In a Word: Mulch!

    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Many fine varieties of flowering dogwoods, tulip magnolias, Japanese maples and other specimen plants are now available at nurseries for winter planting.

In a Word: Mulch!

We’re all starting to get a little bit worried about the lack of water coming from the skies. Many questions are arising: is it good to prune my trees? my rosebushes? will my plants survive the drought? what can be done to help them?

In the coming weeks I will try to address these and other questions to help you keep your trees and shrubs, fruit trees and vegetable plants alive and healthy. Let’s start with mulch.

The best way to protect ornamental plants during periods of drought is by applying mulch. Spreading mulch around your plants is, in most situations, simply good gardening. But with the need for water conservation, mulching is a necessity.

Mulches have three primary benefits:
• They reduce evaporation of water from the soil.
• They reduce weeds, which compete with your plants for water, by shading out weed seedlings and inhibiting weed seed germination.
• They insulate soil from extreme temperature changes, keeping the soil cooler during the day and warmer at night.

A good mulch can even encourage worms, which aerate and enrich the soil. You can begin now to mulch around your plants while there is still moisture in the soil.

There are several different choices in mulching materials. Organic mulches are any of the many commonly available materials derived from decaying plant material. They decompose in time and enrich and improve the soil. They include aged sawdust, peat moss, bark, wood chips, composted sludge products, pine needles, leaves and straw. Organic mulches will require periodic additions as the mulch decays.

Studies have shown that two inches of bark covering the soil will reduce moisture loss in summer by 20% and reduce soil temperature in summer, in the upper four inches of soil, by 10°F.

Inorganic mulching materials include black plastic, landscape fabrics and gravel. Landscape fabrics, also known as geo-textiles or weed barriers, comprise a variety of products. They can be used in combination with organic mulch material to maximize the retention of moisture in the soil.

Apply mulch around trees and shrubs 3-4 inches deep to maintain soil moisture. Keep mulch 4-5 inches away from the trunks of trees. Let fallen leaves and pine needles remain under trees to act as a natural mulch.

Also apply mulch around annuals, perennials, vegetable plants, and even in containers. Mulching your pathways helps control weeds and conserves moisture in the soil. Black plastic may be used, or you can utilize grass clippings, straw, wood chips, or garden debris.

Another way of reducing evaporation is by covering plants with shade cloth. Sensitive plants like rhododendrons and azaleas can be covered with 50% shade cloth while more heat tolerant plants may benefit from 30% shade cloth. Position it to block sunlight while not reducing air circulation. In the vegetable garden, cover salad greens with 50% shade cloth and crops like squash and beans with 30% shade.

Mulch trees and shrubs now while the soil is still moist to preserve soil moisture for the plants to use when they begin their spring growth.

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