tops die down, you can dig and replant if you wish. I just leave mine in the same bed as they seem to get nicer if not moved, at least the first year or two. I interplanted wave petunias in the tulip bed. They are starting to bloom now and will hopefully fill my tulip bed with color. They came out with a new wave called Hot Pink which I could not find a nursery but had pretty good success in starting myself.