Magnificent mulch – but what is it?

Mulch is a word that gardeners say a lot and others nod and agree but what is this mysterious stuff and why do we use it?

Basically, it is a layer of material laid on top of the soil around trees, shrubs and plants. By covering up the soil you are protecting it so, insulating new plant growth and help reduce evaporation. It is also a great way to supress weeds and add nutrients to the soil without too much disturbance.

Biodegradable material such as homemade leaf mould, compost and well-rotted manure are ideal for flower beds. If you have nothing to hand and can get to a garden centre then bags of horse manure, mushroom compost or peat free soil improver are good. Make sure it is spread out to 5-10cm deep but not touching the stems of established plants as this will lead to rotting, particularly if there is a wet spell. The nutrients in these mixtures, with the help of the weather and worms, will feed down into the soil give it a good boost as things start to get growing.

Now is a great time to add a Spring mulch, the period between the last of the winter perennials to be cut down and before bulbs and new shoots start to sprout. It allows it to be spread quickly and easily over the border and you are not having to faff around clearing it away from new growth. If the ground is really wet then it is best to wait a while. You may be itching to get outside but standing on the soil only leads to compaction and more damage in the long run.

If you are trying to keep pots and containers tidy then a thin layer of small bark chips or gravel are the best mulches, they won’t add any nutrients to the soil but will slow down weeds and help shield the surface from drying out too quickly.

Other Jobs for February:

One of my favourite jobs, mainly because the end results in May are so beautiful, is to winter prune Wisteria, it can take a few years to get an untamed plant back in order but definitely worth the effort.

Cut back late flowering clematis to 60cm, you may have cut off a few plump flower buds but they will spring back and give you lots of flowers later.

Also, hard prune dogwood, and late flowering shrubs like buddleia to encourage new growth.

Sow hardy annuals such as sweet peas, you may be ahead of the game and already planted some in the autumn, but you will get longer successional growth with 2 sowings – watch out for mice they love them too!

If you have a favourite scented Pelargonium (mine is Cocoa Cola) or fuchsia that has survived the winter, then now is the time to take cuttings for more gorgeous plants this summer.

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