Let’s face it. Garden mulch plays a significant role in the vegetable garden. But what mulch should you use in the garden?
Before narrowing down the type of mulch to use, let’s understand the difference between two terms that confuses many gardeners: Mulch and Compost.
For many gardeners differentiating between compost and mulch becomes a blurry area. Many gardeners use compost as a mulch. However, you SHOULD NOT!
Humus, popularly known as finished compost, acts as the basis of the organic garden as it improves the soil structure and quality.
For example, adding compost to sandy soil will improve its ability to retain more moisture while adding compost to clay soil helps increase drainage.
Compost can be defined as decomposed organic matter full of beneficial microorganism that enriches the soil.
The Difference Between Mulch and Compost
What’s the major difference between mulch and compost? Vegetable garden mulch protects soil by regulating soil temperature, weed control, conserving moisture, and improving water penetration. Compost provides nutrients to your soil and feeds the soil.
Mulch Protects The Soil – Compost Feeds The Soil
Misconceptions in the Application of Compost
Many gardeners use compost alone as mulch. While it might look logical, the fact is, the compost will sink into the soil quite rapidly.
When applying compost, many spread a small layer, about an inch, and cover it with a bigger layer of natural mulch (two inches of mulch) composted of paper, wood chips, dry grass clippings, straw, or plastic mulch.
A majority fail to use bigger layers of natural mulch and compost as they fear that the bulkiness of the mulch prevents water from reaching the vegetable’s roots.
However, this is not true. Even with drip irrigation, the water trickles down and eventually reaches the roots. In fact, only the rate of evaporation changes. The bigger the layer of mulch, the slower the evaporation rate.
Garden Mulches & Mulch Types
Two types of mulch exist; organic mulch and non-organic mulch
Organic mulch refers to the mulch made from plant matter while non-organic mulch refers to mulch made from other materials such as plastic.
Let’s focus on non-organic mulch, in particular, plastic mulch.
Why Should You Use Plastic Mulch?
Plastic mulch functions as an effective weed barrier and can effectively work in the vegetable garden. For example, when used when growing strawberry plants which make weeding difficult or in the vegetable garden as plants with large leaves often conceal weeds.
When applying plastic mulch, it goes on top of the irrigation pipes or drip. Otherwise, the plastic blocks the water flow to the soil.
Plastic mulch works as a weed block and comes in a variety of colors, each color suited to different plants.
Common Plastic Mulch Colors and The Plants Suited For These Colors
Red Plastic Mulch
Plants that thrive using red plastic mulch include tomatoes, strawberries, and eggplants. It’s been reported that tomatoes and eggplants increase their yields by 12% with red mulch. If you cannot apply mulch to your tomato garden, you can try the red plastic Tomato Crater.
Silver Plastic Mulch
Silver mulch reflects well on certain veggies. Use it in a pepper garden. According to research conducted by Pennsylvania State University Extension, using silver mulch film with your peppers can
Silver mulch is also known to be a good repellent for aphids.
Black Plastic Mulch
Potatoes do well with all the mulch colors, but yield maximally with black plastic mulch.
If you grow onions, use all the above-colored mulches.
The Don’ts Of Garden Mulching
One common mistake among many US gardeners make when mulching is heaping mulch around tree trunks. Putting mounds of mulch around the tree trunks can create excess moisture and lead to fungal diseases.
#1 – Therefore, when mulching, keep it away from the tree trunk. To be precise, keep mulch at least six inches away from the tree trunks and not more than two inches deep.
#2 – When mulching around vegetables, keep mulch 1-2 inches away from the stems of soft fruits and vegetables.
The Bottom Line
Mulching enables you to grow crops safely and healthy. Besides, it saves the hassle of watering and weeding, it prevents rapid evaporation of water from the soil and frequent emergence of weeds. Therefore, get out there and mulch!
Image: flickr – jessicareeder