A lot of people think that mulch is completely decorative, but the truth is it plays an important role in keeping your plants growing strong.
In a vegetable garden, the right mulch encourages fast, healthy growth and increases production.
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the best mulch for a vegetable garden. Here’s everything you need to know.
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Benefits of Using Mulch For Vegetable Garden
Mulch has a lot of benefits and can make tending your garden a little easier. It is applied to the surface of the soil, over and around current growth or seedlings. It prevents light from reaching the soil, reducing water loss, and moderating soil temperatures.
This benefits your garden in multiple ways. First, it reduces weed growth by preventing light from getting to the soil, and the warmer temperatures it creates encourages root growth.
In the winter, mulch protects the soil, preventing the cycles of freezing and thawing that can lead to problems later. In warmer weather, mulch reduces erosion and prevents crusting, allowing water to soak into the soil more readily instead of running off.
When planting in the spring, mulch warms the soils faster, allowing for earlier planting and encouraging faster growth. It also prevents soil from splashing up onto the leaves and keeps the plant from coming into contact with the ground, avoiding disease.
If you use organic mulch, it eventually breaks down, fertilizing the soil and improving it for the next season. The right mulch can improve the structure of the clay soils and help sandy soils hold onto water better.
All of these things combine to improve the quality of the soil in the long run, which means better absorption of minerals and a greater yield of crops. Plus, because there are fewer weeds, you spend less time dealing with them.
Choosing the Right Mulch For Vegetable Gardens
There are a few things to consider when choosing the right mulch for your vegetable garden.
The first is what crops you’re growing. Not all plants like the same growing conditions, so you should choose the mulch according to what your plants need.
For example, some plants, like peppers and tomatoes, like heat, and thrive with something like plastic mulch. Plastic mulch raises soil temperatures more effectively than other types, warming the air around the plants and the first few inches of soil.
Crops that prefer cooler weather, like greens and broccoli, probably wouldn’t do as well with plastic mulch because they don’t like the extra heat. For these crops, straw is a better option. They still allow a little air and light to penetrate, so cool-weather plants thrive.
If you live in a hot climate, plastic mulches are likely to be a little too much. When the soil temperature is already high, plastic mulch makes the growing environment a little too hot. In this case, choose something like straw to let air flow more freely, keeping the temperature reasonable.
On the other hand, if the climate is cool and wet, plastic mulch is the best way to go. It holds heat in so the soil doesn’t get too cool and prevents too much moisture from saturating the ground.
Finally, consider the type of soil. Most vegetables prefer lighter soil that isn’t too damp. If you have heavy, wet soil, adding heavy mulch over it will only intensify the problem. On the other hand, sandy soil tends to get too dry and loses water quickly, so a thick mulch that retains water is a better choice.
The 8 Best Mulches For Your Vegetable Garden
1. EZ-Straw Seeding Mulch with Tack
This product from EZ-Straw is a great choice for your vegetable garden. It’s organic and features a bonding agent that holds the straw together. The bonding agent is biodegradable and won’t harm your plants.
EZ-Straw protects the surface of the soil from washing or blowing away and keeps birds and other animals from getting at the seeds while you’re waiting for them to sprout. The straw has been cut twice and has minimal seeds for quick and easy application.
The bag is UV protected so you can store it outside without having to worry about the sun degrading or weakening the product. It’s safe for pets and kids, and because it’s biodegradable, you don’t have to worry about cleaning it up after the garden starts to grow. This product is available in multiple sizes, so you can order in bulk if needed.
2. Thunder Acres Natural Wheat Straw
Wheat straw is the part of the wheat plant that’s left after the grains have been harvested. It’s completely organic and contains no dyes or other chemicals that could harm your soil. It also composts, so you don’t have to collect it after the plants start to grow, and it adds nutrients to the soil.
This wheat straw is grown in Kansas and shipped directly to you. They do everything, from harvesting the grain to baling the straw. Plus, Thunder Acres is a fifth-generation family farm that uses sustainable methods, too, which is great for the environment.
You can get this straw in four, eight, and 12-pound packages so you can get just what you need to cover your vegetable garden or order some extra for nesting and bedding for some pets. It’s delivered in custom-made boxes, right to your door.
3. National Blommer Cocoa Shell Mulch
Blommer cocoa shell mulch is made from the shell of the cocoa bean, so it looks great while also being an effective and multi-purpose addition to your vegetable garden. It absorbs water without getting soggy, keeps birds and animals away from freshly planted seeds, and helps prevent weed growth.
The application is really easy, too. This mulch spreads easily, with no clumping or packing, and the color won’t fade in the sun. It actually gets darker with age. You only need to apply about one inch, and a two-cubic foot back covers about 22 square feet.
Note that you shouldn’t apply this product thicker than one inch. Because it is organic and holds onto moisture, it can mold if it’s too thick. At the end of the season, you can till it into the soil and it will break down naturally.
4. FibreDust CoCo Mulch
Another great organic option for your vegetable garden is Coco mulch. This product from FibreDust is made of 100 percent coconut husk. The rusty color keeps your garden looking natural, and there are no chemicals or additives to worry about.
There are a lot of reasons to choose coco much over traditional mulch. Coco mulch doesn’t float, so it won’t be carried away by water or rain, even on sloped surfaces. It also lasts a really long time, with a single application lasting as long as three years.
One pack contains a compact block of mulch, which expands to two cubic feet of mulch when hydrated with four gallons of water. You can get this product in packs of one or two blocks to be sure you have just the amount you need to cover your garden.
5. Natural Pine Bark Mulch
Natural pine mulch is one of the most attractive options for your vegetable garden. Each batch is fan-dried to remove excess moisture, and they bag them up weekly so they’re as fresh as possible.
Pine bark mulch holds in moisture and keeps birds and other garden pests from getting to your newly seeded garden. It’s made from larger chunks or shredded pine bark that takes a longer time to break down than thinner bark mulches.
This product tends to last a long time, and the natural color doesn’t fade as quickly in the sun like some other products. Because it’s so lightweight, pine bark is better suited to flat areas where it won’t get moved by rain or wind.
Application is pretty easy because the small bags are pretty lightweight and the product spreads easily. Each resealable one-gallon bag of mulch measures 10 by 13 inches, and they’re available in packs of one, two, three, or four bags.
6. Charlie’s Compost
Charlie’s Compost is an organic product made from chicken manure that will increase the nutrients in your solid as well as their availability, getting your garden off to a fast and healthy start.
This product is all-natural and, in addition to chicken manure, contains corn stalks, hay, clay, and straw that are composted for eight to 12 weeks before being packaged. It’s safe and appropriate to use in organic gardening and acts as both a fertilizer and mulch, feeding and protecting your freshly planted vegetables.
This 10-pound bag covers about 24 square feet with a nice texture that’s easy to apply. Plus, there’s no strong manure smell to worry about. While this product is a bit on the pricier side, most users agree that it’s extremely effective and the results are worth paying a little more for.
7. Grower’s Solution Black Plastic Mulch
Black plastic mulch is ideal for keeping away weeks while helping your plants grow. It works great with irrigation systems because it keeps the soil warm and reduces evaporation, conserving water.
Using this type of mulch in your vegetable garden alters the immediate climate of the plants, which enhances growth and produces higher yields. It increases the temperature around the plants and deep into the soil an extra five to six degrees, encouraging faster, stronger plant growth.
Grower’s Solution black plastic mulch is thick and durable enough that it can last for two seasons. It’s a great choice for warm and cool-season crops, and because the product is flexible and stretchy, it’s easy to install.
This product comes in a four by 100-foot roll that makes it easy to cover a large area quickly. It’s also really easy to pull up when it’s time to replace it.
8. Silver Metallic Plastic Mulch
Silver mulch has been proven to increase crop production by up to 20 percent, so it’s a great choice for your vegetable garden. This is also a great choice if you have insect problems.
One of the reasons that this mulch is so special is that the shiny top surface reflects light onto the bottom of the leaves, increasing the amount of surface area getting sunlight and increasing photosynthesis, stimulating more growth.
The underside of the mulch is black, blocking out any light to the soil and preventing weed growth. It also helps control soil temperatures and maintain the structure and integrity of the soil.
This mulch comes in a four by 50-foot roll, ideal for covering long rows of vegetables. It’s great with an irrigation system as watering must be done under the mulch.
Types of Mulch For Vegetable Garden
There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic.
There’s a lot to love about organic mulch, but one of the best things is that it eventually decomposes. That means you don’t have to worry about removing it or cleaning it up at the end of the season, and it adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.
Generally, the dryer the mulch, the longer it takes to break down. Here are some of the most popular types of organic mulch:
Bark. Bark mulches last a really long time and are one of the most attractive options. They don’t mix well into the soil, so they can be difficult to move if you want to replant.
Straw. Straw is a good option for a vegetable garden. It has a lot of protective qualities, and it decomposes slowly and will last the entire season. It’s also easy to remove if needed. All you have to do is rake it up or work it into the soil.
Inorganic mulch lasts a long time, but they don’t add anything beneficial to the soil. In fact, as plastic and other inorganic materials break down, they can actually harm the soil.
Plastic. The biggest benefit of plastic mulch is that it’s extremely effective at preventing weed growth. You have to be sure to cut enough holes in the material for effective watering.
When Should I Add Mulch to My Vegetable Garden?
There are a few schools of thought on when is the best time to add mulch to your vegetable garden.
One school of thought is that you should apply it in the fall, at the end of the growing season after you’ve pulled everything for the year. This may sound odd, but by laying down mulch in the fall, you can prevent weeds in early spring.
When you mulch in the spring, it helps to control weeds before things warm up. It also helps to enrich the soil and retain moisture while protecting plants from those cool and wet spring days.
If you’re using organic mulch, wait until it has decomposed before adding more. With inorganic mulch, replace them when they begin to wear down or are no longer intact.
How to Mulch Vegetable Garden?
When applying mulch, make sure you follow the instructions on the packaging. Some are very particular and can’t be spread too thin or too thick. That said, here are some general guidelines for applying mulch.
First, remove any old mulch. The easier way to do this is to use a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Organic mulch can be composted. After the area is clean, smooth out the ground as best as possible.
Unbag the new mulch into the wheelbarrow so it’s easy to move around the area. When applying, it’s better to shovel smaller amounts out at a time to avoid large piles or uneven application.
When spreading the mulch, start around the edge of the garden. This helps keep it from spreading onto the grass and keeps it contained. Some people find it easier to add edging with bricks or rocks to keep things as neat as possible.
Use gardening gloves or a small rake to spread the mulch around the plants, being very careful not to cover up any planted areas. Continue to add mulch until it gets to the right depth, typically two inches or so, but some products may specify a different amount so be sure to follow the instructions.
Plastic mulch is different from organic mulch because it doesn’t allow water to penetrate through to the soil unless you create holes for watering. Preparing the ground is important. Smooth the ground around the plants, avoiding depressions around the soil.
If you’re planning to add fertilizer, do so now because, once the plastic is in place, you won’t be able to.
Dig trenches that are about six inches deep on either side of the garden, being as uniform as possible. Then, roll out the plastic mulch, securing the edges with stakes as you move along.
From here, you have some options. Some people remove the plastic mulch after the plants begin to germinate; others cut holes in the mulch, allowing the plants to grow through the hole while keeping the rest of the soil covered.
After plastic mulch is in place, you can cover it with organic mulch for aesthetic reasons, but there are some risks in doing so. This basically adds a layer of insulation to the garden, which can cause the soil temperature to be too hot in some climates.
Here are some tips and tricks to make the process go more smoothly:
- Wear gardening gloves to protect your hands.
- Protect your arms and legs by wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
- Consider using knee protectors or a kneeling pad.
- Use a facemask if you have allergies.
- Pitchforks are better for straw, while shovels are better for bark.
- Don’t water the newly mulched area for about 24 hours.
- If you notice mold, it’s likely because the mulch is too thick. Spread it more evenly, exposing as much of it as possible to air to encourage it to dry out.
- Any weeds that pop up should be removed by hand.
Adding mulch to your vegetable garden has a lot of benefits, but you have to make sure you choose the right kind. There’s a lot to consider, including the climate, type of vegetables you’re growing, and what kind of soil you have.
There are organic and inorganic options to consider and each has pros and cons. Your best bet is to choose the type that suits your plants and growing conditions. This means that, although you may prefer organic, it might not be best suited for your garden.
We included a broad selection of mulches so you’re sure to find one that’s right for you, whether you’re looking for plastic sheeting or organic straw.