In the next few weeks, the soil in garden beds will wake up and if the soil isn’t too soggy, you can start to work them. Finding the best mulch to “feed your soil” is one of the most important tasks for restoring and improving your plantings.
Most of us think of mulch as a way to suffocate all those unwanted weeds later in the summer, or to keep moisture in the soil around new plantings. But a layer of good mulch applied in early spring does much more– it can benefit the soil by improving its texture, temperature, and ability to drain well.
You can start mulching beds or containers once the soil is warmer and fairly dry. Experts recommend a 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch, which eventually will break down, working its way into the soil if you use the right stuff.
What kind of mulch is best? On a recent walk through Manor Park in Larchmnont, many trees and bare spots of soil, were surrounded with large chunks of blonde-colored wood chips — possibly leftover from fallen trees and limbs after Hurricane Sandy. These big pieces of bark were piled up against the trunks and covering bare soil areas, precisely the kind of mulching that is not recommended.
Mulch should be kept several inches away from trunks of trees and shrubs because it can can invite pests and diseases. And you should avoid using big hunks of bark that won’t break down, or extremely fine sawdust, which would cake up and fail to decompose. The whole idea is to use a fine or medium-textured organic product that is dark like the soil (no dyes), so it looks good, and preferably a product that has been composted, meaning it has already decomposed and can actually improve your soil.
To get the details on the correct uses of different mulches, check out the Cornell Cooperative Extension mulch factsheets.
One of the best mulches available locally is SweetPeet, –it’s 100% organic and can be ordered from many nearby gardening centers including: Tony’s Nursery in Larchmont, Gedney Farms Nursery in White Plains, and Sprainbrook Nursery in Scarsdale.
The time to order mulch is now– so that you’ll have it for spreading later in the spring. After mulching, you can top-off with a layer of fertilizer and/or compost to create a beautiful, healthy garden bed.