Prepare Garden Mulch Now
You’ve been mulching all during gardening season, both to preserve moisture and inhibit weeds. But fall is the time to start collecting as much garden mulch as you can. Winter is just around the corner and your trees and shrubs will appreciate a good mulching to protect them from freezing. This is especially important where winter temperatures can be harsh (I’m thinking of you, Bozeman, Montana). It’s also important not to pile mulch too high — a practice known as over mulching — around your trees and shrubs.
Mulch is also useful in getting an early start on spring vegetables. Seeds sown under a heavy layer of mulch will, even if sprouted, survive the winter with a little luck. When the mulch is pulled away in the spring — even if there is still the threat of frost — frost-tolerant plants will jump at the chance to get a little sunshine. Garlic and onions are traditionally planted in the fall and over-winter under a warm blanket of mulch. Surprisingly, I’ve had success with fall planting and mulching during some pretty cold winters (did I mention Bozeman, Montana?). This is one place — your vegetable garden — where you can’t mulch too much. Just be sure to pull the mulch back when the spring weather makes an appearance. You want to give wet soils a chance to lose some of that abundant moisture.
Where are you going to find all the mulch you need? Luckily, nature has the answer. Those fall leaves, especially after they’re shredded, make great mulch. Other sources include straw (do your best to make sure it’s weed free; not always an easy task), grass clippings (but not if you’ve sprayed them with herbicide!), pine needles (may add to the acid content of your soil) and wood chips. Combinations are good. Non-organic sources of mulch — paper, gravel and the like — don’t make for good over-wintering mulches. You can find a good discussion of seasonal mulches here (PDF). And here’s an article about various types of mulch. Now get out there and mulch! Much!