2017-12-29 / Home & Garden

Nature’s Gift Wrap

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

We have just completed the annual round of wrapping and unwrapping holiday presents and pushing piles of paper and cardboard debris into the recycling bin for pick-up.

Historically, giftwrap made from tree pulp is a relatively new invention. In 1719, a French naturalist became curious about how a wasp species made a white paper nest by masticating wood. The industrial revolution in Europe paved the way for the first commercial wood pulp grinding machine in 1840 in Germany. The first U.S. mill for producing wood pulp for paper opened in Massachusetts in 1867.

So what does all this have to do with home gardening? Nature manufactures and delivers free gift wrap for gardeners. We call it organic mulch, the blanket of deciduous leaves, pine straw, wood chips, and grass clippings used to wrap the earth for both aesthetic and functional purposes.

The benefits of mulch are numerous. It is a seasonal insulation. Mulch conserves soil moisture and prevents erosion and water runoff. Since mulch decomposes, it provides humus to the soil while building structure and fertility.

Put your “mulchkins” to work, raking leaves for the garden. Put your “mulchkins” to work, raking leaves for the garden. Mulch properly applied prevents lawn mower damage to trees. Mulch controls weeds while recycling yard waste.

One of the reasons for applying mulch in late fall and early winter is to protect plants from cold, specifically from alternate freezing and thawing temperatures. Roots can be damaged, and the freeze-thaw cycle can heave plants and bulbs out of the ground causing added exposure to temperature extremes and lack of soil nutrients and moisture. It’s not too late to mulch perennial beds, shrubs and trees.

Perennials benefit from being wrapped in Christmas tree boughs, which provide air circulation for the dormant bed. Pine straw is desirable for acid-loving plants. Deciduous leaves can be shredded or mixed into the soil to compost overwinter.

Mulching is a yearlong task at the Carolina Children's Garden. Mulching is a yearlong task at the Carolina Children's Garden. Trees and shrubs benefit from mulch. But make sure mulch does not hug the plant stems or tree trunk. Mulch piled up against the tree or shrub brings moisture retention leading to root collar rot, disease, insects, and invites critters like voles and mice to chew and girdle the bark. Pull mulch away from the base of the tree or shrub at least 3-4” creating a donut hole. Ideally, the mulched area of the tree should be 2-3” thick and extend to the drip line, a 4- 5’ area around the trunk.

Mulch should be checked and replenished as needed. Grass clippings and deciduous leaves decompose fairly fast. Wood chips and pine straw decompose more slowly.

Midland residents are fortunate to live in a forested landscape surrounded by nature’s gift wrap, a renewable reusable resource preceding the manufacture of paper gift wrap.

Correct mulching on left; incorrect mulching on right. Correct mulching on left; incorrect mulching on right.

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