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Mulch plants for winter protection

Now that dormancy has reached most of our landscape plants, we need to give consideration to mulching. Proper mulching helps conserve moisture and lock in cold to protect plants from winter's upcoming freeze-thaw cycles that can heave shallow-rooted plants out of the ground (this is particularly important for garden mums and strawberry plants). In fact, in Kansas, freeze-thaw cycles kill more plants than the state's occasional sub-zero temperatures

Mulch used to conserve moisture of trees and shrubs must not directly contact woody trunks. Instead, leave a "doughnut hole" of space several inches wide on all sides (exception: hybrid tea roses need a mound of mulch and/or soil to insulate their graft).

After mulching, check plants periodically. Mice and voles sometimes use mulch as a winter cover and can use tender bark as winter food. This can girdle and kill a woody plant. Rabbits and mice also will climb on top of snow-covered mulch to gnaw on branches.

How can you prevent that type of damage? One good practice is the use of trunk-enclosing cylinders of plastic wrap, poultry wire, or hardware cloth to protect young and/or fruiting trees. The cylinder must extend several inches into the ground and, if possible, about 18 inches above ground without touching the trunk.

Don't forget evergreens! An evergreen may be at risk to winter burn if it didn't get enough moisture during the growing season or it doesn't get supplemental moisture during a dry winter. Because evergreens don't lose leaves, they also don't stop losing water from those leaves and sometimes need watering when temperatures are above freezing.

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