Mulching winter garden beds with some form of organic matter will help to protect your soils, prevent emerging weed growth and help feed the soil biology necessary for good healthy organic plant growth. Mulch can take many forms such as mature compost, shredded leaves, or well-composted hardwood mulch. These types of organic matter will provide food and shelter for the diverse team of composting organisms responsible for breaking down organic matter and the recycling of nutrients. Any form of mulch should be capable of passing a strict test from an advanced chemical analyzing device; your nose. Yes, your nose is capable of providing a detailed analysis of your mulch of choice. The basic rule is, if it smells good, it is good. Mature compost should have a neutral smell or a sweet and earthy odor. Leaves and or leaf mold should also have a pleasant odor like the forest it came from or a similar earthy odor. The best forms of wood mulch should smell like mushrooms or a similar earthy smell to the compost or leaves. If wood much smells strong like fresh wood it needs more time to mature.
Adding a microbial stimulant and/ or micro-nutrients prior to applying any form of mulch will help to kick-start the recycling process and keep it active throughout the winter months. Applying Alfalfa Meal and/ or Dry Molasses will serve as a microbial stimulant ramping-up the composting process. An additional consideration would be an application of a targeted nutrient from a soil amendment. Applying specific nutrients will ensure those nutrients will be available to your plants when the active growing season begins. When choosing which nutrients to apply it will help to have an understanding of your future plans and the nutritional needs of those future plants. For example; if you plan to grow a root crop in one of those beds then you may consider a type of phosphorus. If tomatoes are in your future phosphorus and calcium are worth your consideration. Keep in mind that not all plants benefit from all nutrients. I suggest that you get to know your plants, contact your extension office or reach out to us if you need help determining the specific nutrient needs for a certain plant type.
Once your beds are fed and mulched then apply one last application of either a compost extract or a compost tea to your beds. This microbial cocktail will ensure that the appropriate biology is present to keep the composting /recycling process going throughout the winter months ahead.