KATE COPSEY T&D Garden columnist
The weather has finally settled into an early summer pattern and although we will have some cool mornings the chance of another frost is close to zero. That means the summer crops are safe to plant along with light summer annuals, and it’s time to prepare the garden for the summer heat by mulching.
By now you should be done with spring weeding and many have already tilled and applied mulch, if you haven’t, now is the time to start. Mulch goes a long way in making a landscape look “finished” and helps retain scant summer moisture. Types of mulch include pine straw, colored mulch, pebble, and hardwood mulch. Each has its use in the garden and a lot depends on your overall garden design.
River rock and bright white pebbles look perfect in more formal gardens and those with an oriental design, but are also popular for areas closer to the home. The stone is difficult to apply and if you are working a large area it is worth asking the supplier to spread the stones. Different colors of stones and lava rocks are similar and also popular. These look less formal. All rocks have the benefit of being a one-time use. Landscape fabric under the rocks helps keep weeds out of the area, so once applied, this type of mulch is low-maintenance.
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Pine thatch is sold in bales and can be seen around trees, shrubs and foundation beds. It’s easy to move but will blow around if applied on a windy day. Pine thatch is good for keeping weeds at bay and retaining moisture, and while it doesn’t rot quickly, it needs to be reapplied every year to give the landscape a “finished” look. Pine straw is also the preferred mulch for strawberries, where it helps keep the leaves and fruit off the ground where snails and other insects roam.
Finally, there’s hardwood mulch, which I prefer for flower gardens as well as perennial crops like raspberries and asparagus. There are different types and sizes of mulch, but they all decompose and are worked into the soil every year, meaning they need to be applied every year. Hardwood mulch comes in bags for small areas, but can also be supplied by the yard. Most nurseries will ship by a minimum of around 3 yards and most have a small delivery charge as well. Place a tarp in the area of your landscape where you want to tip the mulch. From here you cart the mulch into your garden with a wheelbarrow. On a warm, sunny day, this can be hard work, so start early in the day and stay hydrated.
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All mulches help retain moisture in the soil and look great in gardens, and they help deter weeds, but they don’t make the garden maintenance free! Weeds can find enough soil between rocks and paths, as well as most mulch, so take care of them as soon as they arrive.
The summer heat will be here soon, so prepare the garden for summer droughts.
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Kate Copsey is a gardening writer, author, and speaker now residing in east Orangeburg County. Her book The Downsized Veggie Garden is available in bookstores everywhere and on her website www.katecopsey.com.