CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The late-October snowfall caught a lot of us by surprise. I had planned to rake and blow leaves, mulch the beds, etc., but now I'm playing catch-up. The Morton Arboretum recommends mulching around trees to protect against damage from the cold. Since we've lost so many trees to the storms of 2012, I'm doing my best to keep the ones that are left.
When used properly, mulch stabilizes soil temperatures, helping to prevent root injury and stress that can occur during freeze-thaw cycles.
If you didn't mulch your trees this summer, there's still time to apply it.
Mulching plants is functional and decorative. Mulch typically is an organic material spread on the soil surface to protect roots from heat, cold and drought, and to provide nutrients to plants as it decomposes. Once you have chosen the right plant for a given site, and followed the proper planting procedures, you should mulch the plant and create a stable environment for root growth.
Several factors should be considered when choosing mulch. Medium-textured mulch is best. Fine particles tend to pack down and retain moisture, which then evaporates before reaching plant roots. Coarse-textured materials may be too porous to hold adequate amounts of water.
Organic mulch provides nutrient-rich humus as it decomposes. This also improves soil structure.
Types of organic mulch
Grass clippings. Dry or compost before using. Mix with other materials to increase porosity and reduce matting. A source for some nitrogen but also higher alkalinity, which may compromise nutrition.
Hardwood bark. Pine bark or shredded bark can be purchased as bags of small or large chips. Long-lasting.
Hardwood chips. Readily available and often free from municipal sources. If chips are not composted, apply a nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 1/2 pound per 100 square feet of chips.
Composted leaf litter (leaf mold). A good source of nutrients, but may increase weeds if not thoroughly composted.
Animal manure. A good source of nutrients. Compost before applying or plant damage (burn) may result because of high salt content. Ideally, should be mixed with a coarse-textured material.