What is the best mulch for vegetable garden? Experienced gardeners would tell you quite seriously you are missing a trick if you’ve never mulched your vegetable garden before. Several tricks actually, considering the many benefits attached linked to mulching. A layer or two of the best mulch is a natural weed suppressant. The mulch also regulates soil temperature keeping it optimal, conserves soil moisture, prevents soil erosion and compaction, and even prevents diseases.
A properly-mulched garden would more than likely produce more and better vegetables than an unmulched vegetable garden. Surely you don’t want to miss out on all that.
But there are also negative effects attached to mulching especially if you choose the wrong type or apply it improperly. Basically, the results you get would depend on several factors. Top on the list of these factors is whether you are using the best mulch for your vegetable garden or not.
So if you want to know the best mulch for a vegetable garden, sit back and keep on reading.
The Best Mulch For Vegetable Garden
In general, the best mulch for your vegetable garden depends on a wide range of things, from the type of veggies, to the soil in the garden.
And because there are so many types of good mulches for a vegetable garden, personal preferences and availability could trump everything else in the selection process. Organic mulches, though, are preferred to inorganic mulch, especially for organic gardens.
This isn’t a sneaky way to say inorganic mulch is not a good option. But it’s best to go with mulches that easily integrate with the soil and promote the fertility of the garden soil.
Before listing the different types of mulch that are best for vegetable gardens, understanding what to look for in a mulch seems like the best place to start.
Important Factors in Choosing the Best Mulch for Vegetable Garden
Most, if not all, vegetable gardeners agree that one of the most important qualities of a mulch is decomposition. The rate of decomposition is not as vital as what the decomposing mulch introduces into the soil in terms of organic matter and nutrients.
When good mulch decomposes, it should not add harmful elements to the soil.
Mulch that decomposes quickly would be perfect for raised vegetable beds. This is about timing because by the end of the growing season, amending the bed with compost becomes easy since the mulch has already broken down and has largely integrated into the soil. Shredded leaves and finely ground bark are very excellent candidates for this purpose.
Type of soil
You want to consider the type of soil in your garden before selecting your mulch. For instance, if the soil is heavy and wet, it is best to use a light mulch that doesn’t retain moisture for too long. This is because most veggies need soil that dries out as the season progresses to turn out well.
On the other hand, you want a mulch that allows water to pass through easily if the soil is dry most of the time. A relatively thick or impervious mulch would hamper the movement of irrigation water and rain seeping down to the roots. For this specific situation, using a plastic sheet mulch on predominantly sandy soil is a bad idea.
High temperatures can stress vegetables as well as scorch organic matter in the soil. The vegetables would respond positively with mulch that is capable of cooling the soil such as straw or shredded leaves.
Conversely, if you live in an area where the planting season is cool and wet, your vegetables would perform poorly with a high moisture-retentive mulch.
If you live in a cool climate but have heat-loving veggies like tomatoes and melons in your garden, a plastic mulch to heat the soil would be great. You could opt for biodegradable plastic made from cornstarch if you don’t want to use inorganic mulch.
For veggies like broccoli and most greens that love cooler temperatures, opt for chip wood or bark mulches to help lower the temperature of the soil If you live in warm or hot regions.
Where you get your mulch is also critical. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to purchase mulch made from wood products contaminated with toxic insecticides and other chemicals. These are used as a wood treatment to kill insects. You don’t want these chemicals getting into the soil or plants when the mulch decomposes.
Still, on the subject, steer clear of cypress mulches. Though these are very popular because they last long, they are not eco-friendly. All too often, buying them promotes deforestation of cypress forests that takes decades to repopulate.
6 Best Mulch For Vegetable Garden
Leaves are easy and practically free to get. Add that to the fact that they are easy to use for mulching easily makes them one of the best mulches for vegetable gardens.
To get the best from leaves, you’ll need to shred them. To shred your gathered leaves, you could run them over with a mulching mower or use a string trimmer after putting the leaves in a large container. But using a trimmer can be tedious and you might tire out before completely shredding several bags of leaves.
Between 2-3 inch layer of the leaves over the garden would provide good weed control that would also enrich the soil with nutrients after decomposition.
Like leaves, grass is easy to get. Even mowed grass from your lawn would be perfect to use as mulch. The only caveat here is that the grass must be untreated and free of chemicals.
A few inches of grass over the garden bed would suffice as mulch. Like leaves, they also decompose quickly leaving behind nutrients and organic matter in the soil.
When using grass as mulch, it is best to let the first layer dry out before adding the second or third layers. Using a thick layer of fresh green grass generates a bad odor and excessive heat.
If you have other means of drying the grass, go ahead and do it. The critical point is to ensure the grass is dry before using it.
Wood chips & Shredded bark
These are probably the most common types of garden mulch. Both are relatively heavy and take longer to decompose (adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil) compared to leaves and grass.
You can get wood chips for free especially if a tree service company is close to you. The company would rather give it out for free to whoever is interested in recycling them instead of spending money disposing of them.
Like wood, bark for mulching is sourced from wood milling factories.
Though wood chips and shredded bark are popular, they decompose slowly which makes them less than ideal for annual vegetable gardens that would be pulled up and re-cropped multiple times in a year. They work best for perennial gardens.
Also known as pine straws, they are perfect for mulching if the plan is to raise the pH level of the soil. Like wood, they have a low rate of decomposition and can’t be easily washed away by heavy rain or blown by winds. This makes them a great option as mulch on sloped gardens.
When applying pine straw, protect your arms and hands with long sleeves and gloves respectively. These protect against irritating scrapes and sticky pine residues.
Since they can take years to completely decompose, they are best used in garden walkways and areas you won’t be using for growing vegetables for a while.
Straw, a byproduct of wheat and other grains, ticks many of the boxes for a great vegetable garden mulch. You can get a lot of it with just a little money and because it is lightweight, you can spread it easily.
This lightweight means you could even spread it on sprouting seeds. The young seeds won’t have problems displacing the straw to sprout to the surface. But the lightweight can work against it as it can be blown off by winds. So it’s best to pick a non-windy day when applying the straw. A thick layer is recommended for weed prevention.
At the end of the season, you can either let it be or gather it up to add to a compost pile if you have one. When left on the garden, it breaks down to add nutrients and organic matter to the garden soil.
Compost is a prized mulching material for vegetable gardens. Composed of decomposed household and yard organic waste, it is a great source of rich soil nutrients over a long period. Its mulching qualities are also top-notch. Combined with rain, compost further decomposes to provide the soil with nitrogen and carbon – two great soil amendments.
The best compost for mulching must be weed-free though. It can warm up the soil especially in spring making it perfect for warmth-loving vegetables like peppers and tomatoes.
There are a couple of downsides when compost is used as garden mulch though. It is relatively expensive when getting it from commercial farms or garden stores; and because it is rich in nutrients, blowing weed seeds can easily take root and sprout on it. But you can easily eliminate the weeds if the vegetable garden is small.
Important Mulching Tips for Your Vegetable Garden
– To prevent plant rot and fungus problems, keep your mulch at least an inch away from the stems of your vegetables.
– Before using grass clippings as mulch, sun-dry them for at least a day.
– Never use chemically treated materials as vegetable garden mulch.
– To get the best results from leaves, age them for at least 9 months to leach out the phenols that inhibit plant growth.
– At the end of the growing season, you could add compost directly over decomposing leaves mulch. This creates nutrient-rich soil that only gets better every year.