After harvesting pumpkins and autumn vegetables, it is time to mulch. Autumn mulching presents a lot of benefits in preparation for winter, and it isn’t difficult to do. So if you find yourself asking “Do I need to mulch during fall?”, the answer is a resounding yes!
Pros of fall mulching
Chief among autumn mulching benefits is you will be providing and retaining moisture for your plants as they hibernate during the cold months. Many people tend to think that the moisture in the air is enough for plants to thrive on in winter - this is simply not true. Dew does form from moisture in the air, but mulching exists to catch the moisture before it evaporates.
Fall mulching also keeps soil temperature even to encourage maximum growth. Mulch is handy at insulation, which is good news for your plants’ roots. When you spread mulch over your garden soil, you’re basically providing protection from sudden temperature shifts which can either dry out your plant’s roots or freeze them to death.
Then there is weed suppression, which rubber mulch in particular is quite good at providing. Weed doesn’t hibernate. They will germinate even in the faintest light. Spreading mulch at the right depth will smother weeds and stop them from spreading and ruining your garden.
Basics of fall mulching
The best time to mulch in the fall is during the last warm days of October and at the beginning of cold days in November, when the air is still crisp and it’s still fine to be outdoors. Before mulching, however, you should prepare your garden first.
First, clear your vegetable or flower gardens of dead or dying plants and their debris. You can compost disease-free plant debris, but look closely for signs of disease in existing plants. You have to deal with or dispose of those, otherwise they will spread onto other healthy plants during winter. Be particularly thorough in weeding, making sure they are removed in whole, with no spores or other parts coming into contact with plants or the soil.
Next, choose the plants that need protection from moisture loss, weed infestation, and temperature shock the most - these are the ones that need mulching first. Bulbs, perennials, and flowers like roses and rhododendrons are good examples.
Bulbs are usually planted in early fall, so they need time to develop their roots before they become dormant in the winter. A thick layer of mulch can keep soil temperature even so they can grow roots and pop out by spring. Perennials and evergreen plants particularly need thorough mulching as their leaves have a tendency to lose water to cold air. Rosebushes need 10-12 inches of mulching around their base only after the first hard frost of signaling winter. Mulching rosebushes too early can delay their dormancy and result in inferior roses.
As a general rule, always mulch before the frost sets in. This allows healthy microorganisms and earthworms to work longer and more efficiently during winter.