Mulching too early is a mistake

We have 2-year-old grape, blackberry and raspberry plants in our back yard. Is there anything we should do to prepare them for winter besides mulch the ground around the bottom of the plants? I was thinking about wrapping the bottom of the trellis with burlap material. We live in Delta and often get a cold drift that comes up from the river.

— Erik

I pretty much just mulch the ground around the plants. You want to wait to do that until after the ground has started to freeze up. Mulching too early can actually hurt your plants as you’ve mulched over warm soil, trapping that heat which can encourage the plant to delay entering fully into dormancy. A plant in that condition is much more prone to cold damage from an early frost.

The mulching material should be coarse and fluffy. Lots of people want to use their grass clippings but they don’t make a good mulching material by themselves. Use some shredded leaves that you’ve picked up with the lawn mower this fall, straw, or a bagged commercial product like cedar mulch. I’ll dump a 12-inch-deep pile around the base of the plant and call it good for the winter. In the spring, you’ll want to gradually rake that mulch away from the base and spread it out on the ground around the plant.

Wrapping burlap around the trellis or the canes higher up is OK, it’s just not usually necessary. Raspberries are super cold hardy and should winter over well. Blackberries are less cold hardy, but rarely have cold damage in western Colorado. If you’re getting late frosts in the spring that are affecting your flowers and fruit set, that’s a different issue, and then wrapping or covering the top of the plant makes some sense, but only for the duration of the unusually cold weather.

 

Now that my acorn squash is green, when do I pick it and do I need to store it in a cool dark place for further ripening? Or can I leave it on the vine?

— Frances

 

There are a couple of clues that will tell you when to harvest your acorn squash. The first is color. As the fruit ripens, it will turn dark green. Also, there is often a lighter yellow blush on the fruit. When that blush turns orange, it’s ready. Sometimes the fruit doesn’t have those blush spots, but there’s always a light spot on the bottom. Lift the squash up carefully and peek underneath and look for orange to tell you when to pick. The second clue is how hard the rind of the fruit becomes. As it ripens the rind will harden. When it’s hard enough to resist pressure from your thumb nail, it’s ready.

Acorn squash shouldn’t be cured for storage. It diminishes the quality of the fruit. Acorn squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for a month and a half to two months.

 

I believe you stated it’s tough for us to grow blueberries here in the valley due to two things: lack of humidity and poor soil. Last year I planted a blueberry bush in a 4 foot by 3 foot hole filled with Miracle Grow garden soil. It seems to be doing OK for now. I can’t do anything about the lack of humidity, but I was wondering if sprinkling some fallen pine needles around the bush would help. I had heard that pine needles are acidic, which I thought your article said blueberries need.

— Brad

 

Actually, mulching around the plant with pine needles is a good idea. They are acidic, which the blueberry likes, plus they’ll help keep the soil temperatures cooler (they’ll also like that) and cut down on evaporative water loss. All in all, a very good idea!

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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