You're here because you've been asking yourself when is the best time to mulch? That's a tricky question. Landscapers and gardeners don't all agree on this.
The official mulching season is mid-to-late spring. This is when the soil finally starts warming back up from the winter frosts and freezes. Some experts warn you should never lay mulch during late fall. However, many savvy gardeners believe in the power of mulch all year round in certain cases.
In this article, we’ll discuss what one expert says about when is the best time to mulch. Most insist that it’s spring. From there, we’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of mulching in the fall. Then, we’ll get into some tips from savvy gardeners, like me, about mulching as well as discuss inorganic mulch vs organic mulch.
I may not be an expert on every type of mulch around. But I adamantly stand by mulching. Almost every inch of every garden bed on this property features one variety of mulch or another. As a matter of fact, I just added a fresh new layer in my front flower bed to protect the soil from this scorching hot sun. Mulch is life for a landscape.
Expert Advice: Mulch in the Spring
According to New York Botanical Garden A.P. Farm Associate Vice President Kurt Morell, the best time to mulch depends on two things:
- Type of Plant
- Weather Conditions
Generally, mid-to-late spring is the prime time for large-scale mulching. By that, I mean adding a fresh layer of mulch to every garden bed and pot, around every tree as well as throughout the landscape.
Morell says that doing it before that could cause the soil to warm up slower, which slows down your growing season. He also believes you should never mulch in late fall because it can become insulation for the soil and stop plants from overwintering properly.
Fall Mulching Tips
There are various reasons why you may have to mulch in the fall. For one, if that’s when you got your new landscape installed, then it needs to be done immediately. Another reason might be to
4 Benefits of Early Fall Mulching
1. Frees Up Spring Time
By your second-year gardening, you know how busy you are in the spring. From sowing seeds, to tending to overwintered plants, from amending soil to transitioning your indoor sown plants from inside to the garden outdoors.
If you want to get something off your springtime to-do list, go ahead and mulch in the fall. But make sure it’s early in the season for the best results.
2. Cooler Temperatures
By fall, the weather is starting to cool off. Here in the Inland Empire, we suffer in scalding heat with temperatures up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Spring is just a small leap toward the heat. But autumn is a different ballgame.
Want to beat the heat while you get the heavy job of mulching done? Then, why not tackle the job in early-to-mid autumn?
3. Last Chance Enjoyment
We all hate saying goodbye to our beautiful, lush gardens when the winter frost comes. Take this time to enjoy your gorgeous landscape and soak in the fresh fall air before the Great Outdoors are a mere memory again.
4. Show Perennials Love
Many gardeners prepare their perennials for the winter by cutting them back. This is usually done right before winter. You can get a jump start on this project by cutting them back in the fall instead.
Then, they are all out of your way so you can add a good layer of mulch without moving plants out of the way. Now, you can take the task off of your spring to-do list.
3 Disadvantages of Early Fall Mulching
1. Self-Sowing Plants
Plants that drop seeds and reseed themselves each spring shouldn’t be mulched in the fall. The mulch will still be fresh by spring. So, it may make it hard for your seeds to germinate.
2. Shorter Daylight Hours
One of my biggest issues with fall gardening is that daylight savings time kicks in and steals our daylight hours. We go from it getting dark close to 9PM to the sun setting by about 5:30PM.
This makes it harder to do such tasks as large-scale mulching. But if you just put in an hour or two each evening, it can be done.
3. You Love Winter Perennials
The best way to mulch perennials is to cut the stems back until they are 6-12 inches first. That way, you can mulch evenly all around the plants. If you’re a person who loves keeping your winter perennials full for beauty, shelter for the birds and to give love to the pollinators, then autumn mulching is not for you.
How to Mulch in the Fall
These are some dos and don’ts of mulching in autumn:
- Always apply a layer of mulch that’s about 3 inches thick.
- Never add deep layers of mulch over the crowns of your plants.
- Your mulch will act as a winter coat for your landscape. Make sure the mulch you choose to use traps the air down in the soil. This could be shredded bark, weed-free straw, even shredded leaves.
Savvy Gardening Advice: Mulch When Needed
As a savvy gardener, I like to mulch whenever I plant something new or amend a bed. Weeds equal more work. And the last thing I want to do is work harder than necessary. Most gardeners prefer to mulch in the spring. Many also like fall and winter mulching, but they amend the mulch when springtime comes back around.
The Best Times to Mulch
Here in my zone, the expected frost date is December 8th. So, I try to get my winter mulching out of the way weeks before that to help things overwinter and to protect the soil from frost.
But many other regions tend to see frost during the midst of autumn. In such cases, it’s best to mulch during fall so you can cut back your stems and get the mulch down before the early frost. You don’t want your plants freezing to death from snow, ice and outrageously cold temperatures.
The biggest issue I had with mulch this summer is that it came with and attracted earwigs. They would hide in it all day, like vampires. Then, they would sneak out at night in packs, and chew on my baby squash, pepper, cool weather crops and okra leaves.
Eventually, I decided to give the earwigs their own bed. I would go out into the garden in the middle of the night with a flashlight and empty cut. Every earwig I saw got scooped into the cup and relocated to Bed 1 where they were free to devour all the leafy greens they could eat.
Once the summer heat kicked in, they left the bed for good and proceeded to rid my garden of earwigs and spider mites. So, problem solved. Therefore, I still believe in the power of mulch.
Mulch Smothers Weeds
Everything starts to bloom in the spring. This includes weeds, whose seeds have been lurking around waiting for the sunshine to help them germinate. Mulching before this happens can help ensure that most of the weeds don’t germinate and never see the light of day.
Using Recycled Materials
The former tenants where we live left a yard full of junk behind. I’ve been recycling materials for over a year, using them within my landscape. Mulch is no different.
Look for things already in your home, garage, basement, attic and yard that can be used for mulching. You want every inch of your soil completely covered.
So, look around your home and your community for things like:
- Wood Chips
- Grass Clippings
- Pine Needles
- Black Plastic
About THE AUTHOR
Kiesha Joseph is an avid gardener dedicated to simple urban gardening on a budget. She enjoys sharing her Zone 9B Inland Empire, California experiences, as well as inexpensive DIY landscaping techniques. She loves experimenting in the garden, even if the project seems to be a failure. According to her, she does not learn from her successes. She learns from her failures. And that’s why she is determined to keep experimenting.Read more about Kiesha Joseph