Proper measures now will help with 2013 gardening

From Mike Skipper Winston County Coordinator

It’s really hard to believe that 2012 has come and gone; yet even harder to believe that we are rolling through January so quickly. Before you know it spring will be here and all of us will be ready to spend some quality time outdoors.

Recently, I received several calls in regards to problems with plants in the landscape and when these issues were addressed the problems were actually caused by the misuse of mulch materials. Mulch is really great when used correctly, but it can cause major problems with the health of plants as well as the overall growth if used incorrectly.

Mulch is simply a layer of porous materials that are used to cover the surface of soil. These materials are either organic or inorganic. Organic materials include bark, wood chips, pine straw, grass clippings, leaf litter or composted leaves. Inorganic materials would be things like gravel, crushed rock, lava rock or landscape fabrics.

Inorganic materials last a lifetime, because they do not break down. Another advantage is that most of these materials are considered to be fire wise because of their low flammability.

The beauty of organic materials is that as they breakdown, organic matter and nutrients are added to the soil. However, because they do breakdown quickly, homeowners must add a fresh layer each year. Unlike inorganic materials, most organic materials are moderate to highly flammable materials.

A good 2-4 inch layer of mulch provides several benefits to plants and soils such as minimizing weed competition, moderating soil temperatures, improving soil structures, retain erosion and reduce soil compaction, just to name a few. Mulch is also extremely attentive to landscape areas as well as enhancing the overall landscape design.

When mulching, remember that the fibrous roots of plants extend well past the drip lines, so apply your mulch over as large of an area as possible. Do not apply mulch on stems, trunks or root flares of trees, and always leave a few inches of bare soil around young plants.

There are several problems associated with using too much mulch around your plants: • Contributes to root rot by reducing aeration and trapment of water •Promotes the development of roots into the mulch material instead of into the soil • Retards root development, which leads to the reduction of shoot/ leaf growth • Provides increased habitat area for rodents • Inhibits the movement of needed oxygen and water to the soil profile.

The reality is that the right amount of mulch around landscape plants helps sustain both healthy plants and soils, however too much or even too little exposes both plants and soils to environmental and biological stress.

For more information, please contact the Winston County Extension Office at 773-3091.