When To Remove Winter Mulch - Knowledgebase Question

Bogota, NJ
Avatar for julianam
Question by julianam
March 11, 2001
Every fall I mulch my perennial garden with leaves and Christmas tree boughs to protect it during the winter. But I never know when it is safe to remove the mulch. I've been told "when danger of frost is past," but I am unclear when that is in my area of Northeastern New Jersey. I invariably leave the mulch on too long and plants start coming up from underneath it, and when I finally do remove the mulch, the tender shoots get damaged. WHEN should I remove the mulch? Is there a rule of thumb?

Answer from NGA
March 11, 2001
If you are growing plants that are undoubtedly hardy in your area, you may not need to mulch over top of them quite so heavily. Then, once the weather begins to moderate you can begin removing the mulch in stages. This will avoid smothering the plants yet still allow them a bit of protection. In my experience, most hardy perennial plants that begin growth very early in the season (or have crowns that overwinter above ground) will withstand freezing temperatures, while those that emerge later may be more susceptible to tip burn or other damage. As the season progresses and you approach the frost date, during that week or two when growth has started but a freak hard freeze could still occur, you could keep some loose mulch or an evergreen bough nearby and handy to toss over the tenderest plants (such as hostas) for just that one night or two.

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