Winter Mulching Benefits Spring Vegetables

Sticking to a schedule, including winter mulching, gives spring plants a head start and cuts down early-season work.

by Frank Hyman
PHOTO: stereogab/Flickr

Set up a schedule for mulching so your spring vegetables don’t suffer. Sticking to a yearly schedule cuts the workload in our garden. By Valentine’s Day, we mulch perennial vegetables, such as asparagus, Solomon’s seal, sunchokes and fiddlehead ferns. All these plants are dormant in winter, which makes the mulching go faster; just dump a wheelbarrow load, and spread it with a rake. The crowns of the fiddlehead ferns (also called ostrich fern) are above ground, so don’t smother them, or they’ll rot. The other three have crowns below ground, so mulch with abandon.

If you have snow-bound winters, you’ll want to set a different deadline. In any event, getting perennial vegetable beds (and perennial fruit or ornamental beds) mulched before plants jump out of the ground in spring is the key.

This practice leads to another goal: gathering and shredding tree leaves in time for a late-winter mulching.

Simply rake leaves onto a tarp, drag the tarp to a work area, and dump them. Then shred them with a mower, pitch-fork the shredded leaves into a wheelbarrow, and spread a 2-to-3-inch layer on the beds. Then go inside, whip up some hot chocolate, and skim the seed catalogs.

These cool-season tasks have many advantages:

  • No fallen tree leaves left to smother plants.
  • No expense for bagging leaves.
  • No expense for store-bought mulch.
  • No back aches — there’s no bending required.
  • Annual weeds and their seeds are suppressed by the mulch.
  • Dormant plants are out of the way.
  • Plants are well mulched before hot weather shows up.
  • We get the heaviest garden work done while the weather is cold and the exertion warms us.
  • We burn enough calories to justify pie!
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