The Early Spring Rules for Mulching

I will confess I am always in the garden too soon in the early spring, so do as I say, not as I do. In most areas of the country, spring is starting to make an appearance and that is the siren call for gardeners to don their boots and get to work. Before you begin working in the garden, there are a few things you need to remember. The soil may still be quite cold and wet. Your garden, where you worked so diligently to create light, un-compacted soil, will surely suffer from you plodding about.


Scouting: Explore the garden with care. It is likely you will not remember where every bulb and perennial was planted and you surely do not want to risk damaging the plants.

Mulching: Most likely it is too soon to mulch. It is best to let the soil warm up and dry out a bit first. Adding too much mulch too soon in the season can trap the cold moisture in the soil, delay the emergence of plants and prevent the soil from properly drying out.

What you can do: I like to ever-so-gently fluff the mulch. I use a hand tool for best control, such as a Cobrahead. The single blade makes it easy to puncture and gently turn the tight mulch with exact precision. This is not a time to cut and turn and dig with abandon. You want to take care to avoid young plants and emerging bulbs.

Why fluff? Tightly compacted mulch will not benefit the garden. The soil cannot breath and spring rains can bead up like water on a duck’s back. By fluffing the mulch you improve air and water circulation while determining if your garden even needs a new layer of mulch.

Here’s where I broke the rule: I had pine fines delivered to the new garden I adopted. The soil along the back wall is heavy with clay and tightly compacted. There are no plants sans a line of daffodils along the sidewalk. I have been double digging in that area, turning, chopping and working in the pine fines. A few neighbors have been quick to point out that it was February when I was doing this. I can already tell the soil is lighter and easier to work with. With all that turning and digging, the soil will certainly have air gaps. I hope by spring planting the rains and my gentle chopping of the soil will eliminate voids within the soil.

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