Mulching with pine needles to protect our hydrangeas from heat and frost.
Flowers need water and every summer the problem of water shortages arises again because the climate changes … in 2017 we had yet another demonstration …
So in recent years, I have never used chemicals and recently following his advice I mulched two parts of the garden dominated by rose plants, with wood chips, helped by Riccardo from the museum of the old rose.
The result was that the maintenance of this part of the garden was no longer a problem … I just had to admire the roses, take them for my wife and give water every 2 days (about -30% of the previous years, although I can’t document it )
Given the result and the problems that the heat and drought have created in this 2017 to my hydrangeas (over 100 plants of 29 different varieties) and to my pockets (given the consumption of water), I decided to mulch, mulch and still mulch all over the garden,
What does it mean to mulch? It means covering the ground, simulating what nature left to itself does with what we call weeds that protect it from heat and cold, with other products/materials, thus managing to preserve the soil moisture, improve fertility soil and its structure as well as mitigating the growth of weeds.
There are various ways and materials to mulch: leaves, twigs, bark, compost, pine needles, wood chips, shells of hazelnuts, cocoa, walnuts, in the practice of any organic material available; you can also use inorganic material, natural or made by industry: gravel, sand, glass, sheets of various materials, even where only the imagination is needed to find the suitable materials.
For every detail I refer to the literature, I describe what we are doing practically these days in my garden, in the areas where hydrangea plants are dominant. and that we tried to describe in the attached video.
In light of small experiences already made (suggestion found at the time in some articles), I decided to use pine needles for mulching (at least 20/30 cm) which I have in large quantities near my home and therefore at no cost.
The reason for the choice of pine needles, however, is mainly due to the fact that its decomposition tends to acidify the soil creating an ideal environment for hydrangeas and therefore I believe it is the optimal material so much that, I don’t explain how it is not a much more practice widespread.
In some parts, we have also inserted sheets of newspaper in a sequence of pine needles, 3 sheets of newspaper (of which we had plenty), still pine needles in quantity
I inserted the newspapers and / or cardboard because they block the growth of the so-called unsightly weeds.
This activity is ongoing in these days and I will take care of assessing its impact both as a protective effect of winter frosts (both at 850 meters high) and for the effect due to high temperatures, even if in 2018 it should confirm what was manifested in 2017.
We are also evaluating the possibility of evaluating the protective effect of the needles, measuring the soil moisture with sensors, but this is a project to be implemented and which we will discuss on another occasion.
Three basic operations are needed to prepare the plants for the arrival of winter: last autumn fertilization, low in nitrogen and rich in phosphorus and potassium, which improves the accumulation of reserve substances in the wintering organs and the maturation of the tissues, the short cut of perennial herbaceous plants and, above all, mulching to protect the roots and beyond.
However, this operation must be preceded by the superficial working of the soil to ventilate it and increase its permeability. This is already a correct first intervention because a substance rich in air-filled cavities (the soil worked) transmits the cold less than a solid body (the compressed soil).
Mulching is also indispensable for some potted plants that we keep in the garden or on the terrace and which are too large, or climbing and intertwined with trellises, to be moved.
The characteristics of the mulch
The mulch material to protect the roots must be:
often enough to allow him to perform his function. In other words, 1 cm of the bark has an aesthetic function and not an insulating power, 8 cm, on the other hand, have an effective protective action,
soft and difficult to compact or drench because it will maintain a high insulating thermal power,
easy to handle, light and well packaged,
reusable over time by remaining in place or recovered and dried in the spring for later use, or having an additional function that justifies its use all year round,
non-toxic and biodegradable,
pleasant to see given the long time spent in the garden.
The best materials for mulching
It is the cheapest material available in all gardens, although some leaves lend themselves more than others because they are not very rotten such as oak, chestnut, and beech. To protect the roots and defend the collar of a plant, a light structure can be built with a little net to be filled with dry leaves as if it were a basket. To stop them and not let them be carried away by the wind, put a few wooden sticks on the pile.
It is another material with a negligible cost, which is easily found at dairy cattle farms where nobody will deny you a lot. Choose it long so you can tie it or fix it to the ground. It has a good insulating power to protect the roots and will be easy to remove in the spring when already partially macerated, it can be introduced into the compost bin.
Wood chips, peat, bark, pine needles, pine cones, dried fruit shells are other natural materials that can be used, all with the same purpose of building a soft, aerated, insulating layer that will be able to protect the roots of the plant from the frost.
Where winters are rainy and heavy soils, the need may arise to protect the root system not only from the cold but also from rot. So you need to cover the area affected by the roots with a good layer of leaves, to be compressed with your hands so as to flatten them, add a layer of straw, and, finally, cover with earth. It is the natural alternative to plastic sheets that eliminate, and do not regulate, the flow of rainfall on the ground.
In the case of semirusotic plants, it is good to apply the mulch material also to defend the collar and foot of the plant, perhaps by tying it up, that is, by bringing earth to be shaped in the shape of a cone that will be removed at the arrival of spring.
The protection of the crown
In areas with harsh climates, with very cold dominant winds, semi-rustic trees and bushes must also be protected in the aerial part.
lower bushes can be built with a few bamboo poles and metal mesh for large cylinders to be filled with leaves and straw
For the lower bushes, it is possible to build large cylinders with some bamboo poles and wire mesh to be filled with leaves and straw that should not be compressed, but left as light as possible.
crown crowned trees
For taller bushes and small trees, the crown can be “wrapped” with sheets of non-woven fabric that guarantee perspiration but protect from the cold. The important thing is to cover the whole plant, down to the ground so as to prevent the entry of cold air from below. There are also TNT sheets already prepared to hood the crown of the saplings.