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Dallas Morning News - February 11, 2021


 

Cold Weather and Mulch Magic

 

To prepare for the real winter that's near: Water all beds, turf and planters thoroughly. Go to the local garden center, nursery, feed store or hardware store and buy some floating row cover – if you don't already have some. All tender plants should be covered. Disconnect all hoses and turn the water off to faucets and fixtures unless you are using the Freeze Miser device.

 


Row cover can be used over individual plants or containers for freeze protection

Row covers should be held down on the edges with rocks, soil, lumber or metal pins

 

And mulch all bare soil. Even good mulches wear thin over time and we need a couple of inches of covering before the hard cold hits. But - even in the winter, mulches should kept away from the tree flares and trunks.

 

Shredded native mulches (also called arborist wood chips) are the best choice. They insulate the soil and plant roots, prevent the winter weeds, have good balance of carbon and nitrogen, are loaded with nutrients, stay in place well, breathe properly and break down well to feed microbes in the soil.

 


Shredded tree trimmings being put out to cover bare soil

 

Many of the other mulches are not so helpful. Here's a quick review for you.

 

Rubber mulch from ground up tires contains toxic chemicals, doesn't break down to feed microbes and holds too much heat in the summer. Neither weed blocking fabrics nor plastic of any kind should be used. Mulch should touch the soil so that its breakdown into humus feeds the life in the soil.

 

Pine bark, especially the smaller pieces, blow and wash away, plus they contain natural chemicals that hurt soil health and plant growth. Pine straw or needles interesting do not have the same natural chemical issues, stay in place better and work well as mulch. Looks a little weird if you don't have any pine trees. Cypress is all carbon and breaks down very slowly. Not what we want. Rotting of mulch is an important source of natural fertility. Being harvested from wetlands and shipping across the country is also a concern. Cocoa mulch smells good but is expensive and very dangerous to dogs.

 

Pecan shell mulch is an OK choice, especially if aged, but fresh, new shells don't behave. Like pine bark, they blow and wash around and usually have some pecan meat left that attracts fire ants. Partially completed compost is good. When ingredients are still identifiable, this compost works well as mulch. Shredded hardwood bark is not as good as shredded tree trimmings because of less nitrogen and trace minerals due to no protein tissue - buds, stems, cambium, leaves, etc. Lava gravel is an excellent mulch if you like the look, but be sure to avoid the plastic under it.

 

Colored mulches are made from ground-up wood scraps, siding, palettes and sometimes treated lumber, making them all carbon and totally unbalanced due to lack of protein/nitrogen. They actually rob nitrogen from microbes and soil health. Dyes used in these ugly products are also questionable in toxicity.

 


Nellie helping (sorta) me put out shredded native tree trimmings

 

 

 

 

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