MULCHING TECHNIQUES FOR FLOWER GARDENING

A mulch is a layer of bulky organic material placed on thesoil surface around the stems. It is generally not used for annuals, but around herbaceous perennials it provides five positive benefits:

The soil is kept moist during the dry days of summer.

Annual weeds are kept in check.

Soil structure is improved by the addition of humus.

Plant foods are provided by some mulching materials.

Frost penetration into the soil in winter is reduced.

Suitable materials for mulching are moist peat, well-rotted manure, leaf mould, properly-made garden compost, Bio Humus, spent hops, mushroom compost and shredded bark. Grass clippings are often recommended and used, but a word of caution is necessary. Add a thin layer at a time and stir occasionally-do not use them if they are weedy or if the lawn has been treated with a weedkiller.

The standard time for mulching is May. Success depends on preparing the soil surface properly before adding the organic blanket. Remove debris, dead leaves and weeds, and then water the surface if it is dry. Apply a spring feed if this has not been done, hoe in lightly and you are now ready to apply the mulch. Spread a 2-3 in. layer around but not touching the stems. Lightly fork this dressing into the top inch of soil during October.

After a few years many border perennials and hardy bulbs need renovation. If the clump is a large one and the central area is bare then the plant requires treatment. Other conditionscalling for renovation areovercrowding, whereby the plant has spread into the growing zone of others, and flower deterioration where abundant leaf growth seems to have taken over from bloom development.

Lift the plant and divide the clump. If active growth has become restricted to the outer ring, remove piecesof shoots with theirattached roots and discard theold central section. Do this work in late autumn, but if your soil is heavy and the drainage not particularly good it should be delayed until early spring. Take the opportunity to remove perennial weeds which may have been troubling you for years, and replant the pieces at the same depth as the original clump.

A word of caution. Look up the plant in the A-Z guide before attempting renovation work. The correct time may be different from the general rule given above and for some plants lifting is out of the question. It takes several years for such varieties to become established and it would be folly to disturb them just as they were beginning to feel at home.

Bearing in mind the value of mulching, it is surprising that it is not more generally practised. It cannot be that the idea is a new one – the Ancient Romans regularly mulched around their plants with stones to keep the surface cool, moist and weed-free. Perhaps, with time, we shall catch up with them.

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