By Josette Keelor
Temperatures have slowly begun rising, clocks have sprung ahead and though ice or snow might linger in places of shade, gardens have begun sprouting with color.
At the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, the last of the free monthly Garden Lunch Box Lessons will welcome the new season with a heaping helping of mulch.
According to Perry Mathewes, director of gardens at the museum, mulching isn't for appearances only. It helps conserve water in a garden and keep weeds from sprouting.
"It helps keep the soil at a more consistent temperature," he said -- something especially important in the cold. Without proper mulching, Mathewes said, freezes can cause the ground to expand, harming plant roots or eventually forcing them out from the earth.
"You want your plant roots to be more consistent, to keep them slightly warmer," he said. "It's better for the plants that way."
On museum gardens he generally uses shredded hardwood mulch but said he's used pine straw to great success in other gardens. Pine bark also works well, but he said black plastic or rubber mulch can cause problems.
"It doesn't allow moisture to get into the soil," he said. Aesthetically it also doesn't compare to natural mulch.
Mulching, he said, "freshens up the bed and gives you kind of a nice, clean look." He recommended mulching once or twice a season.
Teaching the class will be the museum's manager of gardens and grounds, Bryan Shepherd, who will offer an introduction to mulch and best practices, such as using the proper amount.
According to Mathewes, "There is such a thing as using too much mulch."
The free class will be about 20 minutes long starting at noon March 25 and is meant to fit easily into visitors' lunch hours. If weather allows, the class will meet outside in the picnic area at 901 Amherst St., Winchester, but if not, Mathewes said it will convene inside the museum. Participants are encouraged to bring a bag lunch and walking shoes.
"Come prepared," he said. "It will be a walk around the garden if the weather is good."
For more information, call 540-662-8756 or visit www.theMSV.org.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org