Mulching in the vegetable garden increases soil porosity, controls the weeds, conserves soil moisture, increases soil’s temperatures, prevents soil erosion, adds nutrients in the soil, improves soil’s physical conditions, and improves the quality of your produce.
Different types of mulches (organic and inorganic) are available for a vegetable garden. The following article will describe the detailed information about different types of mulches and their properties and will help you in choosing the best mulch option for your vegetable plants.
Organic mulches are usually made of plant materials such as the bark of trees, leaves, composts, grass clippings, straws, and hay.
1. Pine Needles
If your garden soil is alkaline, pine needles are the best organic mulch for increasing the acidity level of the soil. For a sloped garden, it is wise to use this mulch as it has excellent stability and does not wash away during heavy rains. Its decomposition is slower than other organic mulches and adds nutrients in the soil for a longer period.
2. Grass Clippings
The byproduct of lawn-mowing is called grass clippings. It is a readily available and cheap source of mulch for tomatoes and other vegetables. Applying a thick layer of dry green grass in your vegetable garden will help reduce excessive heat and bad odors. It decomposes quickly and offers a considerable amount of nitrogen to the growing vegetables.
Just make sure to add these clippings at a distance from the plant’s stem so that water can reach the roots easily. It is important to remember; don’t use grass clippings of a lawn as a mulch that you have recently treated with herbicides.
3. Straw or Hay
Straw makes the best mulch for a vegetable garden. The benefits of using this lightweight mulch include retention of soil moisture, adds organic matter in the soil by decomposing, prevents weed growth, and looks clean and crisp. The only problem in using this mulch is the sprouting of weed seeds.
To overcome this issue, make sure you are using weed and seed-free straw or hay. Add 8 to 15 cm (3-6 inches) thick layer of straw around your growing vegetables but avoid touching the leaves of tender vegetable plants because once they are damaged, they can open the doors for fungal diseases.
4. Bark and Wood Chips
It is the most common type of mulch that is available in different colors and varieties. Upon decomposition, the organic matter gets added into the soil through the activity of earthworms and soil burrowing insects. This mulch makes the soil more fertile, which leads to healthier plant growth. As bark and wood chip mulch breaks down rapidly, you need to replenish them timely to keep getting water conservation and weed suppression benefits. You can purchase bags of shredded bark and wood chips from a local garden center to use them as a mulch for your vegetable garden.
5. Shredded Leaves
The fallen leaves make the perfect compost for mulching. A 2 to 3-inch (5-8 cm) layer of composted leaves provides valuable mulch for the entire vegetable garden at no added cost. Leaves help in moisture retention and provide excellent weed control. It also improves the soil nutritional status during the decomposition process. A simple lawn mowing machine with a bagger attachment can be used to collect and cut leaves into the perfect size for mulching.
Using a newspaper will provide great help in knocking off growing weeds from your vegetable garden. It is a readily available and cheap source of mulch. Place a thick layer of newspaper (10 pages approximately) on the top of the growing weeds and overlap the edges so that light can’t pass through it, and weeds ultimately die off. It will decompose after one season. To keep the newspaper in place, throw some mulching material (pine bark, chopped leaves, straw, etc.) and water on it, especially during windy days.
Compost is composed of the discarded yard and kitchen waste. It is a prized substance for gardeners as the trash of rotten eggshells, fruit and vegetable peels provide organic material on decomposition. The compost mulch will provide rich nutrients to your vegetable garden for an extended period. Over time, it revives the soil and helps your vegetables grow and thrive.
8. Peat Moss
Peat moss breaks down slowly over the growing season, adding nutrients to the soil. It makes an attractive mulch for the vegetable garden, easy to handle but a bit expensive. You can easily purchase it from garden centers. It is acidic and is best for plants that grow in acidic conditions. First, moisten the dry peat moss adequately and then spread a 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) layer of it on the soil.
These are human-made mulches which include plastic mulch that also works well for vegetable gardens:
Black Plastic Mulch
Mulching with black plastic sheets can do wonders in your vegetable garden. A layer of black plastic film over growing plants suppresses weeds growth, retains soil moisture, and prevents erosion. Tiny holes are made in the plastic sheet to allow air, nutrients, and water to pass through it. It is most commonly used for tomato crops and increases the yield.
The black plastic film remains warm and dry from inside, so it protects the cucumber, tomatoes, and melons from rotting. It transmits the sun’s heat to the soil and increases its temperature up to three degrees that could cause damage to the plant roots.
You can rectify this issue by applying organic mulch on top of black plastic film as it will prevent overheating of the soil by absorbing sunlight. With time the plastic mulch will break down by sunlight and needs to be replaced.
- Every type of mulch has its pros and cons. Choose the one which works better in your vegetable garden and soil.
- If you want something that degrades rapidly and releases nutrients over time, barks and wood chips are best to choose.
- If your soil is alkaline in nature, pine needles and peat moss mulch will work best to make it acidic.
- Mulch for vegetable gardens should be simple, inexpensive, and readily available.
- A mulched garden needs little cultivation, less watering, and produces maximum yield.