How to apply a spring mulch

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The spring bulbs are a picture. Early winter aconites and the valiant, little snowdrops are giving way to the first cheery daffodils, flashes of purple crocuses and creamy primroses, huddled low in their blanket of foliage.

Purple crocus in early spring Weatherstaff garden design blog
Crocuses light up the spring border
Cyclamineus narcissi - early flowering daffodils for a spring display
Early Cyclamineus narcissi
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) in an early spring border
Scented primroses in early spring

A splash of sunshine on an early spring afternoon is enough to entice you out into the garden, pulling on the gardening gloves, on the look-out for an excuse to potter.

There are plenty of jobs to do. Winter-flowering shrubs can be pruned when they have finished flowering. The grasses can get a bit of tidying up too. Any deciduous grasses left to provide winter interest can be cut back in early spring, while dead foliage on evergreen grasses can be pulled away. The wisteria gets its second cut in January or February. Those whippy shoots which were cut back in the summer after flowering can be cut back to 2 or 3 buds in late winter or early spring.

Wheelbarrow of well-rotted manure for a spring time mulch
Well-rotted manure makes a great spring time mulch

It’s almost time for the spring mulch – but don’t be too impatient to get it done. The best time to do this is mid to late spring, when the soil has had a chance to warm up a bit, but is still moist from the winter rains.

If you are planning to lift and divide perennials, do that first, so the mulch is left undisturbed as much as possible once it’s down. Tackle the weeding first too.

What is mulching?

Mulching means to apply a thick layer of material over the soil in garden beds. Between 5-10cm (2-4 inches) of mulch will prevent annual weeds from germinating. Any weeds which make it through will be weakened and easier to remove.

Tulip leaves emerge in spring garden beds
Leave room for new growth to emerge

Spread it carefully, leaving a gap around existing or emerging plants. Piling mulch up too close to the stems can cause them to rot.

Why mulch?

As well as suppressing weeds, mulching also helps trap in moisture, reducing the need for watering later on. If you choose to mulch with organic matter, there are additional benefits, as it acts as a great soil conditioner and improves the structure of the soil.

Chipped bark used as a mulch in flower beds Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
A layer of chipped bark covers the soil around perennials

Mulching also gives garden borders a tidy appearance, covering the soil between plants with a neat, homogenous surface.

What should I mulch with?

The two choices for mulching are organic or inorganic material. If you are mulching to conserve moisture and reduce weeds, you can use anything which will allow rain to permeate through, yet reduce evaporation. A layer of straw will help or even bits of old carpet. Woven landscape fabric is particularly useful when planting up a new border, because you can lay the weed-suppressing material down first, then cut crosses and plant through the gaps. Gravel, slate or pebbles can be an attractive addition to flower beds or containers.

Pebbles, slate and gravel can be used as an inorganic mulch in spring
Slate, gravel or pebbles make an attractive mulch

However, if you want to benefit from improved soil condition and structure, your best choice is to use an organic mulch. All soil types can be improved by adding organic matter, which helps the soil to retain moisture and nutrients. Adding well-rotted organic matter to heavy soil improves its structure, making it more crumbly and easier to work with.

Apply chipped bark to borders as a spring mulch
Decorative chipped bark can be bought from garden centres

Organic matter includes well-rotted manure, garden compost, leaf mould, chipped or composted bark and spent mushroom compost. Dig it in when first preparing the ground for planting and then add layers around the plants (mulching) every year if possible.

If you have a lot of garden, it can be expensive to cover every bed. Making your own leaf mould or compost is a good start, but if you need to supplement it with something extra, it’s worth trying to find a reputable source. My first delivery of well-rotted manure contained more than I bargained for and I spent hours sifting through it, removing bits of string, electrical wires and weeds!

How to apply a spring mulch - from Weatherstaff garden design software

Pin for later

For more gardening ideas, click here to follow the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner on Pinterest.

The Weatherstaff Team

6 Thrillers for Fantastic Container Plantings

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The Thrillers are usually the tallest plants in the display, the eye-catchers and head-turners. They provide structure to the planting group.

Here are my 6 choices for plants with superb thriller qualities.

Acer palmatum

There are hundreds of varieties of Japanese maples and they are a popular choice for container plantings as well as for garden borders.

Acer palmatum Bloodgood - Japanese Maple from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Acer palmatum Bloodgood

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a small, deciduous tree or large shrub, grown for its beautiful autumn colours. The deeply dissected, dark reddish-purple leaves turn a brilliant red in autumn.

Acer palmatum Katsura from Weatherstaff garden design software
Acer palmatum Katsura

‘Katsura’ has wonderful spring colour. The attractive foliage opens pink-orange, becoming green in summer, before taking on yellow, orange and red autumn tints.

Acer palmatum Ukigumo - container planting from Weatherstaff
Acer palmatum Ukigumo

The small, deeply lobed leaves of ‘Ukigumo’ are mottled green, white and pink

Phormium

A stunning architectural plant, with arching, strap-shaped foliage. An evergreen perennial, phormiums provide all-year round interest in the garden.

Phormium Evening Glow - container plants from Weatherstaff garden design software
Phormium Evening Glow

‘Evening Glow’ has bold clumps of soft sunset-pink leaves, with dusky bronze stripes and margins.

Phormium Pink Panther - eye-catching container plant from Weatherstaff garden design software
Phormium Pink Panther

‘Pink Panther’ has coral leaves with bronzed grey-green margins.

Phormium Dusky Chief - thriller plant from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Phormium Dusky Chief

‘Dusky Chief’ has deep burgundy foliage, which makes a great foil for chartreuse planting companions.

Pennisetum

Many grasses do well in pots, creating a fluid, tactile backdrop to the rest of the planting.

Pennisetum x avena Rubrum - grasses for container planting
Pennisetum x avena Rubrum

Pennisetum x avena Rubrum (Purple Fountain Grass) is a spectacular centre-piece when in flower. It has burgundy red, strappy foliage, with 30cm long, purple bottlebrush plumes from mid-summer to mid-autumn. It isn’t hardy, so be ready to move it into a greenhouse or a sheltered spot for the winter.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ - grasses for flower pots from Weatherstaff
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ is more upright, with white to soft pink plumes, fading to buff. It is a little hardier and should survive in mild areas of the UK.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ has bright green leaves and soft plumes with purplish tinges

Gaura

Long-flowering and graceful, gaura is a pretty perennial with starry flowers fluttering on long, airy stems.

Gaura Whirling Butterflies - thriller perennial for container gardening
Gaura Whirling Butterflies

Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’ has 75cm tall, waving stems of floating white flowers from May to September and takes on pretty autumn tints later in the year.

Gaura Crimson Butterflies - perennials for container plantings
Gaura Crimson Butterflies

‘Siskiyou Pink’ (1.5m tall) has dusky pink flowers. The fabulous Gaura lindheimeri Rosyjane (‘Harrosy’) (75cm tall) has white flowers with a pink-flushed edging. ‘Crimson Butterflies’ has bright pink flowers on red stems but is shorter at only 60 cm height.

Achillea

Achilleas are upright perennials, with flat-topped flowerheads from early to late summer. Deadheading will encourage further flowering, but if you leave the flowers on the plant, you can enjoy a pleasing tapestry of muted colours as the flowers fade.

Achillea Walther Funcke - container plant from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Achillea Walther Funcke

Achillea millefolium ‘Walther Funcke’ grows to 60cm. Its flowers are orange-red with yellow centres, fading with age.

Achillea millefolium Cassis - great plant choice for container gardening
Achillea millefolium Cassis

‘Cassis’ (60cm) has wine-red flowers, fading with age. ‘Terracotta’ (1.1m) has pale orange flowers, which fade to creamy yellows.

Penstemon

A charming and popular summer perennial, penstemons have upright, leafy stems carrying spikes of foxglove-like flowers from mid-summer to mid-autumn. Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.

Penstemon Schoenholtzeri - gorgeous perennial for containers
Penstemon Schoenholtzeri

‘Schoenholzeri’ (also called ‘Firebird’ or ‘Ruby’) has crimson flowers, with white-streaked throats. ‘Raven’ (100cm) has rich dark purple, tubular flowers, with white throats streaked purple.