Mulching Perennial Plants and Root Crops: When, Why, and How to Do It

Do you struggle with mulching?

It sounds easy enough to throw some mulch on crops to keep the weeds down, but did you know mulch can serve a variety of purposes?

If you have perennials or root vegetables in your garden, mulch can be a great help to you. There are specific times to mulch, specific times to remove mulch and a certain way to mulch these crops.

I’m going to cover each of these topics with you to help you know when, where, why, and how you should mulch your perennials and root crops.

Here’s the 4-1-1 on mulching:

Perennials

Perennials are some of my favorite crops to plant because they come back year after year with little to no maintenance.

One of the best things you can do keep your perennials healthy and protected is by mulching them. Mulching will keep the roots insulated when the temperatures dip.

Plus, mulching can keep your perennials from blooming at the wrong times. If you have a heat wave during winter, you don’t want your perennial plants to assume it’s spring and begin to bloom.

If they do, when winter returns, they’ll be killed. By mulching the perennials, it keeps them protected from the elements when it’s too cold and also keeps them from becoming confused.

When to Mulch Perennial Plants

You can and should mulch perennials approximately two times per year. You may have to do it more frequently depending upon what type of mulch you use.

If the mulch decomposes too quickly, you should add more. Yet, if you use a sturdier mulch, it should last between the two mulching periods.

In the spring, you mulch the perennials to help retain moisture and also control weeds. During the fall, you mulch to insulate the perennial from the elements and to avoid blooming at inappropriate times.

How to Mulch Perennials

When mulching your perennial plants, it’s important to apply approximately three inches of mulch around the plant.

Be sure you leave a three-inch circumference around the plant with no mulch when applying. This will allow proper airflow to take place.

If you’re mulching in the spring, wait until the ground is warmed and has thawed before applying the mulch.

If you’re mulching in the fall, wait until the ground has become frozen before applying the layers of mulch.

During the growing season, make sure the plants have about three inches of mulch around them at all times.

If you choose a mulch made from bark, you shouldn’t need to apply more than twice a year. If you go with a leaf style mulch, you may need to apply more frequently.

Should I Remove the Mulch Around My Perennials?

When people mulch their perennials in the fall, they sometimes wonder if they should remove the mulch in the spring or will the plants simply grow through the mulch.

The answer will depend on what type of mulch you use. If you use a sturdier mulch which is bulkier, you may have to pull the mulch back when you know springtime temperatures are here to stay.

If the mulch is heavy enough to suppress the plant from growing, definitely pull it back to give the plant time to sprout.

Once sprouting occurs, move the mulch back in towards the plant to offer protection while it grows.

But if you go with a less sturdy mulch which isn’t as bulky and won’t suppress plant growth, the plant should be able to push through.

Now Let’s Talk Mulching Root Veggies

The purpose behind mulching root vegetables is different than perennials. Most people mulch root vegetables at the end of the growing season when they want to store them in the ground over winter.

It’s easy to do and a great way to keep fresh vegetables on hand even when the snow is on the ground. Here’s how you can successfully mulch root vegetables:

1. Make It Thick

If you don’t have a root cellar and need a way to store your root crops over winter, consider leaving them right where they’re at.

You can do this by applying a 12-inch-thick layer of mulch right where they’re planted. Some vegetables (such as carrots) become sweeter the longer they’re left in the ground. The frost helps provide a sweet taste.

2. Adapt to Your Zone

Applying mulch and leaving the crops in the ground works well in you live in planting zone four through seven.

However, if you live in a cooler planting zone, you may want to consider adding a cold frame or hoop house tunnel over the mulch for an added layer of protection.

3. Protect the Mulch

Once the mulch has been applied to the root crops, you must make sure it stays where it’s intended. You do this by placing a row cover, a bed sheet, tarp, or any other option which can be placed over the mulch to hold it in place.

The idea is when the winds pick up or the elements become harsh over winter (as they sometimes do) the mulch won’t be thrown around and no longer protect the crops.

4. Weigh It All Down

When the row cover is in place, you must make sure it stays in place. You can place rocks, bricks, or any other weighted object at the corner of each side of the row cover.

You don’t want the wind to pick up the edges or the sides of the cover and displace the mulch because it wasn’t weighed down.

5. Make Sure You Can Find It

If you live in an area which gets a ton of snow during the winter, make sure you mark the corners of your garden patch.

By doing this, it’ll make sure you can find your crops even with snow on the ground. It would be terrible to put all of the work into growing the vegetables and storing them but couldn’t utilize them because you couldn’t find them under the snow. Be sure to mark them well.

I’ve done tons of research on mulching plants, and it all can feel overwhelming as to when you should mulch, why you should mulch, and how you should mulch different plants in your yard.

Hopefully, this has cleared up and simplified some of the information to where it doesn’t feel like such a mystery. Mulch can be a gardener's best friend if used properly.

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