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Q: All of my neighbors are cutting back their plants. Isn’t it awfully early to do that?
A: Both Doug Welsh in his Texas Garden Almanac and Calvin Finch in his newspaper garden columns remind us not to prune till late February or March because the freeze damaged plant material provides some insulation for healthy plant tissue. Another good reason for holding off on pruning is because the frozen tops provide cover and foraging opportunities for ground feeding birds. If you feel that you must be doing something, then you could catch up on your weeding, and you could mulch everything. There is still a possibility that we will get more freezing weather. My last freeze here in Seguin in 2021 was February 22.
That being said, remember that some plants can be pruned. Peaches and plums can be pruned in February. And all of us remember that February 14 is the day we all run out and prune our rose bushes (although I have missed that date by a week or two the older I get).
Q: Why should I mulch? I hate to spend the money.
A: One of the main reasons we mulch is for water conservation. Mulching traps the water in the soil and slows the evaporation. If you are on a slope or in a windy area, mulching protects your soil. Mulch will keep your soil warmer in winter as well as cooler in the summer. As far as I am concerned, one of the best reasons for mulching is that it keeps weed growth down. Mulches can be many materials: wood bark, compost, recycled paper, pine straw, chipped granite, lava rock, limestone, woven plastic, and river rock. My favorite is cedar mulch, particularly by the front door, because it reminds me of Christmas every time I walk by and smell that lovely odor.
The advantage of an organic mulch, according to Doug Welsh, is that it decomposes and adds organic matter to the soil. (That is also a disadvantage because then you have to replace it periodically.) Another advantage of organic mulch over a rock mulch is that organic mulches reflect less sunlight, thus reducing heat loads on plants and buildings. Welsh cites research done at Washington State University showing as far as aesthetic ratings go, a newly mulched bed with no plants has nearly the same rating as a bed filled with plants. (Weedy beds, however, were not acceptable.)
So, how do we know how much mulch to buy? In Central Texas where we want mulch to be two inches deep, multiply the area by the desired depth of mulch in feet; then divide by the number of cubic feet in the bag. So for 1000 square feet at a two inch (or 2/12 foot) depth we would multiply 1000 times 2/12 and get 167 cubic feet. Then if the bag holds 2 cubic feet, we divide 167 by 2 cubic feet and get 83.5 or 84 bags of mulch. (If you are buying mulch by the yard, there are 27 cubic feet in a yard).
Clara Mae Marcotte is a Texas Master Gardener with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. If you have a question to be answered, call the Master Gardeners at 830-379-1972 or leave a message to be answered. The website is guadalupecountymastergardeners.org. The Master Gardener research library is open Wednesdays from 1 to 4, at 210 East Live Oak Street in Seguin.