Last Updated on September 6, 2021 by Grow with Bovees
Mulching is one of the least arduous and yet most rewarding and beneficial practices in vegetable gardens.
It is therefore quite remarkable that so few gardeners make use of mulches.
One frequently sees a gardener cheerfully watering several times a week during hot weather, while close at hand there is a wealth of material that would save him a great deal of time and halve his water bill.
Mulching can be defined quite simply as the practice of covering the surface of the soil between growing crops with a layer of material. A mulch can be of inestimable value during hot, dry weather when soil temperatures frequently soar above the optimum for satisfactory growth. Brassicas, leaf crops and root crops, in particular, appreciate mulching.
It is a practice that can be carried out on any size of enterprise, from window boxes upwards.
Benefits of Mulching The Vegetable Garden
The benefits of mulching in a vegetable garden are almost as numerous as the materials that can be used for the purpose.
Retention Of Soil Moisture
The most outstanding property of a mulch in vegetable gardens is that it reduces evaporation from the soil, thereby ensuring that the moisture content of the topsoil does not fluctuate too widely and consequently preventing damage that can be caused to vegetable plants, such as tomatoes, onions, potatoes and root crops as they approach maturity.
In addition to conserving moisture it prevents or reduces the compaction and crusting of the soil caused by watering, rain and treading, thereby increasing water penetration and preventing runoff and soil erosion.
Mulching For Weed Control
A further important property of a mulch is that it suppresses weed growth. A layer 50-75 mm thick will prevent the emergence of most annual weeds and will certainly weaken the growth of the more vigorous annuals and the more stubborn perennials, making their control by hoeing or hand-pulling relatively easy.
Mulch Will Help Stabilize Soil Temperature
A mulch also insulates the soil to a considerable extent from extreme day and night temperatures. Root and tuber crops derive most benefit from this property.
By regulating the moisture content and temperature of the topsoil a mulch not only creates favorable conditions for root development but also ensures an ideal environment for both the microscopic and macroscopic flora and fauna in the soil.
If compost or manure is used as a garden mulch, watering and rain will wash a steady supply of nutrients down to the plant roots.
Finally, a mulch can appreciably reduce the ‘greening’ of roots and tubers, which results from their exposure to prolonged sunlight, and will also facilitate the harvesting of these crops as they can be pulled or dug without great effort.
In my experience there are two possible drawbacks to using a mulch. Firstly, in certain circumstances it can harbor cutworms, slugs, snails and other pests and make their detection and control extremely difficult.
When To Mulch The Vegetable Garden
Deciding when to mulch your vegetable garden can be tricky. If you do it too early, you’ll have to wait longer for the soil to warm up before you plant, and if you do it too late, the mulch itself may not decompose by the time you start planting.
That said, the best time to mulch your garden is just before you start to plant, especially if you’re using organic mulch. This will also help to make sure that your vegetables won’t freeze if a cold snap comes through unexpectedly.
If mulches are employed too early in the spring while the soil is still cold they can cause unsatisfactory germination and, in certain cases, rotting of the seed of early summer crops, cucurbits being extremely vulnerable.
Do You Have To Remove Old Mulch Before Applying New Mulch?
When it comes time to replenish your mulch, you may end up with leftover mulch here and there, if your vegetable beds aren’t completely covered with mulch. But do you have to remove the old mulch before applying new mulch?
The short answer is no — simply work the new material in with the old.
A variety of materials can be used for mulching, ranging from organic mulch, such as shredded bark, shredded leaves, wood chips, and grass clippings, to inorganic mulch material, such as landscape fabric, black plastic sheeting and flat stones.
However, as with composting, it is obviously sensible to use materials that are obtainable at little or no cost.
Grass clippings, leaves, soft hedge-trimmings, seaweed, deep-litter material and bovine manure are all extremely useful organic materials, which have the advantage that when their life as an effective mulch is spent they need not be removed but can simply be worked into the soil.
Before a mulch is dug in it should ideally be in a fairly advanced state of decay otherwise the growth of the subsequent crops may be retarded through nitrogen deficiency.
Ideally a mulching material should not absorb too much moisture (this is where sawdust is somewhat unsatisfactory), otherwise a copious amount of water must be applied before any reaches the soil.
In theory the maximum benefit would be derived from a mulch if it were raked aside prior to each watering or irrigation and then replaced immediately afterwards, but this is impracticable in most cases. The maximum depth for a sawdust mulch is 50 mm.
Mulch is an essential element of a good vegetable garden. Inorganic mulch, such as the black plastic mulch, can last for years, while organic mulch, such as straw or hay, breaks down and needs to be replaced every year.
But not all inorganic mulches are created equal; some types of mulch last longer than others.
Mulch In Herb Gardens
Mulch is a good way to make herb gardens look good, and it can also help you to increase the yield of your plants. Mulch is an organic material that you put around the base of the herbs. It can be made of the same material as used for vegetables in general. Mulch can be used to help plants such as basil, parsley, and thyme, which like their environment a little on the cool side. The mulch also helps to protect the fragile herbs from the sun.