How Winter Mulch Can Protect Your Garden This Season!

winter mulch

Adding mulch around garden and landscape plants is a great idea as it will help protect the roots of overwintering perennials from the ravages of winter temperatures.  When temperatures fluctuate during the winter, mulch helps to keep soil temperature around more steady than uncovered soil. Even though it is winter, plants still need moisture, especially evergreen plants like yews, junipers, arborvitae and many broad-leafed evergreen plants still require water.

Common Mulch to Use in the Winter

When bare soil freezes, the moisture in the frozen soil is less available to the plant, which can lead to winter desiccation.  Mulch comes in many forms, from commercially packaged bags to bales of straw or pine needles to homemade compost.

Here are a few of the most common types of mulch:

Shredded Bark

This is a very common type of mulch that is used across the U.S.  Depending on your point of view, shredded bark is good as it breaks down quickly, helping to feed the soil microorganisms.  Since it breaks down quickly, it should be replenished on an annual basis.  Don’t pile this mulch high upon the base of trees to create what are called “mulch volcanoes”. The mulch should not exceed about 3 inches in depth.  It is also good to purchase composted shredded bark as it will provide more nutrients to your plants.

Straw and Pine Straw

Most homeowners don’t use regular straw as mulch around their home as a decorative mulch.  It usually has a more utilitarian use in vegetable gardens.  When purchasing bales of straw, inquire about weed seeds.  Oat straw has a good number of other weed seeds embedded in the bales, which can lead to future problems.

Pine Straw is probably the most popular mulch used in the many southern states.  It is lighter than shredded mulch and easier to spread. It does tend to interlock as it decomposes, so it is a good choice for sloped areas. As with any other mulch, it does have to be replenished on a regular basis.


Compost is darker in color, similar in color to many humus type soils, so it can help to enhance the color of many plants in the landscape. It is also the mulch that breaks down faster compared to others.  Since it is already in the composted stage of decaying, it is the best mulch for the health of your plants as it adds to the natural soil food web that exists in the soil. Since it breaks down quickly, it must be refreshed every year.

If you have the space, you can make your own compost, but most homeowners purchase truckloads of it, depending on the size of their landscape beds. It can be a back-breaking task to spread all that compost.

Pine or Cedar Bark Chips

Pine or cedar bark chips provide the least amount of organic content to the soil, mainly since they take a long time to break down.  They are also not a good choice for sloped areas as they are light weight and tend to float away during heavy rain storms. It has also been said that the natural waxes that cover the bark chips will wash over and can cover the soil, repealing water in the long term.

Even though it is the end of the growing season, adding mulch to landscape beds is still possible until the ground begins to freeze and the snow covers the ground. If you have any questions about caring for your lawn and landscape in the winter, call on your neighborhood lawn care professional at Spring-Green.