Best Mulch For Vegetable Garden: When & How To Apply

Mulch is any material that is spread or laid over the surface of the soil in vegetable garden as a covering. It is used to preserve moisture in the soil, repress weeds, keep the soil cool, avert frost heaving in winter, and make the garden bed look more beautiful. Organic mulches also help improve the soil’s structure, drainage, and nutrient-holding capacity as they decompose.

Mulch For Vegetable Garden

  • Bark, Shredded or Chipped
  • Pine Needles
  • Grass Clippings
  • Newspaper
  • Shredded Leaves

#1. Straw

When straw decomposes, in the process, the soil’s structure and organic matter content gets improved. The dryer and woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose and the fewer nutrients it will give to the soil.

It is necessary to know the origin of mulch, since it can likely contain viable weed, seeds or chemicals that can contaminate the vegetables grown. So care must be taken when choosing mulch for the vegetable garden.

#2. Bark

Bark mulches are best used around trees, shrubs, and in vegetable beds where there won’t be need to be doing a lot of digging, like front walkways and foundation plantings. These woody mulches do not mix well into the soil, and it can become a bother to have to keep moving them aside to make way for new plants. They however, last longer than finer organic mulches.

#3. Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are a mixed bag and are best suited to remote areas of your vegetable garden where you want to suppress weeds. Grass clippings, like most green plant debris that have high water content, decompose very rapidly, and in the process, they can get slimy producing an unpleasant odor, so  it is advised to use grass clippings with discretion. Grass clippings also tend to mat down and not allow water to pass through to the plants.

Ideally, a mulching mower should be used and the clippings be left on the lawn to add fertility to the soil

#4. Shredded Newspaper

Using newspaper as mulch is becoming more and more popular. Most newspapers companies have switched over to using organic dyes, especially for their black & white sections. Shredded newspaper has been in use for years to keep plant roots moist while shipping. Layered sheets of newspaper also have great moisture retention abilities. Layered sheets of newspaper being used as organic mulch do as much as suppressing weeds and controlling soil temperatures. They are also great for smothering existing grass to begin a new vegetable bed.

To use as mulch in the garden, a layer of four to eight sheets of newspaper is spread around the plants and the sheets are moistened to keep them in place. On windy days it is easier to moisten the sheets before placing them down. Using newspaper as mulch should offer weed protection throughout the growing season.

#5. Shredded Leaves

Shredded leaves are nature’s favorite mulch. They can be used as mulch anywhere. It is free; it doesn’t have to be purchased. It entices more earthworms to the garden soil. Some gardeners don’t like the sight of leaves in their garden; they feel the leaves probably are not appropriate for a formal setting. If a layer of shredded leaves is spread in the spring before plants spread out, the leaf mulch tends to blend into the view within a short time. Shredded leaves are perfect for vegetable gardens, and if a layer is spread over vegetable garden in the fall, it will begin decomposing over the winter.

Use Of Mulch in Vegetable Garden

Using mulch offers three major benefits:

  • Reduces growth of weed by keeping light from reaching the soil surface.
  • Reduces loss of water from the soil surface, which helps to conserve soil moisture.
  • Moderates soil temperatures, keeping it warmer on cold nights and cooler on hot days.
  • During winter, soil under mulch will be warmer than unprotected soil. This protects plants from the cycle of freezing and thawing (which can uproot them out of the ground).
  • Reduces soil erosion and sometimes reduces soil compaction.
  • Prevents crusting of the soil surface. Water moves more readily into soil covered with mulch instead of running off.
  • Keeps soil from splashing onto leaves; keeping soil off leaves reduces outbreak of plant diseases.
  • Breaks down and feeds the soil if it is organic mulch.
  • Improves the structure of clay soils and the moisture-holding capacity of sandy soils.
  • Slowly increases fertility of soil (if organic) and makes micronutrients already in the soil more available.
  • Keeps the soil warm during spring, allowing the gardener to plant days or weeks before the soil would normally be ready for planting.
  • Keeps plants clean and off the ground, especially tomatoes and melons, to avoid plant disease.
  • Limits chance of hitting and damaging tree when mulch is placed around trees instead of grass.
  • Improves growth and health of plants due to fewer weeds, more constant moisture and soil temperature.
  • Makes gardens beautiful and attractive, giving a uniform appearance and rhythm to garden design.

Amount of Mulch Needed In A Vegetable Garden

With most organic mulches, a layer of 2 to 3 inches is plenty. The finer the material, the thinner the layer needed. Inorganic mulch is often more shallow; a mulch of small stones is usually an inch deep.

When To Apply Mulch

#1. During Fall

If you need to replenish mulch, be sure to finish by late summer or early autumn. Avoid applying mulch in mid to late autumn. By then, the soil will not cool down quickly and plants may continue to grow. New growth may not harden off and can be damaged by winter cold. Also, mulch in the fall keeps the soil wet which can lead to root rot and death of plant.

#2. Winter

Once the soil has freeze and cooled down, then you can apply winter mulch to protect any tender plants or new plants that may not survive the winter.  Any plants correctly selected for hardiness do not need winter mulch. Winter mulch is deeper. 3 to 4 inches of mulch should be applied.

However, mulch should be pulled away from the crown of plants and ensure to not pile mulch against trunks of trees and shrubs. Loose mulch such as straw and evergreen trees is preferable because it does not retain excess moisture. When spring begins, it is important to reduce the winter mulch to a depth of 2 to 3 inches.

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