Last weekend I found a bargain on bagged hardwood mulch that I couldn’t resist. The pile you see at left is only a small portion of the 300 bags that I purchased and spread throughout the perennial beds in my yard. (For those of you who are wondering, that’s a bit over 22 cubic yards of mulch.)
It had been several years since I applied the original wood chip mulch on most beds, and I had two large new beds that never got mulched at all last year. So I was delighted to find such a good deal. The mulch will help keep weeds down, conserve moisture, and keep blooms clean. I find that if I spread it about 2 inches deep throughout the beds, the perennials and bulbs come up through the mulch just fine. This time of year, as the perennials are just starting to poke through the ground, and the early spring bulbs are beginning to bloom, is a great time to spread the mulch. I don’t need to be extremely cautious in spreading the mulch around individual plants; broadcast application works quite well.
To illustrate my point, take a look at these crocuses and irises that I shot in my garden after spreading the mulch. My only regret is that I didn’t buy another 100 bags of mulch, which would have been enough to mulch all of the beds in my yard!
Usually by the middle of November my strawberries are safely snuggled under several inches of mulch, ready for winter cold and snow. But this year has been so mild that I’m holding off with the final covering until we get a few nights down around 20 degrees F. As I was trimming back perennials I scattered a light later of ornamental grass stems over the berry plants. The strawberry leaves are turning red, indicating that they’re going into dormancy, but I’ll wait for the final blanket of mulch until the ground has a thin frozen crust.
Years ago when I ran a commercial pick-your-own strawberry farm, I used chopped cornstalks to mulch the 5-acre berry patch because cornstalks were available essentially for free from nearby farmland, and my uncle Troy, who felt sorry for a poor struggling beginning farmer, gave me a good deal on his labor for chopping and stacking. It took a couple of weeks of long, hard labor to mulch the entire commercial patch, but it won’t take long to finish covering my 150-square-foot home garden patch of berries. When real November weather finally arrives, I’ll cut back the rest of my grasses and use the cut stems for additional mulch. If you don’t have enough ornamental grasses to provide all the mulch that you need, weed-free straw is another good option. Avoid the temptation to pile on fallen leaves, however. They mat down and smother the berry plants.
Next spring you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor. Remember to rake the mulch away from the crowns when temperatures warm into the 70s for several days in a row (usually late March or early April here in central Iowa). Leave a couple of inches of mulch on the ground near the plants to keep the developing fruits off the soil. The berries will remain cleaner and more disease-free. Pictured at right are some Earliglo strawberries from my backyard patch. They’re one of my favorite varieties for flavor. What varieties grow best where you live?