November 6, 2003 at 9:13 a.m.
By now, you probably have harvested your vegetables from the garden. Due to the nice weather, you may have also cleaned the area from stalks, vines and weeds. As the definition suggests, enriching the soil is one of the advantages of mulching and sometimes there is a thin line between enriching and fertilizing.
Fall is an excellent time to prepare your garden for spring. If you have access to barnyard manure, which most of us don't, apply it on the garden in the fall. If applied in the spring, it may tend to burn delicate plants.
One item that most of us have is an abundance of leaves. Shredded leaves will help the breakdown into the soil a little faster. A lawn mower or even a snow blower can do this. For best results, dig or till the leaves into the ground this fall. Leaves work best in clay soil or hard ground as it is aerated. Some gardeners worry that leaves on the garden will tend to make the soil more acidic. That is why it is important to till it in the fall. Also, if you sprinkle field lime or a slow release, low nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-10, to give it a boost in the spring before you till, you shouldn't have a problem.
When we think of annual flower beds, we often think about the small flowers, but don't forget that dahlias, gladiolus Cannes and sunflowers are also annuals. After they are dug up, the soil should be treated much like that of a vegetable garden. Many gardeners' mulch their small flowerbeds with compost, pine needles or straw after the flowers are well established. Clean out any vines and weeds and then dig the mulch into the bed before the ground freezes.
Perennial gardens need to be treated differently. Clean out any weeds and prune each accordingly, depending upon which perennials we are talking about. Mulch perennials, after the ground freezes with a 4-6 inch layer of loose mulch, such as straw, leaves, pine needles, compost, etc. Fall mulch is to keep the frost in, not to keep it out. The freeze/thaw process that often happens during the winter causes the roots to become exposed during the late winter season. Mulch can prevent serious injury or kill the perennials. Most mulching is done in the spring or summer, so this is an excellent time to start or add to your compost pile. I plan on doing a news article next spring on summer mulching with a whole new set of rules.