Mulch now for winter or not?

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Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby abrogard » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:50 am

I don't know whether to mulch or not. I kinda want to but something stops me, makes me uncertain.

Was using pea straw. Don't know how effective it was, blows away quickly when it's dry, I know that.

So I googled and got this: http://www.emmitsburg.net/gardens/artic ... lching.htm

and he's an american so it's all topsy turvy and I don't want to mulch 'for appearance' like he's on about and all in all he seems to make a case, seems to me, for not mulching through winter. That bit about mulch in spring making 'long leggy growth'.

But what does he know of South Australian conditions. Zilch. What's the word, oh wise ones, to mulch or not to mulch?

p.s. my beds are not dormant in any way, fallow or holding bulbs waiting for spring, they're stocked with growing things like cabbage and bok choy and chinese cabbage, those three are the bulk of it.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby karyn » Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:35 pm

Wait for a decent rain maybe? That way you get good sub soil moisture. But I usually have the vegie garden mulched, it'll all get wet by the end on Winter anyway. You could get some horse poo and put it down on the garden and mulch over it, then leave those areas alone for a few months.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby kitkat » Tue Apr 03, 2012 2:41 pm

The purpose of mulch is too suppress weeds, hold in moisture and in the end to add humus to the soil. Ask yourself if your veggie garden needs this or any one done separately instead. Go with your instincts.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby abrogard » Tue Apr 03, 2012 9:30 pm

Well I like the idea of spreading horse manure and covering with pea straw and leaving alone.... but it sure would be a bit of work with young plants too small to get over the straw and so on.... and if any of the manure is a bit fresh it might burn the same youngsters....

So when I think of it as that three-purpose thing I realise there's little moisture problem now, with winter coming and my soil improved so much I no longer need three waterings on a 35degree day, weeds are never a problem, I garden such a small area I can fix them as they crop up either by hand pulling or a light hoe and adding humus... well.... it'll be a long while before pea straw on the top of my soil adds any humus, I think.

So basically it seems pretty unnecessary.

The black, tarry 'Marion Council' tip compost I've got forms a kind of tarry layer on the top and keeps moisture in pretty well, weeds down and adds nutrient. One $5 30 litre bag goes a fairly long way. I just spread it round the growing seedlings and leave the rest of the ground dry and bare, open to easy weeding and to 'trench' composting (on a very small scale).

I might stick with that and use my pea straw for the paths and walk on it... slowly crushing it down and powdering it so's eventually it's fragmented enough I can spread it on the garden beds and rake it in. That's been happening kinda by accident in the last couple of months and I see it's good.

I should've got straw chopper or something for that pea straw.. I think it'd be great stuff for improving the soil if dug in when chopped into small pieces. I've dug some in as it came and had been used for mulch for a couple of months and it's not too good used that way. You can't get the spade through it.

So maybe that's what I'll do. Thanks much for the advice everyone.

:)

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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby gardenlen » Wed Apr 04, 2012 4:26 am

we've always mulched this time of year keeps the soil moisture in and warmer as well for any of the plants roots, this way we kept ginger going in the ground until the next season. reckon in lots of cases frost has done its damage more when the roots of the plants have also been chilled, helped us keep pawpaws going until they grew large enough to be above the frost.

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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby Pam » Wed Apr 04, 2012 7:01 am

I should've got straw chopper or something for that pea straw.. I think it'd be great stuff for improving the soil if dug in when chopped into small pieces.


You could try spreading it on the lawn and hitting it with the lawn mower (with the catcher on of course. lol) We've done this with sugar cane mulch and it works quite well.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby abrogard » Wed Apr 04, 2012 7:52 am

I'll give it a go.

:)
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby lucylu » Wed Apr 04, 2012 8:13 pm

We mulch all year round here - it's just too dry. However, i do wait until seedlings are big enough to mulch around. I find pea hay great as a mulch - small bits fall down n add to the org matter on/in the soil - slowly eatn by worms n soil flora - and the big sticky tangly parts stay up and shade the soil without forming a water repellent mat (i find lucern mulch can do that).

When i need to work the soil of plant new seeds/seedlings, i just pull back the mulch.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby lucylu » Wed Apr 04, 2012 8:13 pm

We mulch all year round here - it's just too dry. However, i do wait until seedlings are big enough to mulch around. I find pea hay great as a mulch - small bits fall down n add to the org matter on/in the soil - slowly eatn by worms n soil flora - and the big sticky tangly parts stay up and shade the soil without forming a water repellent mat (i find lucern mulch can do that).

When i need to work the soil of plant new seeds/seedlings, i just pull back the mulch.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby abrogard » Wed Apr 04, 2012 9:12 pm

Alright - put it this way - any disadvantages/problems if I DO mulch with pea straw now and leave it there all through winter?

Because this last two hot days have got me thinking again. You never know what the weather is going to do hereabouts.

And I think I've seen a strange thing - given the same level of soil moisture the plants will look exhausted on a hot day but look fine and upstanding on a cool day. Because that's what I think I've seen here.

I've been enjoying how good my new reworked soil is at keeping moist and drastically cutting down the amount of watering i have to do.

So I'm always walking around sticking my finger in up to the second joint.

Got pretty practiced at it. And this last couple of days it seems that the level of moisture by that test that was okay during the cool spell a week ago is now not enough to keep the plants happy - give them another drink and they all come to attention.

Or am I imagining it all?
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby lucylu » Wed Apr 04, 2012 11:21 pm

you're not imagining it, it's a way that plants can reduce the amount of water they transpire (lose through the stomata - or holes - in their leaves).

I think you'll find Peter Cundall mulches his vegie beds in tassie... for mine, that's a good enough reason to follow suit! :lol:
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby Pam » Thu Apr 05, 2012 5:56 am

abrogard wrote:Alright - put it this way - any disadvantages/problems if I DO mulch with pea straw now and leave it there all through winter?



Only if you have it too thick. If it's too thick around your plants during the colder months it can prevent the soil from warming up around their roots.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby jaden62 » Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:41 am

abrogard wrote:Alright - put it this way - any disadvantages/problems if I DO mulch with pea straw now and leave it there all through winter?


Only if you don't want feral peas growing everywhere. Every time I've used pea straw I end up with peas growing everywhere, & it hasn't mattered which brand of pea straw I've used. I now use sugarcane mulch & don't spend my time pulling out stray peas.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby abrogard » Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:44 am

Yes, I've got a great respect for Peter Cundle, did have before I ever went near doing any gardening. Strikes me as a straightforward honest man.

My mulch won't be too thick, I think. The way I tease it out and spread it about it's about 100mm at the thickest and that's 100mm of teased out, light pea straw, not a dense compact mass, which I guess makes a difference.

I was thinking about the way plants can open and close their stomata. But it doesn't figure for me. Given the same soil moisture I'd expect on the hot days the plants would close the stomata and be okay. But they're going limp, like they're struggling to find moisture. But it's there. In the ground.

OR: is it that when a plant closes its stomata because the ambient temp is too high it will then automatically lose turgor?

But then if I increase the soil moisture they recover turgor in a matter of minutes.

It looks to me like there's a quantum effect: above a certain soil moisture level the plant stands up, below it the plant lays down. And this is temperature dependent because, as I say, soil moisture (according to my highly scientific second-joint finger plunge method) is the same at each of two temperature levels.

Feral peas? I've got a few popping up and I'm leaving them grow for a while, to fix a little nitrogen. There's less than a dozen at the moment. I can't see they'll ever be a problem. Remember I'm very, very small scale gardening. If you had a 7m square plot out the back you'd be farming more than I am by quite a bit.

i'll do a bit of mulching. I'll black compost first. Then mulch, then sprinkle horse manure on the top - that'll help weigh it down when wet and soak down into it to further help.

That's today's plan.

and thanks for the input.

:)
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby lucylu » Thu Apr 05, 2012 9:09 am

I just turn the peas in when they've grown a bit - no probs.

Plants can't & won't close all of their stomata because otherwise they can't photosynthesize or respirate. Natives have loads of other cool adaptations to reduce transpiration - rolled leaves with stomata on the inside which creates humidity, hairs is a common one which also creates humidity, grey foliage to reflect heat...

They lose turgor to reduce the amount of water lost (less water in the cells = less water to lose). As rates of evaporation is temp dependant, it makes sense that the turgor of cells is also temp dependant, rather than dependant on soil moisture.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby karyn » Thu Apr 05, 2012 3:00 pm

@ Jaden62, pea straw is Waaaaaaaaaaay cheaper than sugar cane mulch in Adelaide, especially if you're keen to drive to somewhere like Callington and get it out of the paddock @ $2 -3 a bale. Sugar cane mulch has to travel a really long way. I don't know if there's any truth to carbon footprints, but I always think local is better. Dig the peas back in, they're good for the garden!
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby abrogard » Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:35 pm

Well if it is temp dependent then why do they recover turgor when I add water to the roots - i.e. not overhead spraying but watering only at ground level? The surrounding air is still up there at 35C or more.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby karyn » Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:01 pm

I operate on the theory that as long as the roots have access to water, the leaves will be ok, or will mostly recover. Some leaves crisp - beans, pumpkins etc on really hot days. Most things recover.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby abrogard » Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:17 am

I've been googling and reading up on it and am now severely confused. Here's a sample of what I've read:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1062271/pdf/plntphys00674-0219.pdf

What I get out of that one is that root growth continues (in 'wilting' weather) and I'm pleased to learn that (if it is true, if I have read it right) because that's the very thing I was wondering about.

Also interesting that the growth rate 'remains unchanged' (to paraphrase). I was wondering about that. So I don't need to let them wilt in order to promote root growth. The inferred corollary of that - to me - is that if I am overwatering somewhat, lightly, as is perhaps easily done by me, then it won't of itself promote shallow root growth - the root growth thing will proceed and the roots will go down.

Down on the ground here where I'm at now is I've decided to increase my acceptable lower level of soil moisture - I'm going to keep it wetter. I've got a great fear and phobia about overwatering and root and stem rot and mildew and whatever all learned in the last six months and dramatically demonstrated in my 'wet dark' corner where tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers and low point topography all got together to make a filthy mess of mildewed corruption.

But that situation aside my basically poor soil allows water to pass unhindered so I should be fairly okay pumping water in.... I hope.
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Re: Mulch now for winter or not?

Postby karyn » Sat Apr 07, 2012 7:21 am

But that's where the mulch comes in....

If you thickly mulch with pea straw, you're adding organic stuff to the soil, which helps retain water, and the mulch helps prevent evaporation. Crunch it up a bit for around plants so it's not as long and it's easier to work with. Wet pea straw is easier to manage than dry.
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