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Not Too Late to Put Mulch Down

This fall has certainly been anything but normal, with November’s temperatures thus far being well below average, and Old Man Winter looming on the heels of an overly warm summer. Putting down an insulating layer of mulch on your perennials and strawberries will give them the protection they need.

It is important that the protective layer of mulch not be put down too soon. Wait until the ground begins to freeze to add the extra layer of mulch. It is recommended that the mulch be put down prior to the first heavy snow but that can present a problem here in Minnesota. We have all seen heavy snows early in the season come before the ground has frozen to only melt away and leave barren ground. 

In general your perennials will appreciate the extra protection. A good layer of mulch will help keep the soil temperatures from freezing and thawing which will cause damage to the plants. The freezing and thawing will cause heaving of the plant’s crown which may kill your plants.  The mulch is not there to prevent the plant from freezing, after all this is Minnesota and our winter temperatures certainly dip well below freezing.  Do not remove the mulch too early in the spring as it is important for the soil to gradually warm. In spring, monitor the soil temperatures and growth of the plants; simply remove once the plants begin to show signs of growth.

Mulch can consist of shredded leaves, pine needles, hay or straw. Keep in mind this may encourage mice or other rodents to harbor and feed on the stems of the plant but in general perennials are not impacted. Typically 6-8 inches of mulch can be applied for that extra insulation. 

Another popular garden plant that should be mulched is your strawberries.  If you haven’t already done so, and now that the strawberry plants have had a chance to acclimate to the cool temperatures, apply a protective layer of mulch.  Clean, weed-free straw is the preferred mulch material for strawberries.  This can be oats, wheat or even soybean straw; cornstalks are another possibility but may be a bit more difficult to work with. Simply apply 4-6 inches of material.  It is not recommended to use leaves because they may mat and create areas where moisture and air is trapped and create ice. 

Do your plants a favor by giving them the needed protective mulch layer this fall. As a reminder don’t forget to monitor them in the spring and remove it at the appropriate time. Too early could lead to heaving or damaging freezing temperatures, too late could lead to mold or leggy, weak growth.


Robin Trott
Extension Educator, Horticulture
(320) 762-3890
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