vegetable garden mulch

10 Best Vegetable Garden Mulches

Mulch is an excellent security blanket for young vegetables. It prevents weeds, keeps plants safe from diseases, insulates soil during chilly winters, and locks in soil moisture. Using mulch will give you a healthy, green garden bed.

Vegetable gardens need specific types of mulch to do well. Let us walk through the best mulches for your garden, so you can get your vegetables comfy and growing strong.

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Types of Vegetable Garden Mulch

Mulch is a material – from grass clippings and sawdust to gravel and rubber – used to cover your soil. It prevents weeds, keeps soil temperatures stable, reduces erosion, and retains soil moisture for healthy roots.

Mulching can be done all around your yard, but mulching around vegetable gardens is a particularly beneficial landscaping exercise. It implies less watering and weeding for you and more protection for your tender vegetables.

There are two types of vegetable garden mulch:

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a. Inorganic mulch

These include landscape fabrics, pebbles, gravel, and black plastic. They are not alive, so they neither decompose nor do so slowly. Inorganic mulches last longer than organic mulch and are highly effective weed barriers, which may be just what your vegetables need.

In case you want to prevent weeds without labouring to reapply mulch each season, inorganic mulch is ideal.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of inorganic mulch at a glance:

Does not decompose – a more permanent solutionDo not decompose over time
No need to re-apply every yearZero nutritional value to your plants
Saves cost and time of re-applyingGets sun-damaged and begins looking worn over time
Do not attract pests

b. Organic mulch

These include pine needles, grass clippings, compost, and leaves. They used to be alive. Therefore, they can decompose. As they break down, they return nutrients and organic matter to the soil and enhance soil quality and texture. This makes it particularly beneficial for root health and plant growth.

In case you want to give your vegetables the best soil for long-term growth, organic mulch is ideal.

Offers nurturance to soil and plantsCan attract termites and bugs
Prevent weed growthNeeds re-applying every few years
Aid in stopping soil erosion
Can greatly improve the appearance of your soil

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Best Vegetable Garden Mulches

1. Cocoa Hulls

Cocoa bean hulls smell deliciously chocolate and bestow functional elegance to your vegetable garden. They resist compaction and draw earthworms, so your soil will be airy, light, and nutrient-rich – perfect for vegetables.

Avoid placing cocoa hulls in a pet-accessible area since they contain theobromine, a toxic element for dogs.

In case you want a decorative vegetable garden mulch, but cannot find cocoa hulls, consider cottonseed or buckwheat hulls. They have the same mulching benefits as cocoa hulls and may be more readily available in your region.

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2. Cardboard or Newspaper

Newspaper is a handy gardening tool and an excellent organic mulch. And more so, you can readily obtain them.

You can lay the paper down about five layers thick or more as the newspaper decomposes fairly quickly. If the wind is blowing it around while you are spreading it out, you can dampen the newspapers with some water or pour small amounts of soil onto the corners.

Cardboard works exactly the same way as newspaper, but it lasts longer and makes good footpaths between vegetable rows.

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3. Pine Needles

Pine needles, commonly known as pine straw, are excellent for acid-loving garden vegetables such as cauliflowers, celery, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. Pine needles interlock to stay in place, so they will not blow away on windy days. Also, they resist soil compaction, so your garden soil will remain healthy and porous.

As much as pine straws are great for acid-loving plants, do not worry about them permanently acidifying your soil. As they break down, they neutralize.

4. Dry Leaves

You can collect copious amounts of dry fall leaves and use them in your vegetable bed immediately after collecting them. You can utilize dry leaves as traditional mulch (like a blanket on top of the soil) or turn them under the soil (of an empty garden bed) and allow them to break down over the winter. In spring, you will have nice humus soil ready for planting.

Alternatively, you can do both. You can use dry leaves as a top vegetable garden mulch while the vegetable plants are still growing and then turn them under once everything has been harvested.

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5. Seedless Hay and Straw

Both seedless hay and straw work well as mulch. However, if you are mulching an ornamental foundation planting, neither would look appealing in that specific setting. Seedless hay and straw are terrific for the vegetable, but be sure to layer them on thick.

These layers of seedless hay and straw tend to blow away easily. Straw is a favourite mulch for many people on vegetable or herb beds and works excellently in creating dry footpaths between rows.

6. Black Plastic

Polythene film (or black plastic landscape tarp) warms the soil and offers excellent weed control. You can spread it tightly over your soil one to three weeks before planting or transplanting and then cut holes in it when the time comes to dig holes or spread seeds.

Heat-loving vegetables (such as peppers, melons, okra, and tomatoes) do well with black plastic: A study showed that they mature earlier with higher yields when black plastic is used as mulching material. Black plastic can warm soil temperatures by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The disadvantage? Black plastic breaks down quickly when exposed to sunlight. You will need to bury the plastic under a layer of another mulch (such as pine needles) to make it last for several growing seasons.

It is important to punch holes in black plastic. Otherwise, water, oxygen, and nutrients cannot penetrate to reach the soil, which results in poor plant growth.

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7. Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are a good choice for young tomatoes and other vegetables that need a nitrogen boost. Their fast rate of breaking down tends to warm up the soil, a good effect on the spring vegetable garden.

In case you use grass clippings as mulch, keep the layer under 4 inches. Keeping the grass piled much higher may cause it to “mat” and become oxygen-deprived (anaerobic), ending up producing a less than desirable odor.

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8. Compost

Compost is excellent for vegetable gardeners because it both enhances soil quality and structure and keeps roots safe and insulated. It is a nutrient-rich mixture of decomposing organic matter, from grass clippings to table scraps, and you can make it all by yourself. The result? A garden full of healthy soil and flourishing plants.

Compost is a habitat and food source for beneficial earthworms and bacteria that aerate your soil, break down organic matter, and release chemicals that prevent plant diseases. Earthworms are excellent guests to make your vegetable garden thrive.

If you are creating your own compost, avoid tossing in bones, meat, foods with a high-fat content ( such as salad dressings, cheese, or oils), tough weeds, diseased plants, and animal waste.

9. Wood Chips or Shredded Bark

Shredded bark and wood chips are both well-known mulches. Nonetheless, specific gardens should be considered since they are both sturdy materials that break down slowly. For instance, an annual vegetable or flower garden which is going to be pulled up and replanted a number of times in a year is not the best candidate for wood mulches.

10. Living Mulch

‘Living mulch’ is a term used to refer to cover crops grown in a vacant vegetable bed in preparation for the next season. Nonetheless, the living mulch that is being referred to in this article are crops that can be grown in between the main vegetable crops during the same growing season.

Vining vegetables like pumpkins or those that spread themselves wide such as potato plants, can be used as mulch for other vegetables in the garden. Squash, pumpkins, zucchini, melons, and cucumbers will all shade out and smother weeds while they help bind the soil to the earth and keep the soil moist longer.

You can plant these trailing vegetables among taller crops such as pepper plants, corn, sunflower, and tomatoes.

Loose-leaf lettuce can be an excellent choice of a living mulch. Plant it around carrots, onions, artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, and beets as an effective weed barrier. Lettuce is a light eater, so it is not a big threat to other food crops.

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Benefits of Vegetable Garden Mulch

Mulch offers your vegetable garden several benefits, such as:

  • Insulates the soil to protect roots from winter stress and encourage early growth in spring. Dark-colored mulches warm up the soil, while light-colored mulches keep it cool.
  • Locks in soil moisture to prevent drought-induced challenges such as blossom-end rot of tomato
  • Suppresses weeds so vegetables do not have to compete with aggressive weeds such as bindweed and dandelions for nutrients and water.
  • Reduces the spread of soil-borne diseases by acting as a barrier and preventing soil splash. Tomatoes, cucumber, and squash can rot if soil-borne disease organisms splash from the soil onto the plant.
  • Reduces erosion and runoff, so the soil does not float away during heavy rains or blow away during windstorms.

Which Vegetable Garden Mulch to Avoid

  • Whole (Unshredded) leaves: As much as dry shredded leaves are excellent for your vegetable garden, whole leaves create a dense mat over your soil, locking in too much moisture and not giving the roots room to breathe. This leads to rot and fungal disease.
  • Clear plastic heats up the soil but does not prevent weed growth. Therefore, there is not much use for it in a vegetable garden.
  • Hay contains too many weed and grain seeds to offer a mulching benefit (with the exception of weed-free salt hay, which can be used). It should be avoided in favor of straw.
  • Wood-based mulches hold up nitrogen at the soil surface as they decompose, and this means trouble for small vegetable plants. Using shredded pine bark mulch, sawdust, or wood chip mulch can lead to nitrogen deficiencies (marked by yellowing leaves and slow growth). You can avoid deficiencies by treating the soil with fertilizer before mulching or simply by choosing a different mulch.

How Long Does Vegetable Garden Mulch Last?

The lifespan of vegetable garden mulches varies from an average of 12 months in the case of leaf mulch to an average of 2 years in the case of wood chips. These figures are arrived at on assumption that a 10 cm depth of vegetable garden mulch is applied.

What Should I do Before Adding Vegetable Garden Mulch to my Garden?

Before applying vegetable garden mulch, make sure the soil is healthy, has adequate organic matter, and that there is enough fertiliser available for the plants to grow. Also, you can add water and compost to your garden.

How Deep Should You Apply Vegetable Garden Mulch?

Apply mulch to a depth of about 10 cm. This will offer an effective weed-suppressing layer and maximize moisture retention. If you would like to apply less than 10 cm, consider using a weed mat before mulching.

The weed mat is porous so that air and water can move into and out of the soil while still managing to hinder weed growth.

Should You Mulch Under Your Trees?

You can mulch under your trees but it is not that necessary. Grass growing under your trees will intercept much of the water and fertilizer you apply, preventing it from reaching the roots.

You can keep a large (3′ plus), turf-free circle around the trunk. You can extend it out as the tree grows.

A 2″ – 4″ layer of organic mulch, such as bark chips, shredded bark, or pine straws, aids in conserving moisture and keeps weeds in check.

To prevent rot, keep mulch at least 6″ away from your tree’s trunk, and avoid piling it against the trunk.

Can You Use Sawdust as Vegetable Garden Mulch?

You can use sawdust for vegetable garden mulch. You do not need to mix it with anything before using it. Nonetheless, make sure it is aged before placing it around plants so as not to burn them up.

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