Mulch for Winter Plant Protection

Bundling up is the order of the day in the month of December. For people, that means scarfs and winter coats, hats and gloves. For plants, it means mulches and wind screens to protect them from winter injury.

The key to mulching perennials is not to do it too soon. The rule of thumb is to wait until the ground starts to freeze, but before the first big snowfall of the year. If you do it any sooner, mice and other rodents may nest in the mulch.

Chopped leaves, pine needles, bark or straw make the best mulching material. What you want to do is apply a layer about three to four inches thick around each plant. Caution! After you've laid down the mulch, carefully pull it away from the trunks and stems to give plants room to breath and avoid canker problems. Furthermore, mulch up against the trunks will cause the bark there to rot.

You can protect evergreens from winter winds by building a simple wind break. Try placing posts in the ground on the sides most prone to winter winds (usually north and west) and wrap with burlap or old feed sacks. Don't use plastic as this will heat up, causing plants to burn on sunny days.

Moving to the garden, you can give your raspberry bushes a good pruning in December. Removing a portion of this year's fruiting cans will help prevent diseases such as spur or cane blight from over wintering in the plants. Remember also that if you have the raspberry variety "Heritage," you should prune them in February. Drastically prune this variety right down to say a few inches from the ground. If you do this, the new canes that are started in the spring will produce a bumper crop of berries say about the first of August and last until about the first of October.

Back to mulching, make sure you mulch around roses and certainly include crape myrtle in your mulching list.

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