To Mulch or Not to Mulch That is the Question

P1000583 (1024x766)The main priority at the moment is to ensure that the utmost has been done to protect our delicates.  At this juncture I should confirm that, by “delicates” I mean the less than hardy members of the garden, not my underwear.  My underwear is always well protected.  But I digress.  In the small village that Cliffe resides there can be four degrees of difference between ourselves and those strange folk in the valley, when we are talking about degrees of frost this can be quite important.  Even within the garden the conditions differ considerably.  The photo above was taken last week and is a case in point; two osteospermums, side by side, one still flowering, one a pathetic mess of singed vegetation.So the question “will that dahlia survive if left outside  unprotected?” is a very complex one.  Even if we could foretell the coming weather conditions the only true test would be to leave it in the ground and wait and see what happens.  Of course it may well die, and what will we have learnt? We will know is that this particular plant (a certain size, pedigree, position and health) did not make it through this particular winter (wet and cold early, wet and cold late, just cold, just wet etc etc).  There is nothing exact about this science, does that mean it is science at all?  All we can do is recognise which of our flock will not enjoy excess winter wet, freezing conditions, cold winds, alien attack, or any combination of the above and act accordingly.

At Cliffe we protect in a number of ways; some plants we lift and they have a sabbatical in the relative sanctuary of the greenhouse; some we fleece insitu; to some we apply a heavy mulch.  Oh and we cross our fingers quite a lot.  Then come the associated problems.  When plants are to be kept dry, how dry is dry? we don’t want a desiccated shell come spring.  When is it best to unwrap? I can’t help feeling they will emerge like pale sickly children if they don’t get some fresh air on their skins but I also don’t want to be continually rushing around re-wrapping when there is a frost alert.  Fresh shoots fighting to emerge through the heavy mulch should be liberated but not too soon.

I feel quite exhausted just thinking about it, there is a lot to be said for growing the tough cookies.



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21 responses to “To Mulch or Not to Mulch That is the Question

  1. Agree about the “tough cookies” … sometimes one has to be a bit ruthless in a garden, when it becomes an unbearable chore, maybe time to reappraise. Good luck!

  2. There is a lot of thinking involved in gardening, as well as a lot of luck. And sometimes, we just have to take our losses and try to be philosophical about them. Please remind me of this when I’m looking at my own situation when winter is over.

  3. ex34mush

    At least you have an erected greenhouse, which is more than can be said for us. Friendly builder offered to prepare the base while I was incapacitated. Still waiting and I am watching some of our more tender plants starting to suffer for want of shelter. Time to rattle a cage I think.
    However, what is really noticeable to us strange folk here in the valley is the impact of the damp. Plants that would survive many days down to -5 or less in a well drained soil in Hertfordshire don’t seem to make it through the winter here even when it is virtually frost free. A whole new learning exercise – not to mention helping to support the local economy…

  4. Yes this is what makes winter so stressful; worrying about all your treasures and whether you’ve wrapped them up warmly enough. It is often wet rather than cold that kills things though. I have given up getting my dahlias in, I put layers of newspaper on top of them and cover this with a thick layer of mulch. So far I haven’t lost one using this method. The newspaper seems to act like a cosy blanket and stops them getting too wet..I suppose it wouldn’t work if you live in a frost pocket though.

  5. Helen Johnstone

    I have become more and more pragmatic over the years. I bring in those I know are tender e.g. salvias but I have little space to store plants so more and more is being left to fend for itself. If they are the type that die back they are covered in a thick mulch, if they dont die back that much they get a mulch and also a blanket of straw. But if I loose them I put it down to experience and try something else!

    • ex34mush

      Strange things Salvias. We had a group of five plants (can’t remember which variety but it was fairly short). All but one died the first winter, but that has gone on for at least five years, surviving down to at least -10. Most strange.

    • That is a good approach, the favorites do tend to get special attention. We have a white(ish) cactus dahlia in the garden that no one is very keen on, year after year it pops up after no protection, just to spite us.

  6. You wore me out just reading that…

  7. A sudden frost took half my potted garden, after a month or two ago when a heat wave took out the rest, plus a few old faithfuls in the ground. We can never second guess the weather man, so just go with the flow.

  8. diversifolius

    The strategy for sanity is to try not to overthink it on the subject 🙂

  9. I feel for you as I still haven’t got used to these vexing questions… In London where I have done the bulk of my gardening, it was not something I really thought about…most things survived!

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