FALMOUTH, Maine — Mulching is an integral part of taking care of your garden. Gardening with Gutner went to Tidewater Farm in Falmouth and spoke with University of Maine Cooperative Extension Horticulture Professional Pamela Hargest to learn more about mulch and the proper way to use it.
"It actually can prevent weeds in your garden. And in addition to that, it can conserve water, especially during the heat of the summer. And in a vegetable garden, it does a really good job of preventing disease issues," Hargest said.
Hargest showed two ways to mulch in the vegetable garden by using straw and the fascinating method called peas and oats.
Straw: Use straw, not hay, because it will have less weed seed. If you use hay, you can use cardboard or newspaper underneath to help prevent weeds.
Peas and Oats: You have to think ahead for this one. You will need to sow peas and oats in the late summer. You can buy seeds for peas and oats at any garden center. It grows to a little bit more than a foot tall. It's killed when the hard frost comes. Leave it through the winter, and when the spring comes, you can separate the dead vegetation and plant your seedlings. Then you pull the dead vegetation back to protect the plant. You would have to plant peas and oats every year because it is an annual. It degrades through the summer.
Trees, shrubs, and flowers
Be careful with woody plants. Do not put mulch against the base of the trunk and don't go too deep. Usually, a couple of inches is enough. A common mistake is to "volcano mulch," when mulch looks like a mountain going around the base of a tree or shrub.
"You really don't need to reapply every year. I would say it depends on how much you put down initially. What I would recommend it just kind of fluff up the mulch a little bit each year and you're good to go," Hargest said.
One very interesting example of mulching is a live mulch. Hargest uses wild strawberry, which is a Maine native plant, in the Tidewater Farm perennial garden. It grows like a ground cover among herbaceous plants. The berries are very small, and all the critters eat them, so don't expect them for your consumption.