Mulch is like a blanket that covers the ground. It protects against weather extremes, prevents weeds, and keeps soil from splashing. Vegetable plants love it.
Use an Organic Mulch
Organic mulches decompose, which is good because they add organic matter to the soil. Replenish each season. Save stone mulch, which is permanent, for ornamentals—not the vegetable garden. Same for bark mulch.
Which Organic Mulch?
Compost is the most popular. You can buy it in bags. And you can make your own.
Straw is also popular. It is light and easy to spread, but it can contains seeds of the wheat, rye, or whatever type of straw it is, so be willing to pull up the grassy plants when they get big enough to grab.
In the southeast, pine straw (pine needles) is abundant and popular. You can buy bales or rake your own. It's weed-free and lasts longer than straw because the needles have a waxy coating.
By the Bale
Straw and pine needles come in bales that are easy to handle and stack. They're not too heavy unless wet. A bale of straw or pine needles typically covers 40 to 50 square feet. Store unused bales in a dry spot to lengthen their keep.
Tips from Experience »
- Always be sure the soil is moist before mulching. Water first, or mulch after a drenching rain. If you mulch dry soil, it may stay that way!
- Get rid of weeds before you mulch. Covering weeds with mulch hides them for a while, but soon they'll pop up stronger than ever.
- Straw, pine needles, and newspaper take nitrogen from the soil as they decompose; sprinkle little extra fertilizer atop the ground before mulching.
- A 3-sheet layer of newspaper under mulch will reinforce your effort to keep weeds down and keep moisture in the soil.
- You can use black mulch such as landscape cloth or plastic under strawberries, cukes, squash, pumpkins, and melons. The dark cover absorbs sunlight to warm the soil, which is helpful in cool climates and for early planting. It also keeps the fruit clean. However, you have to take it up when the plants are finished at the end of the season.