Fall Mulching Tips: Should You Mulch Plants In Fall

Gardener Holding Mulched Plants
fall mulch 1
(Image credit: violettenlandungoy)

Should you mulch plants in the fall? The short answer is: yes! Mulching around plants in autumn has all kinds of benefits, from preventing soil erosion to suppressing weeds to protecting plants from moisture loss and shifts in temperature. Keep reading for fall mulching tips.

Fall Mulch for Plants

In a lot of areas, autumn is a time of drier air and more drastic shifts in temperature than in the summer growing season. If you have perennials or cool weather annuals, laying down a good, thick layer of mulch is highly advisable if you want them to stay healthy in the fall and survive the winter. Organic mulches such as pine needles, sawdust, straw, grass clippings, and fallen leaves are good for introducing nutrients into the soil. Be careful with straw, however, as it’s usually full of seeds and may cause a huge weed problem in the spring. Either purchase weed-free straw or compost it for a full year before using it. Using fall leaf mulch is a great idea because it’s seedless and, if you have any trees around, completely free. Spread your dead leaves around your plants several inches (8 cm.) deep. The only concern with dead leaves is that they’re low in nitrogen, an essential nutrient for spring growth. Apply 1 cup of nitrogen-rich fertilizer for every cubic foot of leaves. If you use grass clippings, apply thin layers on multiple passes to avoid it becoming a slimy mess. Don't use grass clippings if you’ve used any kind of herbicides on your lawn.

Mulching Around Plants in Autumn

Fall much for plants also doubles as a weed suppressant. You’ll enjoy having no weeds between your cabbages in the fall, but you’ll really enjoy having practically no weeds to pull in the spring! Lay down ¼ inch (0.5 cm.) stacks of newspaper or weed barrier in places you want absolutely no weeds, then cover it with 8 inches (20 cm.) of wood chips. Mulching around plants in autumn is also good for maintaining rich soil. Put down a sheet of sturdy plastic, weighted down with rocks, over any bare beds, and you’ll be welcomed in the spring by soil that is un-eroded and decidedly warmer (thus, easier to plant in) than the surrounding soil.

Liz Baessler
Senior Editor

The only child of a horticulturist and an English teacher, Liz Baessler was destined to become a gardening editor. She has been with Gardening Know how since 2015, and a Senior Editor since 2020. She holds a BA in English from Brandeis University and an MA in English from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. After years of gardening in containers and community garden plots, she finally has a backyard of her own, which she is systematically filling with vegetables and flowers.