Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November gardening – Winter Mulch

One of the last steps to prep the garden for winter is to mulch the herb beds.  You must wait until after a good hard frost, which usually means in Zone 5, waiting until November.  Once you have a hard frost you can cut out dead stems of your chives, costmary, lovage, mint sorrel, tarragon and sweet cicely. Then apply a layer of mulch.  Do not do this too soon because you do not want to promote mold growth in the damp fall months or create homes for field mice or other little pests would borrow into the mulch.  Waiting until frost those pests have found other homes.  This is also a good time of year to test your soil pH content and if correcting is needed.  pH is a measure of the soil’s acidity to alkalinity.  Knowing the pH allows you to amend the soil to expand the range of plants a soil can support.  

Plants before the trim
For winter mulch, I shred leaves, grass clippings, vegetable garden compost, pine chips, mixing in a bit of peat and lime for acidic areas.  By using this highly organic blend you add humus to the soil each year, and utilize the wastes from my property.

Hills covered with leaves

Here is a raised bed covered with grass

The silver maples along the back of the property gave mountains of leaves to use this way.  After years of doing this coupled with spring mulch of bark or peat, I ended up with a rich dark soil that is sweet and friable.

About pH
Herbs prefer a pH neutral to slightly above neutral soil, so if you tests come back below 6.5 pH sweeten it up.  That means adding lime and working it into the soil so it can do its work before spring.

To have your soil tested check with your local garden center, or purchase a test and do it yourself.  A mail-in test will provide more details and is probably worth doing, but in a pinch knowing the pH will help you to work with your soil.  pH test strips are similar to litmus paper that will change color based on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.  They use a scale of 1 to 14 1 is acid, 14 is alkali, 7 is neutral.  Nutrients dissolve best when soil is 6.5 to 7.0 which will affect what plants will thrive.  When purchasing a test choose one that has 2 to 5 blocks of color for more accurate readings.

To test with a purchased kit, what you will get is a package of strips and a color chart for determining the results.

Steps for using:
1. Gather soil, remove organic matter, twigs from the top and dig down into the dirt.  You can collect and mix samples from various locations to get an overall pH.  Make you’re your digging tools are clean and not brass or galvanized as this will leave minerals in the soil.
2. Put 1 Tbls. soil in a glass bowl and add enough distilled water (not filtered) water to create a mixture with the consistence of a milk shake.  Stir well.
3. Leave mixture alone for one hour, but add water as needed to retain consistence.
4. Place a drop of the mixture on a test strip and wait one minute.
5. Rinse strip with distilled water.
6. Match test strip color with the accompanying color chart.


  1. What precaution should we take while testing the soil?

    Andrew John

  2. As precautions i am assuming you mean with the sample? i generally take three samples from several areas and mixed them together to get the best sampling for pH. is that what you mean?


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