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Winter Mulches

Martha Stewart Living, May 2003

Mulching offers a myriad of benefits to a growing garden. By infusing soil with organic scraps and recycling discarded plant refuse, you can reduce your waste and yield a blossoming yard. Seasonality applies to mulching practices, determining both which materials you should use to bolster soil and the methods of mulching you should use. In cold regions, mulching at the end of the season -- after the plants are dormant and the ground freezes -- prevents heaving by reducing fluctuations in soil temperature. Mulch can also add beauty to the winter garden. 

Martha uses evergreen boughs to mulch borders because they add color and texture to the landscape, but just about anything -- including salt hay, straw, peanut shells, cocoa hulls, and bark -- can be spread around perennials, bulbs, trees, and shrubs. Use whatever is available locally, spreading a layer about 2 to 3 inches thick.

Winter Mulch Guide

  • Bark is a good general-purpose mulch for perennials, shrubs, and newly planted trees.

  • Compost and aged manure are excellent for top-dressing perennials and next year's vegetable beds.

  • Pine needles raked up from the ground can be spread around acid-loving trees and shrubs.

  • Salt hay and straw are especially good for protecting cool-season greens, leeks, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and shallots in the vegetable garden. Salt hay contains no seeds, so it will not germinate into weeds, and it allows dormant plants to breathe.

If you're starting from scratch, check out Nicole Caldwell's guide to beginning a mulch garden. Caldwell reminds ardent gardeners that mulch is so much more than a simple fertilizing solution for verdant yards. Creating mulch is also a means of preserving the environment and nourishing new plant as they blossom. 


Get the How To Start Mulch Gardening in Your Yard Guide


Creating a gorgeous garden begins and ends with fresh, fertile soil, and Martha Stewart's soil primer offers a deeper look into the grassroots of a lush, vibrant garden. From learning to distinguish soil types to assessing your soil's PH levels with a simple test, the soil guide is a gardener's best companion.


Soil Types

Soil can be broken down into five primary categories: Forest, Sandy, Clay, Loamy, and Potting Soil. Forest and loamy soils are the most optimal for plantings, followed by potting soil, clay, and sandy soil. 


The Ball Jar Test

An excellent method of demonstrating soil stratification, the ball jar test allows gardeners to view the layers of sand, silt, and clay, thus classifying their soil based on the ratio of components.


Testing pH and Nutrient Levels

Just tests of the body's cholesterol and nutrient stores yield health plans to correct deficiencies and improve overall health, testing the PH and nutrients in your soil is a necessary step in building a beautiful garden with balanced soil. 

Soil Amendments

Once you've determined the makeup of your soil and its shortcomings, you can take steps to rectify any issues; this step is also referred to as "soil amendments".




Healthy Soil 



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