At this time of the year I do a lot of mulching with leaves. Usually our summers are hot and often dry, and mulch can make all the difference when water gets scare. This mulching also regulates the soil temperature and acts in large part as a soil conditioner and fertilizer once the leaves break down. For the strawberry plants below, the mulch also prevents the fruits getting splashed and sitting in mud when it rains.
I conclude the post with the picture of a hare.
|Strawberry plants mulched with leaves|
As I explained in my post on containers, as mulch I use leaves that were gathered last fall and tipped into a ditch where they stayed wet all I winter. These wet leaves have a tendency to stick together even once they have dried up, and they are not usually scattered by wind. The fact that they have been wet for six months initiates the breaking down process, and the leaves get composted faster. I also spread leaves in the fall and, when spring comes, they are on their way to being integrated with the soil as you can see in the picture of a bed of garlic that was mulched last October, just after the cloves were planted, before the plants were up.
|Garlic planted and mulched last October|
When to apply
You want to apply mulch when plants (annual or perennial) have already sprouted as you do not want the heavy layer of leaves to choke them. Some strong plants like the garlic illustrated above can break through mulch without problem, but small annuals would not. Even peonies can be damaged when they have to push through heavy mulch.
Broken down, leaf mulch improves the soil fertility and its texture. My soil tends to be rather heavy, so it lightens it up, just as it would knit it together if it were loose and sandy. Like animal manure, it does not add a lot of fertilizing mineral, but it makes the minerals that are present more accessible to plants.
Here is a picture taken last week of one of our resident hares. As you can see, it mostly has its brown summer coat, but the legs have not yet shed all their white winter fur. In the fall, the back will turn white first. This particular one seems to have been in a fight as it is missing the tip of its left ear.
|Snowshoe hare with most of its summer coat|