Mulching vegetable gardens is one of the best ways to make it better – in so many ways. Mulching is a way to be kind to your plants – and help yourself to make gardening easier throughout the season. This is because, once you mulch, you instantly reduce weeds in your garden (less work), reduce the amount of water needed (less money/resources), and help reduce pests in the garden.
There are basically two types of mulch – inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulch includes newspapers, plastic solar mulch and landscape fabric, While these work, they do not provide all the benefits of organic mulches because they do not enrich the soil. Organic mulches include grass clippings, leaves, straw, pine needles and wood chip mulch. Let’s take a look at some benefits of using organic mulch.
Mulching for Bigger Harvests
If you want a bigger harvest, then mulch vegetable gardens. This may seem rather simplistic – but sometimes the simplest things make the most difference. Mulching accomplishes many things. When you mulch deep – that is, at least six inches, you will ensure that the soil stays at a temperature that is better for the roots to soak up nutrients. That is, in cold weather mulch maintains warmth and in warm weather it maintains cooler temperatures. If you live in the hot south, during the summer, this can make a huge difference in harvests. When you mulch vegetable gardens, it is also beneficial for weed control, disease control, moisture control and pest control.
Mulching to Reduce Weeds
Let’s face it – who wants weeds in their garden? They look ugly – and if you are not careful, the weeds can easily take over the garden wiping out any veggies you have planted. Weeds are bad because they aggressively compete with the same stuff your plants need to grow well: nutrients, water and sunlight. Thus, when they invade and take over your garden, they can suck up everything your plants need to produce an outstanding harvest. While some say that a weed is just a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to grow, the garden is definitely one place you want to eliminate weeds.
Mulch helps prevent weeds in three important ways. First, when you completely cover the soil with mulch, you deprive the weed seeds of the sunlight that they need to germinate So, weeds won’t get a foothold in the garden early on. In addition, bare dirt allows weed seeds to land and then germinate. Covering your bare soil prevents the weeds from coming into contact with the soil to begin with. But, weeds are persistent beasties and some will show up anyway. I have also found that weeds that show up in the mulch are easier to see and much easier to pull out because they don’t have strong roots in the soil but are growing in the loose mulch. Reducing weeds is not the only benefit of mulch – they also
Mulching to Reduce Bad Bugs
Organic mulches are the best repelling bugs. One way they do this is by enriching the soil. As organic mulches break down, the chemistry of the soil is improved and this increases the beneficial bacteria, fungus and insects. Beneficial – or good insects keep out the populations of harmful, plant-destroying, harvest destroying insects.
While some organic mulches attract insects like saw bugs, earwigs or pill bugs, if needed, these can be easily controlled with Neem oil or diatomaceous earth. Another effective and non-pesticide way to get rid of pill bugs is to make a potato trap. To do this,
- Cut an old potato in half.
- Scoop out a depression in each half.
- Place the cut side of the potato into the soil where you have pill bugs.
- Wait a few days for the pill bugs to find the potatoes and start eating them
- After a few days, carefully lift up your potato – in the morning is the best time to do this. Drop the pill bugs attached to the potato in a bucket and scoop up the dirt around the area to find even more bugs. Feed to chickens (yum) or dispose of away from your garden.
If you are using mulches made from cedar or cypress bark, they are helpful for repelling insects. Cedar and cypress wood both contain natural oils and chemicals that deter bugs. Cedar chips can repel, kill or can inhibit termites, cockroaches, cloth-eating moths, carpet beetles and certain ants, such as odorous and Argentine. The wood bark from these trees is resistant to decay, so it will last longer than other mulches. Cedar mulch is especially good for plants that love acidic soil – such as blueberries.
Mulching to Reduce Watering
For an abundant garden, it is important to maintain a consistent level of moisture in your soil. Plants which have adequate moisture are less likely to be stressed and they will be better able to resist insects and diseases. As mentioned earlier, mulch keeps the soil cooler in the summer so it will extend the time before plants go dormant or bolt. Since some plants bloom best in cooler conditions, mulch helps keep plants blooming longer.
In areas which have had drought conditions, mulching is almost necessary to maintain a healthy garden. But, even in areas with plenty of water, mulching helps to retain soil moisture and consistent soil temperatures, thus costing the gardener less money.
Mulching to Enrich Soil for Next Year
The biggest bonus to using organic mulches is that they will decompose and leave behind nutrient rich soil for next year’s garden. As it decomposes, mulch provides nutrients and humus and improves the soil structure, nutrients and moisture holding capacity. The decomposing mulch provides food for earthworms, stimulates microbial activity and helps beneficial soil organisms.
In the area I live, the soil is rich red clay – that is beautiful to look at and the devil to grow in. In most cases, I have resorted to using raised beds. Slowly but surely, though, I have begun uber-mulching large portions of future growing areas with deep wood chip mulch. I have found that not only does it tend to keep the weeds at bay, it is also enriching the soil and improving the composition of the soil each season. I can now dig down about four inches and have rich, dark soil that the earth worms are loving. In a few years, I will be able to move into those growing areas without the use (and expense) of raised beds.
Organic Mulch in Your Garden – Better for your Harvest and the World
As you can probably tell, I am not much for the use of herbicides and pesticides. I think the world is a better place when as few chemicals as possible are used. So, for those who agree, it is critical to find ways to improve your soil and keep pests away as expediently as possible. And for this, I say, mulch your gardens. Gardeners use both organic and inorganic mulches. While I have used both, I have found for my red clay dirt, the inorganic mulch works better because it enriches the soil each season. Whether you select organic or inorganic mulch, once you use it in your garden, you will never go without again.