Mulch has many benefits in the garden
One cheery spring blossom that is in full bloom in our road ditches is the bright golden flower called the cow slip or yellow marsh marigold (Caltha palustris). Every spring this early perennial appears with its bright yellow-golden flower on top of a succulent hollow branching stem and glossy green leaves which are heart or kidney-shaped. The flowers resemble large buttercups rather than marigolds and grow in mound from 1-2 feet tall. They like wet, moist soil that can be muddy, but is rich in humus with an acidity of pH 6.8 and like part to all shade and cool weather. So when the weather turns hot, they are gone. Cow slips can reseed themselves immediately upon ripening of the seed when there is water or moisture so the seed does not dry out. The plants which grow from the seedling will not produce a flower for three years. However, they also reproduce by plant division.
The warm, dry weather this spring is really pushing our perennials to get growing. You have probably noticed that some of those perennials have grown quite a bit, while others are slow to get going. This is advantageous because those which are quite far along seem to be taking our freezing nights rather well. Whereas if the slower ones were as mature, they may not be able to take the freezing at night. While we need rain, it has probably been a blessing, because if they had a lot of moisture they would have grown even more. So don't be doing a lot of watering to encourage growth. If a plant looks stressed like it is drying out, give it some water to sustain it. It is still early for central Minnesota, and at this point it is probably better to let Mother Nature provide the moisture and warmth.
Some needed spring care of perennials is to remove the winter mulch of straw or leaves and cut back the plant to ground level so there is no place to harbor disease or pests. This may include getting the old plant growth and leaves off the plant. When you remove this you can better see the progress of the plant and see if it is starting its new seasonal growth. Some are very slow waiting until they know the chance of frost is past and it is safe to sprout. Now is a good time to spread a small amount of 10-10-10 fertilizer in a circle around the plant, about 6-8 inches away from the crown of the plant. If this is an established perennial it may mean spreading the (small amount) of fertilizer on the mulch. Fertilizer should never be sprinkled directly on the crown of the plant because it might be too strong and may burn the plant.
Spring is a good time to renew some of the mulch around your perennials. Some common organic mulches include bark, wood chips, pine needles, shredded leaves or grass clippings. If you have good weed control, you need only to renew that old mulch. If you have had a lot of weeds coming, you may need to put down a weed barrier which you can place on top of your old mulch and add 3-4 inches if new mulch, or you can pull back the old mulch and lay down the weed barrier, and recover with old and new mulch. One of the best weed barriers is newspaper (at least four layers thick) this is very inexpensive and is also recycling a natural resource. The purpose of mulch is to:
Keep the soil moist and soil temperature constant
Add organic matter to the soil
Provide and attractive appearance, or a finished look to the garden
If you need to water your perennials some important factors about watering plants are:
Water the base of the plant, not the foliage or flowers.
Water in the morning, before 11 a.m. Plants start to shut down for the hot sun after this time.
Water deeply, 1 inch per week, this makes the roots go deep, rather than a little water each day.
Water the base of the plant, not the areas between the perennials, this discourages growth of weeds between the plants and makes the whole bed look cleaner.
Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.