By Kim Toscano
Winter’s chill is here – and it’s time to get the garden ready. One of the simplest ways we can protect plants in winter is by applying mulch. Winter mulching is great for discouraging weeds, protecting the crown of the plant, and regulating temperatures over the winter. Over the long term, mulching can even make major positive changes to the quality of your soil.
Why Apply Winter Mulch to Berries and Fruiting Shrubs
Winter mulch helps keep the soil moist and regulate its temperature when the weather is at its coldest. Many types of plants benefit from mulching – especially edible fruits and berries! Did you know that the added winter protection from mulch leads to a bigger harvest the next season? It’s true!
Winter in the Southern states tends to come in waves. Likewise, soil temperatures tend to rise during the day and drop at night, which can cause alternating freezing and thawing of the soil. All those temperature changes put a lot of stress on plants. With their shallow roots, edible plants like strawberries, blueberries, or figs benefit from a layer of winter mulch to even out temperatures and break the freeze-thaw cycle. If you’re dreaming of fresh fruit next year, give our popular Takes the Cake® Blueberry, Bless Your Heart® Blueberry, and DownHome Harvest® ‘Little Miss Figgy’ Fig varieties an inch or two of mulch this winter, encouraging plentiful fruit the next season!
Many gardeners like to ‘push the limits’ when it comes to cold hardiness. If you’re in a cooler climate but have your sights set on a warm weather wonder like Pineapple Guava DownHome Harvest® Bambina™, your plant will benefit from a protective layer of mulch to insulate the roots and crown over winter. The same is true for newly-planted perennials, trees, and shrubs. Tip: Be sure to keep a small mulch-free zone around the base of the plant to limit pest problems.
If you’re saving space in your empty beds for annual fruit and vegetables this spring, go ahead and cover them in a layer of mulch to prevent soil erosion over the winter. But in areas where plantings rely on seed, skip fall mulching: it can interfere with seed germination in spring.
When to Apply Winter Mulch
It’s important not to apply mulch too early; this prevents plants from hardening off sufficiently to withstand winter weather and may trap warm air in the soil. The best time to apply winter mulch is after several hard frosts, which may be as late as November or December in the South. By this time, the plants have developed cold hardiness and the ground has frozen.
Stick to an organic mulch such as straw, shredded leaves, nut hulls, pine needles, or wood chips. These materials create air spaces that provide optimal insulation.
After mulching your garden beds, you’re ready to bid them sweet dreams for winter with spring and summer fruits ahead!