20 Sep THE BENEFITS OF FALL/WINTER MULCHING
As someone who raises a small flock of backyard chickens, I find myself with wheelbarrows full of chicken manure and straw each fall when I clean out my coop before the onset of winter. Manure is great for your garden, but fresh manure needs time to age, so applying it to your garden in the fall gives it a few months to age and for the high levels of nitrogen to slowly work its way into the soil.
But the straw also serves a valuable purpose for the garden in the form of mulch. Mulching your garden in the fall has several benefits which will facilitate your spring gardening and result in a more bountiful harvest the following summer. Straw is a great type of mulch for the garden, but wood chips or shavings, dried leaves, pine needles or even dried grass clippings make good mulch as well.
Applying mulch to your garden over the winter will help prevent new weeds from growing when the temperatures start to rise in the spring. Mulch in walkways and around plants during the growing season will also reduce the amount of weeding you need to do.
A thick layer of mulch around the base of your plants can help reduce the pests that reach your plants. Many insects live in the soil and climb the stalks of plants to reach the leaves and blossoms, so a layer of mulch can impede their progress.
Mulch helps with moisture retention. If you live in a dry area, putting down a layer of mulch in your garden can help keep the ground moist and prevent the water from evaporating as quickly after you water.
Improve Soil Structure
As your mulch breaks down, it will add organic matter and some nutrients to your garden soil as well as improve the soil structure. Structure is important for plants trying to establish roots, enhances drainage and allows air and water to penetrate the ground more easily.
Maintain Soil Temperature
Mulch also moderates the soil temperature, insulating it to a great extent from the outside temperatures. For a winter crop like garlic, this is extremely beneficial to prevent it from freezing over the winter in cold climates. Mulch can also help keep the soil cooler in the summer in warm climates.
Straw or pine needles can look better in your garden than dirt. Creating paths or walkways between your rows of vegetables will make your garden more eye-appealing and aesthetically pleasing.
by Lisa Steele, Chicken Keeper and Maine Master Gardener