A Different Kind of Mulch

I expected to be spreading hardwood mulch over the garden today, the last step in my autumn garden chores before settling into a winter of garden reading, planning and dreaming. But a busy week got in my way and I never got the mulch delivery scheduled. It turns out that Mother Nature had a different kind of mulch in mind for delivery this Saturday. An insulating blanket of several inches of snow fell overnight, and as I write this, a hawk perches in the neighbor’s silver maple inside a swirl of large, fluffy flakes that have again started to drop from the dense overcast.

During a lull in the snow showers this morning, I walked through the garden to enjoy the snow sculptures that had collected on branches, trunks, leaves and seed heads throughout our landscape. While the snow’s white covering brings a calm consistency to the garden, it also brings out a beauty in certain plants that is unrivaled by other seasons.

The blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’) that on the northeast corner of our home is a prized specimen year-round, but it looks perfectly placed with snow piled on its sturdy branches. It may lack the ethereal glow of underlit snow this holiday season — since I appear to have missed my chance to string the tree with our traditional holiday lights — but it still stands as the centerpiece of our winter garden.

The three American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) trees that line our driveway also have four-season interest, but have a special character after a winter snowfall. The sweetgum seed pods collect snow between and on top of their spines, becoming naturally frosted ornaments hanging from the branches of the tree.

Hylotelephium (formerly and more commonly known as Sedum) is one perennial plant whose stems and flower heads I leave up for the winter, for this is when they truly shine in the garden.

While their summer foliage and autumn flowers provide differing texture and color, I’m not sure I’d grow them if not for the stupendous display they provide in winter. Topped with mounds of snow, Hylotephium becomes a sculptured foundation at the base of trees and shrubs.

My mulch scoop may have been replaced today by a snow shovel, but you’ll hear no complaints from me. Since I planted so many shrubs this fall that remain unmulched, I’m hoping for a consistently snowy winter this year, so that the insulating blanket remains in place to protect their crowns from fluctuating temperatures. If not, I’ll just get that hardwood mulch delivered and swap shovels once again.

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